What a wonderful day Friday, October 13th 2006 is! Prof Muhammad Yunus, economist, founder of the Grameen Bank has been announced as the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Peace. He shares the prize equally with Grameen Bank.
I had the distinct privilege of meeting Prof Yunus back in 1996 when I visited Dhaka, Bangladesh. At that time I was the GM of a Internet services and solutions company, Sembawang Media and we were looking at expanding our market into Bangladesh. I met with Prof Yunus at his office and we chatted about many things among them the opportunity for Grameen to run an ISP business and to see if they could work with Pacific Internet (a subsidiary of Sembawang Media).
What struck me in the conversations we had was how humble he was and how committed he was to the whole idea of microcredit. He saw how empowering people (mostly women) in the villages can make a significant and major change in the lives of their familes. These women come together to work on simple economic projects (selling handicraft, whatever) that would generate additional revenues for them. They are obligated to return the monies lent to them via the Grameen Bank and what Prof Yunus told me was that the default rate was so low that it was statistically insignificant. He explained that this high level of integrity was not at all a surprise to him. These women (they were the defacto head of the families) have pride and a sense of responsibility and will ensure that they will repay the monies lent to them via peer pressure. This type of integrity is not what one would expect to find in the more affluent borrowers. That insight is, IMHO, amazing. I suppose Pralahad’s “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” would have some level of validation in the Grameen/Yunus model.
In a tangential manner, I think the microcredit model is applicable in the way we can bridge the digital divide. Go to any Indian, Chinese or African rural village, you would see the farmer carrying a handphone. Why is it that we do not hear of a digital divide in the mobile space? What is the business model and key success factors that makes that happen? Can we distill the essence and find a way to bridge the PC divide? Can the ideas of microcredit and Prof Yunus and Grameen be refined and found a way to bring the benefits of computing and knowledge to the masses? I think we can.
Not to distract from the key event of this day, my sincerest congratulations go to Prof Yunus and Grameen Bank in their day of glory. Hurray!