Micro-Credit Pioneer Wins Peace Prize

Economist Muhammad Yunus, left, celebrates Nobel with his brother in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Economist Muhammad Yunus, left, celebrates Nobel with his brother in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (By Pavel Rahman -- Associated Press)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 14, 2006

PARIS, Oct. 13 -- Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he created won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for leveraging small loans into major social change for impoverished families.

The Grameen Bank's pioneering use of micro-credit has been duplicated across the globe since Yunus started the project in his home village three decades ago. Loans as low as $9 have helped beggars start small businesses and poor women buy cellular phones and basket-weaving materials.

"Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation released Friday in Oslo. "Micro-credit is one such means."

The committee praised Yunus, 66, as "a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh but across cultures and civilizations."

In a telephone interview, Yunus said he was overcome by the excitement of winning the prize after several years of being nominated.

"I was trying to find people to tell, and the phone kept buzzing, so I could hardly tell anybody," said Yunus, speaking from his home in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. "Then people started coming and bringing flowers. It's fantastic."

Still exuberant after hours of telephone calls and hundreds of visitors pouring into his house, Yunus said: "This prize is so overwhelming, it will affect our work tremendously. It will bring the issues I'm raising to the attention of people who can make a difference in the world.

"From this day on, micro-credit will become part of the financial center, it can't be kept as some kind of subsector," he said. "As a bank you have to reach the poor people. That's a big change, and banking will not be the same."

Yunus said he believes the Nobel committee endorsed his view that bridging the gap between rich and poor countries in an age of increasing globalization is critical to reducing conflict around the world.

"You cannot go on having absurd amounts of wealth when other people have problems of survival," he said. "If you can bring an end to poverty, at least from an economic point of view, you can have a more livable situation between very rich people and very poor people, very rich countries and very poor countries. That's our basic ingredient for peace."

Bangladesh's first Nobel Prize exhilarated a poor nation more accustomed to news of natural disasters, disease and political upheaval. A massive public assembly was planned for Saturday in Dhaka to honor Yunus and the Grameen Bank, according to bank officials who said their offices were besieged Friday by customers, citizens and politicians offering congratulations.

Yunus and the bank were surprise winners among the 191 nominees for the most prestigious of the Nobel awards. Speculation in recent days had focused on diplomats and officials who brokered last year's Aceh peace accord, which ended 29 years of fighting in the Indonesian province, and on global celebrities that included Bono, the U2 lead singer and anti-poverty campaigner.

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