We can put poverty in the museum – Professor Muhammad Yunus

Written by: The Bangladesh Chronicle

Wednesday April17, 2013 – U.S. Congressional Gold Medal

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Leaders of the Congress posing with Professor Yunus

Leaders of the Congress posing with Professor Yunus

Yesterday, in a ceremony at the United States Capitol, Congressional leaders presented the founder of the Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his “efforts to combat global poverty.”  The award places Yunus in the company of a small group of people – including Norman Borlaug, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Mother Teresa — who have received this award, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize.

For Bangladeshis, Yunus’s achievements, and his recognition from the most prestigious institutions in the global community, are a source of tremendous pride. His success provides a ray of hope and good feeling amidst the dismal turmoil of Bangladesh’s current civil unrest and seemingly terminal political gridlock.

 

Here are the excerpts of the speech Professor Yunus gave yesterday while accepting the Congressional Gold Medal

What an amazing experience for a human being. Find all beautiful words the leaders of this country were making about me. I just can’t hold my tears. All these times I was trying to tell all the people how I feel it is important to pay attention to.

Today I came to this august hall; I hear endorsement in the loudest voice. The most powerful voice possible. That is still the greatest award I could receive anywhere any place in the world. And thank you very much for saying these words and endorsing these ideas.

I came to this Capitol Hill many years back in 1971. I did not know anything about this hall. I was totally puzzled. I came as a desperate young man because people were killed in our country. We declared our country as an independent country – “Bangladesh”. The U.S. was not supporting our cause. I was 31 years old teaching in Middle Tennessee State University.  Left my job and settled down in Washington to lobby every single senator and every single congressman that I could. In the process I became expert on the geography of this complex hall. I learned the topography in the hall underground, over ground. I could be a very good Congressional Assistant for anybody.

So I learned a lot about the system that works here. I was amazed when the government was opposing the cause of Bangladesh; Congressman and Senators were supporting our cause.  So I see that they had a completely different view on this thing. I never thought it was ever possible. So my job is to bring to the constituencies of each Senator and Congressman when they come home and guide them to the cause and provide them the briefing so that they could have them support us. And tremendous support was built up in this country from the people while the government opposed them. I will never forget that.

I came back again in 1984 and 1985 for a different cause. This time I came to tell the story about my Grameen Bank. Nobody knew about it at that time.  A group called RESULTS – no body heard of them. A music teacher from Florida Sam Daley Harris pushing this Micro Credit. So I brought this to the congressional hearings; to many committee and sub-committee hearings to present what I was saying and then build up a cause for this microcredit. Today I am talking about 100 million – 150 million people use micro loan. Because what you have done in this congress – support you have provided behind it and with the most passionate volunteers of RESULTS, mobilizing it to bring this to every Congressman, every Senator. Thank you RESULTS – volunteers here and everywhere else.

What is it I was trying to do was not a big thing.  All I promised to myself in the context of the terrible situation in Bangladesh; terrible financial, economic situations when I went back to Bangladesh. Left my Job at the university at the University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to see that something I can do. And the problem was so acute; my economic knowledge did not have a clue of it. So I said let’s forget the text book economics. What I wanted to do is to make myself useful to one person – to see if I can make myself useful to one person even for a day.  And I did a lot of little things. The first little big thing I did trying to protect people from the loan sharks. It was such a complicated problem.  But suddenly I saw it was such a simple thing for me. Why don’t I lend the money? Why am I complaining about the loan sharks? If you want to get rid of them, loan yourself. So I started loaning from my own pocket. It impacted the people’s lives. That feeling I got all over the world today. I am so happy that it penetrated the policy maker’s minds. And I am very happy today to come back after 37 years after I created Grameen Bank to receive this wonderful honor that you gave me today endorsing what I have done and I am receiving it not for me. I am receiving it on behalf of these women who work so hard to make you convince that they can take care of themselves. Given the financial institutional support, not charity support of right kind of institutions to help them with things they can do. So I am receiving this award on behalf of those millions of women in Bangladesh. And also on behalf of all the people of Bangladesh. Because it’s not only an honor personally for me. It’s an honor for the whole country of Bangladesh, very hard working people of Bangladesh. They want to make a difference in their lives.  All we need to do is to provide them with the right kind of support. And I am very happy to come back today with my family members. And I am so happy that Monica could sing – beautiful -. And all my friends; Fox (Past President Vicente Fox of Mexico) sitting here, and Mrs. Mbeki (First lady of South Africa), my friend Janelle and many others. This is a global gathering of friends who believe in the cause I presented. And I think we can make a big difference in making it happen because of all the power you gave to me today. And every time I was doing my visits. I see that of problems in the villages, particularly health problems, problems of housing, problems of nutrition. I wanted to solve it my way; one person at a time. So my response to each problem was to create a business to solve the problem. I created company after company; some of them became very large companies. Solar home system companies. Nobody believed solar home system could work in Bangladesh. Particularly in the rural areas. I created a company and said let’s try it. Don’t give it up. We don’t have electricity. There is a good chance to bring renewable energy.  To create this tiny little company to sell one or two solar home systems. People could not believe it. But we didn’t give up. We started selling five solar home systems a month, then 10 a month and later to 100 systems a month. Sixteen years later today we sell more that thousand solar home systems a day. And we crossed a million solar home systems already. The business was not for making money.

