Muhammad Yunus in Bangkok

Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus has opened a micro-finance centre in conjunction with AIT in northern banker. Professor Yunus is world-renowned for his scheme, which aims to tackle poverty reduction through making small loans available for poor people to improve their lives through achieving small but significant and achievable goals.

The Grameen Bank, which is the name of the lending institution, offers low cost loans mainly to women, since it is their experience that women are more likely than men to use the money for the reason stated and not to waste it on other, less productive projects. The bank’s record is impressive in achieving money being repaid on time and people managing to achieve their goals and, thereby, improving their lives.

The Bangkok Centre will be the first of its type outside the Professor’s Bangladesh home and will combine lending facilities with research of an innovative nature aimed at finding new ways of combining sustainable agricultural production with income generation. It all sounds like good stuff.

Inevitably, not everyone believes in the ability of microfinance, at least as practiced by the Grameen Bank, to reduce poverty to the extent that sometimes is claimed. On the one hand, there are people who contest the figures and also wonder whether the poverty reduction is quite as effective as it is advertised as being. On the other hand, there are those who claim that it is not the ability of individuals to borrow money that will make a difference to poverty reduction but the system in which they live and which prevents them from improving their situation. So, in order to reduce poverty (if people really do wish to do that and there are certain influential people who do not seem to wish that to happen) then there must be some kind of radical political change. It is not very likely that such political change will occur in Thailand in the foreseeable future.

The more optimistic view is, not surprisingly, supported by governments and international non-governmental organisations, not least because it suggests they can do some good without compromising their own position and privileges.