US Congressional Gold Medal for Professor Yunus

Munir Quddus

Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, will be awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal. The historic and glittering award-giving ceremony will take place in Washington, the US capital, on April 17, 2013.

Since the American Revolution in 1776, the United States "Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions" to humanity. These medals are given to honour individuals, institution or an event who are widely acclaimed by Americans for their sacrifice and contributions. All Congressional gold medal legislations must be co-sponsored by at least 66 per cent (290) of the members of the House. According to the rules of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, at least 67 Senators must co-sponsor any legislation for the Congressional Gold Medal before the committee considers it.

Given these high standards, only those who are universally recognised for their good works stand a chance of receiving this prestigious award.

In today's highly charged and partisan political environment in Washington DC, where the two major parties in the United States Congress seem to agree on nothing, it is remarkable for a foreign national to receive such widespread support from both parties. The award certainly demonstrates the high esteem Professor Yunus enjoys amongst members of the United States Congress and Senate, and among the American citizens.

Dr Yunus is being honoured for his lifetime achievements in the cause of alleviating poverty in Bangladesh and globally. Through his creative ideas, hard work and brilliant implementation of the idea of micro-credit throughout Bangladesh and globally, Prof Yunus has made brilliant contributions in the cause of helping millions of poor, especially women, take charge of their lives to overcome heartbreaking poverty. Thanks to the unique organisation he conceived and built over thirty years, more than $10 billion has been loaned to millions of small businesses owned by poor women in Bangladesh to generate incomes, savings and jobs. His efforts, along with that of other NGOs such as BRAC, are the catalyst behind a silent and peaceful revolution that has helped Bangladesh stay on schedule in meeting the Millennium Development Goals on time including the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015. Today, globally, more than 150 million poor and their families, in nearly 100 countries benefit from access to collateral free loans given in small disciplined doses, and other financial services together known as micro-finance.

Since sharing the 2006 Nobel Prize in peace, instead of slowing down, Professor Yunus has redoubled his efforts to build a global consensus around the idea that business can be used for good works - coining the term "Social Business" to describe businesses that shun the profit maximisation motto and instead commit themselves to solve societal problems such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy, environmental degradation, among others. Grameen bank, the mother institution, and newer businesses such as Grameen Shakti provide excellent examples of social businesses that have helped transformed lives of millions of poor in rural Bangladesh.

The previous recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include such luminaries and distinguished figures as George Washington, the first President of the United States, Harry Truman who as President led the USA to victory during the Second World War, Mother Theresa, the renowned humanitarian, Nelson Mandela who as President led South Africa peacefully away from the dark era of apartheid, Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, Dalai Lama, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and winner of two Nobel Prizes, Dr Michael Debakey, the famous heart surgeon and inventor from Houston, and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

Not everyone who has received this award has also received the US President's gold medal, the highest civilian award the United States President can bestow. Finally, the list of people who have been honoured with these two awards, along with a Nobel Prize, is very short indeed.

This award is a great honour not just for Professor Yunus, but for all Bangladeshis. He is uniquely a product of Bangladesh, and could not have done his work on poverty alleviation outside Bangladesh. Today every citizen of Bangladesh, irrespective of party affiliation, should feel justifiably proud that a fellow Bangladeshi citizen is being honoured by this most distinguished award.

Bangladeshis, globally, will feel honoured at the outstanding achievement of their fellow citizen forgetting the recent deep and painful events at home, where political gridlock and violent protests resulted in deaths and destruction of property. The special event for honouring a Bangladeshi in Washington will usher in a hope amongst them for a brighter future when new political leaders will emerge from the youths, who would lead the nation away from animosity and partisanship towards an era of shared peace and prosperity for all.

Source: The Financial Express

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