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Name: Julian Matthews
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hi. I'm a former journalist and Malaysian correspondent to CNet, ZDnet, Newsbytes (Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive wire agency), Nikkei Electronics Asia and AsiaBizTech.com. I also previously contributed to The Star, The Edge, The New Straits Times, The New Zealand Herald and various magazines. Currently, I train and advise managers and executives on strategies to optimize their use of social media and online channels to reach customers. My company, Trinetizen Media, runs media training workshops on social media, media relations, investor relations, corporate blogging, podcasting, multimedia marketing, online advertising, multimedia journalism and crisis communications. You can connect with me on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Restoring dignity the Grameen way

My biggest gripe against certain western quarters is the inability to understand the needs of the poorest of the poor out here in Asia.

They throw money and technology in our direction in the misguided belief that what works for them, will work for us.

They blunder at every turn in coming up with real-world solutions for those who badly need help.

One standout example is the revival of the idea of cheap PCs for the masses, in the cloistered, well-heated stratospheres of Davos, no less, which seems so ludicrous on the face of it when millions still do not have access to electricity.

These so-called visionaries need to be switched on to people like Muhammad Yunus. The founder of Grameen Bank, empathizing for famine victims around him, had an epiphany and decided to loan 42 people US$27. That was in 1976.

His idea was that if they had a social contract to repay the debt, they would treat the transaction as a business deal, rather than handing over money to a grubby moneylender they despised.

His first lendee was a woman who made bamboo stools, but couldn't raise the 25 cents to buy the raw materials. Forced to borrow that sum from the bamboo supplier, she was subject to his prices and made a paltry two pennies from the finished products.

"I wanted to give money to people like this woman so that they would be free from the moneylenders to sell their product at the price which the markets gave them," said Yunus.

He went to the banks and stood as guarantor to the "un-creditworthy" and all his borrowers paid him back. That spread the idea like wildfire from village to village, and the Grameen Bank was born.

The bank has now given out US$5 billion to 4 million people, 96 percent of them women. He even roped in beggars to take loans and become door-to-door salesmen of cookies, candies and toys. It gave them "self confidence", he says.

Yunus didn't shirk on technology either. Instead of PCs, he came up with the idea of giving the poor cellphones and started Grameen Phone. He gave women loans to buy them and re-sell calls. The women never saw a cellphone in their life, but took the challenge on and now 100,000 Bangladeshi women have become one-person mobile public phone offices.

Read the rest of the compelling interview of this inspiring micro-credit pioneer, entitled "Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the World's Poorest Citizens", by NBR's Linda O'Bryon at the World Health Congress in Washington, D.C.

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