Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus’ Address to Colleagues on his Departure from Grameen Bank
My dear colleagues:
For the past five months, we have all been in an extremely difficult situation. The reasons for this are well known to you all. The Supreme Court has given its verdict. On the basis of this verdict, the Board of Directors of Grameen Bank now has to make a decision. This decision may not take place soon, and because activities of Grameen Bank may be impacted as a result of the verdict, I have, as of yesterday, resigned as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, and have handed over my responsibilities to Deputy Managing Director, Nurjahan Begum.
We have worked together for many years. In Jobra village, we went to the poor to listen to the misery and helplessness caused to them by the loans from the loan sharks. Their stories gave us the idea of providing loans to them. Without knowing anything about giving loans to anyone, we plunged into it. With all of you by my side, we learnt as we went along; we devised our own procedures along the way. Out of this Grameen Bank was born. Today it has become a globally recognised and respected organisation. It is thus not unreasonable that today when we say good-bye, we become emotional. But when we think, we realize that we are not really separating from each other in a way that will create a distance between us. Only our institutional relationship is snapped. But the personal relationship, built over many years under that institutional relationship, still remains. I had wanted to formally end my institutional relationship with you before. I had wanted to retire from Grameen Bank but the Board did not allow me to do that. Many of you had written to me at that time insisting that I should continue in my position.
We have built a Nobel winning organization
Over the past 35 years, we have managed to achieve something that was thought impossible. We have transformed a tiny, personal project into a Nobel winning organization. And by accomplishing this, we gave Bangladesh a place of pride and honour in the international arena. The world has accepted our theoretical structure and practical approach; and both rich and the poor countries have adopted microcredit in their fight against poverty.
It is a matter of pride for all of you that you are the employees of a Nobel Prize winning organization. But more than that, it is a matter of even greater pride that all of you are the creators of the only Nobel Prize winning bank in the whole world. In the entire world only a fortunate few such as you, are entitled to this rare pride and achievement. But that also give you an important responsibility. You must take up the responsibility to protect your creation, ensure that the progress of the Bank continues without interruption.
From its beginning, Grameen Bank has faced many difficulties. Sometimes they were natural disasters – floods, storms, and tidal waves, and at other times Grameen Bank has had to face political and religious attacks. We faced all these difficulties; we overcame them and we moved forward. In the future also, you will have to face such difficulties with courage, with patience and with unity.
This is a bank which is owned by 8.3 million poor, rural women. This Bank will remain committed to helping its borrowers’ struggle to realize their dreams in life. We must ensure that as owners they remain in control of the Bank.
In the past 35 years, we have built Grameen Bank as a sound financial organization. In 1995, we took the decision that we will not take any more donor money; and we have remained true to that decision ever since. We are able to carry out all of our loan programmes with the deposits we have mobilised. The Bank is able to earn profit every year. We are able to hand over this profit as dividend to the owners of our Bank, the poor rural borrowers. This is a source of great joy for us.
The bank which started with Tk. 856 given out as loans, today it disburses Tk. 1000 crore in loans every month. We can give interest free loans to over 100 thousand beggars to find ways to get out of the humiliating life of begging.
We have to remain united. The biggest enemy of an organization is internal division; suspicions and distrust among each other. We have to rise above all these and keep ourselves free of mutual distrust and suspicion. Grameen Bank is a bank based on trust; it is a bank based on discipline – we should never forget this.
Within Grameen Bank, you have created a tremendous strength. Unity of purpose is our biggest strength. So long as we have the strength of unity among us, no one will be able to prevent us from carrying out our future initiatives.
This would be a wrong decision
The government has set up a Review Committee to review the activities of Grameen Bank. Regarding the Report of the Review Committee, I do not want to go into details here. However, I want to raise one issue with you. In the review Report, a proposal to change the structure of Grameen Bank has been made. I am very worried about this proposal. I hope that with this proposal, there will not be any attempt to transform Grameen Bank, a bank that is owned by the poor, into something completely different. If this happens, then it would be a very wrong decision. If Grameen Bank comes under the direct or indirect control or management of the Government, then politics will rear its head in Grameen Bank. For a financial institution, more specifically for a financial institution that is owned by the poor, this would be very bad news. We have always kept Grameen Bank outside the sphere of politics. If Grameen Bank is to survive as it currently exists, then it is necessary to ensure that politics remains out of Grameen Bank. I am requesting, to the leadership of all political parties of the country, to keep Grameen Bank above politics; leave the matter of appointing the Chairman of the Board of Directors to the Board (currently the Government appoints the Chairman of the Board).
Grameen Bank is an organization that has brought pride and honour to the country. This is an organization, which attracts attention from all over the world; it is followed and replicated all over the world. The people of this country, just as the people of the world, do not want that Grameen Bank be harmed. Currently, 96.5% of the ownership of Grameen Bank is in the hands of poor women. This ownership structure should be made permanent by amending the law. We must ensure that the right of these women to control and manage their bank is unfettered. If this right is infringed, if it is violated then Grameen Bank will no longer remain Grameen Bank – it will get lost in amongst thousands of other organizations.
Grameen Bank is my life
Grameen Bank has become such a large part of my life that it is not possible for me to “depart” from Grameen Bank. Grameen Bank has become my life. This is true for many of us. Grameen Bank has become the centre of our thoughts, experiences and dreams. We are all members of the Grameen Bank family. We cannot think of Grameen Bank as being separate from our families. Which is why even though many have left Grameen Bank, they find it extremely difficult to keep Grameen Bank out of their lives. I have now become one of them.
My dear colleagues:
Today the present chapter of my relationship with you comes to an end in unfortunate circumstances. This ending should have taken place under different, more joyful, atmosphere. However we are deprived from that. In this unusual circumstance, the next chapter of our relationship starts.
My employee identity number in Grameen Bank is # 1. I am Grameen Bank’s first employee; this has always been a constant source of pride for me. Whether we are inside the bank or outside, as employees of the Bank, our commitment has to be to keep Grameen Bank safe in the face of all opposition; to protect Grameen Bank from all disasters; to safeguard Grameen Bank from all attacks; to ensure that the borrowers and their children can dream of a bright, better future. And finally to ensure that the philosophy, aim and objectives with which Grameen Bank was created, are never compromised.
One day the nation will recognize your contribution in nation building and honour you as national heroes. Though that recognition is not given today – do not let that be a cause for you to be lax in fulfilling your responsibilities.
Something we started together so many years ago has come a long way. Let it move forward uninterrupted. Let us continue to overcome all barriers and march towards our goals.
Please accept my salaam and good wishes to you all. Please give my salaam and good wishes to all Grameen Bank members, their family members and to members of your families.
I am ending my letter to you with a slogan which you have authored:
Discipline, unity, courage and hard work- With these we march forward!
Your life-long colleague,
(Professor Muhammad Yunus)