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Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

Banker to the Poor is Muhammad Yunus’s memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world’s poor.

Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. Grameen Bank, based on the belief that credit is a basic human right, not the privilege of a fortunate few, now provides over 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of Yunus’s clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent. Around the world, micro-lending programs inspired by Grameen are blossoming, with more than three hundred programs established in the United States alone.

Banker to the Poor is Muhammad Yunus’s memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world’s poor. In it he traces the intellectual and spiritual journey that led him to fundamentally rethink the economic relationship between rich and poor, and the challenges he and his colleagues faced in founding Grameen. He also provides wise, hopeful guidance for anyone who would like to join him in “putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long.” The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business.

Muhammad Yunus was born in Bangladesh and earned his Ph.D. in economics in the United States at Vanderbilt University, where he was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement. He still lives in Bangladesh, and travels widely around the world on behalf of Grameen Bank and the concept of micro-credit.

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World PovertyBanker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Ray Porter which I’d highly recommend to anyone.

Super eye-opening!

This book is all about context and I loved that the author shared his life experiences and perspective with us. The entrepreneurial spirit portrayed in this book was amazing as it expanded on the ideas of seeing a need, having vision, satisfying personal curiosity, navigation of a unique academic/career path, all in the historical context of the country of Bangladesh gaining independence, human progress, and solving issues of poverty.

I really sought out to increase my social conscience with this one. It went into detail on topics that the people of Bangladesh have faced including famine, genocide, people-centered problems, misguided development, exploitation, suppressed creativity, human trust, personal relationships, behavioral change, women borrowers, how women and men differ in the socioeconomic realm, women’s issues related to hunger and poverty, the historic insecure social standing of Bengali women, and even their resiliency in natural disasters as a country.

Issues with foreign aid, the balance of economic and social power, and discussions about the quality of life were probably my most information-gaining aspects brought forth in this book.

I found points made on addressing population issues to curtail birth rates with a fear mongering approach incredibly insightful. I liked the display of supportive statistics showing how population rates doubled yet did not reflect twice as poor, but actually much more self-sufficient trends than in past times. Efforts focusing on improving economic status and quality of life became even more interesting concepts to me given that birthrates naturally fall as women gain equality and he goes into the underlying reasons for this.

It was the type of book that puts your own thoughts into words, ones I’ve pondered while serving in the developing world. Just the phrasing made about management and not lack of resources spoke volumes to me. Even if as a reader you don’t agree with some of the political perspectives, the common point problems remain, and he points out how the consequences of poverty are the same whether the poor of Chicago or the poor of Bangladesh.

Of course with the cheering on for the Grameen Bank and concept of micro-lending that it offers, it lacked a deep critical analysis of micro-lending. The personal anecdotes and struggles against opposition were there but I would have liked to have seen an expanded chapter on opposing viewpoints from a more objective point of view. Like a discussion of limitations or integration of a counter discussion just for the sake of it. This would have helped me avoid the sales pitchy vibe I got at times, especially toward the end. There also was a tendency to be narrowly-focused on the structures of society as the reason for poverty, neglecting to mention the role of personal responsibility and accountability, which I thought would have been a great subject to bring up for completion purposes.

And all-in-all, I don’t know if some of the ideas are as black-and-white or polarizing as they seem to be either. As a result it tended to be a tad over-idealistic.

I would have also liked to have had a different approach to the organization of the book. Example, what constitutes as poor criteria was not fully defined until the end. Other parts jumped around a bit, another example, phone/internet communication issues.

This would make an excellent discussion/book club book.

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