Microcredit: A Weapon In Fighting Extremism


By Alan Jolis

Herald International Tribune Published with the New York Times and The Washington Post Singapore, Wednesday, February 19, 1997 PARIS – The success of microcredit in combating finally being recognized this month. Hillary Clinton opened the World Summit on Microcredit in Washington. The occasion highlighted the effectiveness of using tiny loans to help the most destitute people on earth pull themselves and their families out of poverty. But there is another, astonishing side of this story: the political consequences of putting capitalism to work for the have-nots. Microcredit not only liberates the poorest of the poor from hunger, it liberates them, and us, from fanatical extremists.

Microcredit was invented 20 years ago in Bangladesh by Muhammad Yunus. Today, Professor Yunus’s Grameen Bank and copycat organizations have 3.5 million women borrowers; adding their dependents, that amounts to about 20 percent of Bangladesh’s population. In the latest elections, held on June 12, 1996, these newly enfranchised flexed their muscle. The Islamic Society, the fundamentalist party antagonistic to the West that wants to keep women at home, lost 14 of its 17 seats in Parliament.

Immediately after the vote, Mr. Yunus began getting angry phone calls from people blaming him for the results. But Mr. Yunus assured them that fundamentalists had only themselves to blame. It was their supporters who burned down microcredit banks, attacked borrowers and condemned microcredit as un- Islamic because it helps women become self-employed. Continue reading

Opening Plenary


-Opening speech by Muhammad Yunus Washington, February 2, 1997 As we assemble here, I ask myself, What is the Microcredit Summit about? Is it another Washington gala event ?

Personally to me it is an emotional event. Like me, there are many here today for whom it is a deeply emotional experience. It is emotional, because we have been working very hard to make this day happen. Finally it has happened. I wish to take this opportunity to thank millions of micro-borrowers and thousands of staff who worked very hard to right a wrong which has caused so much avoidable human misery.

To me, this summit is a grand celebration — we are celebrating the freeing of credit of the bondage of collateral. This summit is to pronounce good-bye to the era financial apartheid. This summit declares that credit is more than business. Just like food is; credit is a human right.

This summit is about setting the stage to unleash human creativity and endeavor of the poor. This summit is to guarantee every poor person the chance to undertake responsibility to establish his and her own human dignity.

This summit is to celebrate the success of millions of determined women who transformed their lives from extreme poverty to dignified self-sufficiency through entering into micro-credit programmes.

This summit is about creating opportunities for 100 million of the poorest families to follow the footprints left behind these successful women.

This summit is not a fund-raising event. I repeat — this summit is not a fund raising event. This summit wants to inspire the world by putting together all the good news we have created during the past years. This summit wants to build will, wants to build capacity, wants to end poverty in the world.

Only one hundred years back, men were still struggling to find a way to fly. Many people seriously thought men will never fly. Those people who were committed to the idea of flying were looked at as crazy people. In 1903 Wright brothers flew their first plane. It stayed in the air just for 12 seconds. Yes, 12 seconds. It covered 120 feet. At that moment the seed of a new world was planted. Only 65 years later, man confidently went to the moon, picked up moon rocks and returned to the world. The whole world watched every moment of it on the television.

In the micro-credit field, we are just flying our Wright brothers plane. We are covering 120 feet here, 500 feet there. Some find our plane unsafe, some find it clumsy, some find it not good enough for the job. We can assure you we’ll soon fly our Boeings, our Concordes; we’ll be ready with our booster rockets.

We believe that poverty does not belong to a civilized human society. It belongs to museums.

This summit is about creating a process which will send poverty to the museum.

Only-sixty-five years after the 12 second flight of the Wright brothers, man went to the moon. Fifty-five years after this summit, we’ll also go to our moon. We’ll create a poverty-free world.

With the energy that I feel in this room, I feel more confident than ever before, that we’ll make it. Ladies and gentleman, let us make it !

Thank you.

Chief guest speech


“I am thrilled to see such a turnout for this Summit,which is one of the most important gatherings that we could have anywhere in our world.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton (First Lady, United States) Over 2,900 people, representing 1,500 organizations from 137 countries, attended the Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C., February 2-4, 1997. The Summit launched a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families, especially the women of those families, with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by 2005. Present at the Microcredit Summit were Prime Ministers and Presidents, Queens and First Ladies, Heads of UN Agencies and Donor Agencies, Ministers of Governments, leaders in business and finance, and hundreds of grassroots leaders from around the world.

The spirit of cooperation and the commitment to action present at the Summit was reflected in the Communiqué issued by the Council of Heads of State and Government:

“We believe that if we all work together this campaign will become one of the great new chapters in human history and will allow tens of millions of people to free themselves and their families from the vicious cycle of poverty.”