This one here – is especially for Rincy, Naveen and Gurudutta. You have been anxiously waiting for the Part II of our saga of the Prophet of the Bonsai People – Muhammad Yunus. So, here we go….
Professor Yunus, who made micro-credit a new chapter in money banking and public finance, after lending money to the poor without collaterals and paperwork, had yet one more frontier to conquer.
This time, lending money to beggars.
So he called his people and said, go lend money to beggars. And why not? At what level does someone give up and accept the life of a beggar? When all social systems fail. So, they were not the problem – the system was.
Professor Yunus told his people that each person working at the Grameen Bank must lend to one beggar. Only one, per person. That it had to be one and no more, was a strict requirement.
He would not accept lending to the beggars as a charitable, volume game. His idea wasn’t your anonymous, no-skin-in-the-game, loan mela of the nationalized banks. His people had to know the beggar, respect him as a person, and believe that the man (or woman) can redeem himself. And then lend.
Only a handful came forward and lent to a few beggars. Others watched, as they always must. Then the floodgates opened. They too came forward. All the 27000 people who work for Grameen Bank.
The beggars were given small loans. No freebies, loans. They were asked to repay the loan at their convenience and without interest. No pressure. There was an interesting angle to this arrangement though – each time the person pays back, he or she becomes eligible to borrow an even larger amount of money.
So, what did the beggars do? Every beggar, like a salesman, has a route. He follows it based on his own judgment of effort versus yield. Nothing has changed from that model. Except that, now the beggars go to their points of call, armed with knick knacks, toys, story books, small food items – they offer their clientele the option to give them alms but suggest they buy something from him instead of giving alms.
A miracle started to take place in the lives of many beggars. It was not about their economic self-sufficiency. It was about the redemption of human respect that they had lost. All their lives, they were given their alms or turned away from outside the doorstep of a householder. Now the householders ask them in so they can inspect the merchandise, the children can touch the toys or the housewife can scrutinize the merchandise closer. Now the children tell them what they must bring the next time they return. The beggars started to turn a new leaf – they never thought they could come in. 10,000 beggars do not beg anymore. Many more have now opted to become, “part-time beggars”.
Meanwhile, what is happening at the Bank?
The 27000 folks at the bank, who witnessed one miracle or the other, came to professor Yunus and protested the unfairness of his diktat of one-beggar per banker. It was not okay to restrict them to only one beggar. How could the professor underestimate their capabilities? After all, they had proven the model was working, it could work. Each one-lend one was such an archaic model!
Finally, the Professor relented. Now, each person at the Grameen Bank can lend to up to four beggars! And that is the story of a 100,000 beggars who are clients at the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.
Next week, I must tell you about something very different – it is about budding entrepreneurship and what I learnt from three very different and young people at a TiE event I was invited to moderate at Bangalore.
Until then, Go Kiss the World!