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Micro-​​Finance and a Lesson in Power Politics

As part of their spring-​​semester co-​​op with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dents Kelly Ward and Sarah Hodsdon were antic­i­pating their meeting with Nobel Peace Prize-​​winner Muhammad Yunus, the bank’s founder and inter­na­tional micro-​​finance pio­neer.

But just one day before the sched­uled meeting, the Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment fired Yunus, citing the bank’s lack of “proper over­sight and gov­er­nance.”

According to the New York Times, Yunus’ allies claim that the gov­ern­ment is trying to dis­credit a critic, who has often called Bangladeshi pol­i­tics cor­rupt.

“For­tu­nately, our overall expe­ri­ence wasn’t ham­pered,” said Ward, a third-​​year inter­na­tional affairs major who returned from Bangladesh last month. “The bank kept loaning out money and doing what it needed to do.”

Ward, Hodsdon and their col­leagues paid close atten­tion to the con­tro­versy. As Ward put it, “Some days, almost everyone who worked at the bank left work to sup­port Yunus in court.”

Bank employees and cit­i­zens of Bangladesh staged peaceful demon­stra­tions — and even cre­ated a five-​​kilometer long human chain in sup­port of Yunus.

“It was an incred­ible expe­ri­ence,” Ward said. “There were riot police on one side and people with so much at stake on the other.

“It was really pow­erful to be a part of that, to feel that sense of com­mu­nity that devel­oped around what is so much more than a bank.”

Ward and Hodsdon, a human ser­vices major, found the co-​​op through Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute. The insti­tute pre­pares stu­dents to become glob­ally aware busi­ness leaders by pro­viding them with oppor­tu­ni­ties to help the poor in devel­oping coun­tries build their own small busi­nesses through micro-​​financing.

On a reg­ular basis, Ward and Hodsdon fol­lowed bank rep­re­sen­ta­tives into the field, where they taught vil­lage entre­pre­neurs who received loans about basic eco­nomic con­cepts.

The expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity, Ward said, shed light on the trans­for­ma­tive power of micro-​​lending.

“You might see the son or daughter of one of our lenders return home from uni­ver­sity in the same kind of jeans and T-​​shirts we wear, car­rying their books and sharing their knowl­edge with the vil­lage,” Ward said. “That’s what gives me a lot of hope, because these people are the next generation.”

– by Matt Collette

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