Muhammad Yunus

Yunus, Muhammad, 1940–, Bangladeshi economist and banker, b. Chittagong (then in British India), grad. Vanderbilt Univ., Nashville, Tenn. (Ph.D. 1971). Yunus, who taught economics in the United States after receiving his doctorate, returned to his homeland when it won its independence from Pakistan in 1972, and became an economics professor at Chittagong Univ.

In 1976 he began offering small loans, using his own money, to poor village women who could not qualify for conventional bank loans, creating what has become known as microcredit or microfinance. His efforts, which expanded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, led to the establishment of the Grameen Bank [Bengali, = rural or village] in 1983. Bankrolled in part by loans and grants in the 1980s and 90s, the Grameen Bank has since become self-supporting. The concept of microfinance has spread to many developing countries, allowing some of the world's most improverished people the means to improve their lives through their own initiative; the borrowers continue to be largely women. Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their work to create economic and social development from below.

More recently, in a scheme aimed at eliminating poverty, he has called for the creation of self-sustaining businesses whose profits would be used to aid the underprivileged. Yunus outlines this proposed new economy in his books Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2007) and Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity's Most Pressing Needs (2010), and he has created a number of such ventures in cooperation with several major corporations.

In 2007 Yunus considered forming a political party in Bangladesh. Though he ultimately abandoned the idea, the move led to tensions with the established political parties. By 2010 the Awami League–led government was openly critical of the Grameen Bank and his management of it, and he was forced out as the bank's managing director in 2011. The government subsequently (2013) reduced the independence of the bank.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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