Yunus wins the heart of American nation

Munir Quddus

In a festive ceremony on April 17, 2013, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, considered the highest civilian award instituted by the US. The award-giving ceremony took place in the large hall beneath the dome, or the rotunda, in the Unites States Capitol building in the nation's capital, Washington DC. The Democratic and the Republican leaders were present on the stage along with a large number of distinguished personalities and ordinary citizens - all admirers of Prof Yunus and his works in alleviating poverty in his home, Bangladesh, and globally. Adding to the grandeur of the occasion, his daughter, Monica Yunus, lovingly sang the famous song, 'A beautiful dreamer.'

A number of Congressional leaders spoke glowingly of Mr. Yunus's work and his thinking. Senator Durbin said that anyone could come with a complicated model, but only a genius like Mr Yunus can come with a simple idea that can change the lives of millions. A speaker said that Prof Yunus was more than just a dreamer - he was 'a doer and a man of action'. Another described him as a banker, and a revolutionary, the two words that seldom go together. His ideas are so revolutionary that these have caused a tsunami of positive change, and the world is better off today for this change. Senator Reed described him as a unique businessman - one who was not interested in profits, but in lifting people out of poverty.

The leaders with very different ideologies and ideas on the role of government and free markets, found many praiseworthy common aspects of micro-credit and social businesses - the two ideas Mr. Yunus is best known for. While the Democrats tended to emphasise its positive impact on women, and the notion that capitalism does not have to make only a few businessman rich, rather it can very well be an agent for social change, the Republicans spoke of micro-credit's role in creating entrepreneurs, strengthening free markets, and changing individual lives, and thus the world.

Congressman Rush Holt, a long-time supporter, has worked with members of RESULTS, a citizens' advocacy group which has worked passionately over the years to introduce Prof Yunus and micro-credit to the Senators and the Congressmen making this day possible. Mr. Holt in his remarks said the 'good professor' has been confounding pundits for years and critics still disbelieve him. He has demonstrated his ideas work since he has produced uncommon results, but many still fail to take his ideas seriously. Senator Durbin of Illinois, a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, spoke of his visits to villages in Uganda and other countries, where women told him personal stories how microfinance had empowered them to overthrow the shackles of tradition. Micro-credit has been a game changer for millions of poor women.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi focused her remarks on the importance of micro-credit and social business on women's liberation and emancipation. She said the highest compliment she can give Prof Yunus is that he is a 'disruptor,' someone whose ideas and work have completely upended the status quo. His ideas and work have revolutionised and disrupted the traditional old-fashioned conventional wisdom for the greater good. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, spoke of how Mr. Yunus' work has created millions of women entrepreneurs, freed many from the 'prison of poverty.' The host, Speaker Boehner said the professor's ideas have allowed people to take their lives in their hands instead of looking up to the government for handouts. He pointed out that microfinance is now a cornerstone of the US international aid policies.

In his acceptance remarks, Prof Yunus thanked the American legislators and the citizens for the high honour bestowed upon him - and accepted the award for every citizen of Bangladesh. He spoke of his first visit to this historic building nearly 42 years ago when Bangladesh was in the throes of a violent liberation struggle. Leaving his job as a university professor, he had gone there as a complete novice to plead the case of the people of Bangladesh with the legislators. Now he has returned as a proud citizen of Bangladesh - a nation that was once given up as a 'basket case,' but one that has confounded all predictions and is well-positioned to achieve the UN Millennium Development goals by 2015. He recognised his family and supporters, and ended with a resounding call for action. The motto 'We will send poverty to the museum' that is engraved in Bengali on the back of the gold medal, he said half seriously, reflects an endorsement by the US Congress. However, he was serious when he concluded that poverty is created not by the poor but by the system we have built and if we intend to change the system, we can do away with poverty and unemployment. We are only limited by our imagination, he remarked.

The formal occasion was followed by a reception where guests were able to meet one on one with the distinguished professor. I met an astronaut and his wife from Houston who had visited Bangladesh on a number of occasions to participate in the Grameen Bank programmes. The Voice of America Bangla and Thikana from New York were present representing the media. When Prof Yunus finally arrived at the reception, the audience burst out in adulation. It was unclear who was happier.

He delighted many with hugs and handshakes, and many pictures were taken, some instantly posted on Facebook and other social media, traveling across continents and time zones. The next programme was a lecture he delivered at Georgetown University where the University President welcomed him. Later, the United Nations Foundation and RESULTS hosted a reception in the Rayburn House where Prof Yunus introduced the entire Grameen Bank team including the current and former Managing Directors, and other senior staff. A number of Congressmen and Congresswomen spoke on the occasion including the leader of the Bangladesh caucus in the US Congress. It was a wonderful day for Professor Yunus, the Grameen Bank and for Bangladesh.

Source: The Financial Express
Published on: Sunday, 21 April 2013

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