People are poor not because something is wrong with them. Poverty is not created by the poor people. Poverty is created by the system we have built; and here is the place where the system is built. So to look back, where we went wrong – if we fix our system, nobody in the world will blame a poor person. Nothing is wrong with the poor people. Each human being is packed with unlimited creative capacity.

And I give the example of the Bonsai tree. I said – take the seed of the tallest tree in the forest. Put it in flowerpot, put the seed the flowerpot. It will grow this big. It will remain small. We call it Bonsai. Poor people are Bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seed. They could be as tall as anybody in the world. Simply don’t put them into the flowerpot. Give them the space so they can grow. That is what the “system” is.

We have created all the systems to make money.  We have created a money-centric world. We became money-making robots. I say, human beings are not robots. We are multidimensional beings. So let’s believe in what we can do. We can change the world; we can change the banking system. The banking system has not changed. Why not? I am puzzled.  I hope it will puzzle you too.

Why can’t the bank open its doors to all the people? What’s wrong?

We can change the world. Nobody should be a poor person. I am very happy – Congressmen and Senators – leaders of both the parties to put those words in the medal that we can put poverty in the museum. That’s what those words say in the medal.

And let’s believe in it; let’s make it happen. So that someday soon, we will visit the museum to see poverty, because we will never see poverty in the society. It does not belong to a civilized society.

And simultaneously we should create a world where nobody will be as unemployed person. There is nothing wrong with a human being.

Why should anybody be unemployed?

Why is a person unemployed?

Because we could not create a system so that it cannot happen. System is making people suffer for not any fault of theirs. If there is a fault in the system, it is our responsibility to fix it. So that everybody is protected, creative human being as they are supposed to be, and they are capable of just that.

Let’s create a world where nobody will be an unemployed person.

Let’s create a world where nobody will die unnecessarily.

Nobody will suffer from unnecessary diseases.

Because todays science and technology brings us all the facilities in the world to deliver healthcare at home; at a personal level. We don’t have to go through the old fashioned ways of big machines, hospitals, clinics and everything else. It can be done with a mobile phone. So I hope today, the great honor that you gave to the idea that we can create a world much better than what we have will make this happen. Let’s believe in it and make it happen.

Thank you very much.

RELATED PHOTOS:

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House majority leader John Boehner

House majority leader John Boehner

House minority leader nancy Pelosi

House minority leader nancy Pelosi

PHOTOS AFTER THE EVENT:

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Professor Yunus, Ghulam Suhrawardi (Publisher South Asia Journal), Congressman Rush Holt (NJ), Congressman Mike Honda (Ca). Rush Holt, on his personal initiative was instrumentsl in getting the bill pass the house.

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Prof. Yunus speaking On extreme right Congressman Mike Honda (Ca), Ambassador Osman Siddique

 

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Congressman Crowley speaking

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The first lady of South Africa – Mrs. Mbeki

 

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With Monica Yunus

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With the staff of Grameen

 

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