History

Muhammad Yunus earned a doctorate in economics from Vanderbilt University in the United States. He was inspired during the Bangladesh famine of 1974 to make a small loan of US$27 to a group of 42 families as start-up money so that they could make items for sale, without the burdens of high interest under predatory lending. Yunus believed that making such loans available to a larger population could stimulate businesses and reduce the widespread rural poverty in Bangladesh.

Yunus developed the principles of the Grameen Bank (literally, “Bank of the Villages” in Bengali) from his research and experience. He began to expand microcredit as a research project together with the Rural Economics Project at Bangladesh’s University of Chittagong to test his method for providing credit and banking services to the rural poor. In 1976, the village of Jobra and other villages near the University of Chittagong became the first areas eligible for service from Grameen Bank.Proving successful, the Bank project, with support from Bangladesh Bank, was extended in 1979 to the Tangail District (to the north of the capital, Dhaka). The bank’s success continued and its services were extended to other districts of Bangladesh.

By a Bangladeshi government ordinance on October 2, 1983, the project was authorized and established as an independent bank. Bankers Ron Grzywinski and Mary Houghton of ShoreBank, a community development bank in Chicago, helped Yunus with the official incorporation of the bank under a grant from the Ford Foundation. The bank’s repayment rate suffered from the economic disruption following the 1998 flood in Bangladesh, but it recovered in the subsequent years. By the beginning of 2005, the bank had loaned over USD 4.7 billion and by the end of 2008, USD 7.6 billion to the poor.

The Bank continues to expand across the nation. By 2006, Grameen Bank branches numbered over 2,100. Its success has inspired similar projects in more than 40 countries around the world, including a World Bank initiative to finance Grameen-type schemes.

The bank has gained its funding from different sources, and the main contributors have shifted over time. In the initial years, donor agencies used to provide the bulk of capital at low rates. By the mid-1990s, the bank started to get most of its funding from the central bank of Bangladesh. More recently, Grameen has started bond sales as a source of finance. The bonds are implicitly subsidised, as they are guaranteed by the Government of Bangladesh, and still they are sold above the bank rate. In 2013, Bangladesh parliament passed ‘Grameen Bank Act’ which replaces the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983, authorizing the government to make rules for any aspect of the running of the bank.

The bank is also engaged in social business and entrepreunership fields. In 2009, the Grameen Creative Lab collaborated with the Yunus Centre to created the Global Social Business Summit. The meeting has become the main platform for social businesses worldwide to foster discussions, actions and collaborations to develop effective solutions to the most pressing problems plaguing the world

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