I first heard about Muhammad Yunus when NPR interviewed him about his first book, Banker to the Poor. I was so moved by his passion and commitment that I went out and bought the book and read it. Then I bought it for friends and made my book club read it, too. It's the story of one man taking a small step to help someone else, and that small step led to what has become a revolutionary change in the economic relationship between some of the world's largest financial institutions and the poorest people on earth.
The basic idea was to extend small amounts of credit to people (95% of them women) to start businesses and form lending groups that would monitor and mentor other borrowers. The bank he eventually formed, the Grameen Bank, has 3.5 million borrowers and has given out more than $4 billion worth of loans at a 99 percent recovery rate. "With an average loan of $200, people invest in small businesses and change their lives," he said. Poor women not only gain financial self-sufficiency, they are able to send their children to school and college and break the cycle of illiteracy.
When I heard this morning (yes, again on NPR) that he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it felt like a member of my family had won. If you want to give someone a meaningful gift, now or for the holidays, you can't go wrong with this!