Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh was honored for his work to eradicate poverty through microlending.
From left to right: Reuben Brigety II, Muhammad Yunus, Steven Knapp. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh who created a model for combating poverty through microlending, Wednesday was awarded the George Washington University President’s Medal, the highest honor the university’s president can bestow.
George Washington President Steven Knapp presented the award to honor Dr. Yunus for his pioneering work in creating economic development through microcredit during a ceremony at Lisner Auditorium.
Dr. Yunus began lending from his own pocket after seeing the effects of predatory lending and created Grameen Bank, or “village bank,” in 1983. Today, the bank has more than 8.6 million borrowers, most of whom are women, and 97 percent of the loans are paid back—a recovery rate that is higher than any other banking system. Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank jointly were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
“I am very honored to receive this special recognition,” Dr. Yunus said. “This inspires me to do more of what I do. I am trying to make young people around the world believe that all impossibles can be made possible. We can create a world of three zeroes—zero poverty, zero unemployment, zero net carbon emission.”
He added that the GW recognition “will draw more attention and generate more active interest of young people in my message.”
Dr. Knapp said he is “humbled and delighted” to honor Dr. Yunus.
“His innovative microlending model has been replicated in more than 100 countries, and his work is an inspiration to all the students who come to GW with a passion for changing the world,” Dr. Knapp said.
The university also announced at the ceremony that the Elliott School of International Affairs will become the academic home for the Grameen Bank and Trust Student Internship Program, which will provide internships at the bank in Bangladesh for GW and non-GW graduate and undergraduate students. The program will provide hands-on experience in microfinance, poverty reduction and economic development. The internship program’s residency at GW is made possible through Chris Fussner, B.A. ’79, founder of TransTechnology Worldwide, a distributor of surface mount technology.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our community, and we are enormously grateful to Mr. Chris Fussner,” said ESIA Dean Reuben Brigety II, who also moderated a question-and-answer session with Dr. Yunus.
In remarks on Wednesday, Dr. Yunus implored the audience to confront inequalities when they see them and address them with “social businesses,” such as formulating special nutrient-rich yogurt to address malnutrition or expanding the use of smart phones to deliver health care to impoverished areas.
“Every time I see a problem, my mind works in the direction of creating a business to solve it,” Dr. Yunus said.
He also lamented what he described as a growing wealth disparity, with more money in the hands of fewer people, and he encouraged entrepreneurship as a way to help redistribute wealth.
Muhammad Yunus speaks at GW's Lisner Auditorium. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
Born in 1940 in a small village in Bangladesh, Dr. Yunus was the son of a goldsmith who encouraged him to pursue higher education. His mother, always willing to help any poor person who knocked on the family’s door, inspired his commitment to eradicate poverty. Dr. Yunus earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Dhaka University and studied in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship. He earned a doctorate in economics at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Yunus returned to Bangladesh in 1972, the same year the nation became independent, and joined the faculty at the University of Chittagong as chairman of the economics department. He later led students on a field trip to a rural village and witnessed the ill effects of predatory lending on impoverished people. Shortly after, Dr. Yunus began experimenting with collateral-free loans to the poor.
Fortune magazine named Dr. Yunus “one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time” in 2012. He is one of only seven people who have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal. In 2012, Dr. Yunus was appointed chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.
The George Washington University President’s Medal recognizes individuals who have exhibited courage, character and leadership in their chosen fields and who exemplify the ability of all human beings to improve the lives of others.
Previous recipients of the GW President’s Medal, established in 1988, include singer Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto, Nobel laureate and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Shimon Perez and journalist Walter Cronkite.