Do you think it is ethical to charge the poor interest and make a profit out of it?
In Bangladesh, Grameen Bank charges the lowest rate among all microcredit programs, and yes, we make a profit. But Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers, so when we make a profit, it goes back to the borrowers as dividends.
Are microloans taking a hit because of the recession?
POINT MARION, PA.
We use very local money that is going to the local poor, so there is no way the hit taken by the financial centers of the world could be transmitted to us. We don't see fluctuations in repayment rates or anything like that. We are O.K.
How would you help the world out of recession?
The system failed us. There's no reason why we should resuscitate it. We have to make absolutely sure that we don't go back to the same old normalcy. We should be creating a new normalcy. That opportunity has to be taken.
Microfinancing empowers Bangladeshi women. Is it driving cultural change?
Lucas Torrin, OTTAWA
The most dramatic thing that has happened in Bangladesh in the past 25 years is the total change in the status of women. Microcredit has played a very important role in that, particularly with poor women.
Has technology like cell-phone payment changed the microlending environment?
Daniel Weldon, PORTLAND, ORE.
Not yet, but it opens up the door for all kinds of cell-phone-based banking facilities, health-care facilities, marketing facilities. The cell-phone [network in Bangladesh] has been laid out, so now it's a question of bringing the programs and content to those things.
Have you ever found an incident of corruption involving a Grameen Bank loan?
We have cases of corruption, but Grameen Bank now has 28,000 staff, 8 million borrowers and 2,600 branches. We lend out over $100 million each month and have a similar amount coming back. It's very easy to put money in your pocket. But the amazing thing is that cases of corruption are so rare.
Do you think the model of microlending that is so successful in Bangladesh can be applied elsewhere?
Today Grameen programs are everywhere. We even have a program in New York City, and it works beautifully. It's the same system as in the villages of Bangladesh. We do it in Latin American countries--in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica--in exactly the same way.
Why has it been difficult to implement microcredit schemes in Africa?
Obi Iwuagwu, LAGOS, NIGERIA
We have a program in Zambia, and we have absolutely no problem. If somebody says microcredit doesn't work in Africa, I would not agree. I see it working.
Population growth contributes greatly to global poverty. What are your thoughts about the problem?
Bob O'Connor, OSLO
Thirty years back, Bangladeshi mothers had an average of 6.2 children. Today the average is 3.1. The population-growth rate has drastically come down, and among many explanations is the empowerment of women. They became aware of their ability to handle their lives and make decisions. Microcredit is not a population program, but it has helped women see how they can live their own lives.
As individuals, what's the best thing we can do to consign poverty to museums?
Louise Holly, LONDON
Make people believe that we can send poverty to museums. When I talk about it, people laugh and say, "It's impossible." But when you don't believe something, you can't achieve it. You have to imagine and make that imagination achievable.
VIDEO AT TIME.COM
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