Take Action to Defend Yunus and Grameen Bank

March 11, 2011
by Jen Maurer, Sr. Policy Associate

The Grameen Bank microfinance model has been replicated around the world since it’s founding in Bangladesh in 1983 by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Because of what Dr. Yunus started, over 128 million of the world’s poorest people had a microloan in 2009. In Bangladesh, Grameen has lent out over $10 billion to 8.35 million borrowers. Many have lifted themselves out of poverty. But all of that is now in jeopardy.

After months of overtly political attacks to discredit Professor Muhammad Yunus, force his removal, and take over Grameen Bank, now the government of Bangladesh is very close to forcing Professor Yunus to retire.

We are at a make or break moment
— next week, the Bangladesh Supreme Court will decide if the government’s firing of Prof. Yunus is upheld. We need urgent public action now to preserve the independence of Grameen Bank. Please help by reaching out to your member of Congress and/or writing a letter to the editor today.  Review the actions below.

Background: The most recent attacks on Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank are focused on forcing Yunus to retire based on his age. Law states that government employees must retire at age 60; Yunus is 70. Grameen Bank’s board unanimously decided that there are no age restrictions on the managing director. The government of Bangladesh argues that it owns a small part of Grameen Bank, and thus Grameen Bank is under the regulation of the government, which thus has authority to remove him based on the age limitations. However, Grameen is not a government enterprise —it was created in 1983 by an act of the government, but has a special status with an independent Board. The government now only owns 4 percent of the bank, with the other shares owned by the Bank’s borrowers.  Law states that the Grameen Bank board has the power to appoint the managing director, while the government has limited power to approve the appointment; the government did approve Yunus in 1990. Despite annual audits and 2 government-appointees on the Board, at no point in the last 12 years has the government challenged Yunus’ position, even when he was reappointed in 2000. Among other officials, the Finance Minister has defended the government’s attempts to oust Yunus; the finance minister is 77 —this hypocrisy would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so tragic. 

Last Thursday, the High Court considered two petitions against the government’s firing of Yunus: one filed by Yunus and one filed by the 9 of the 12 directors of the Grameen Bank’s board — the 9 women borrowers on the board. The other 3 directors are government appointees, one of whom is the government-appointed chairman of the bank. Yesterday, the Bangladesh High Court ruled in favor of the government in its case to force Prof. Yunus into a premature retirement. Yunus will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. It is likely that this next step will happen quickly. If the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, the High Court’s ruling stands. Prof. Yunus has previously called for and supported a transition plan — BUT  under these forced circumstances, rather through rule of law and a process conducted by the Grameen Bank board that keeps the bank independent, under committed, effective leadership.

We are deeply troubled by these events, not only because it directly threatens the independence of Grameen, but because it challenges the independence of civil society in Bangladesh, which has been an indispensible and critical partner of the government. Thanks to civil society, the country has made great strides in women’s empowerment, education, TB, child survival and financial access for the poorest, and set the stage for new investments from the U.S. in global health, agriculture, trade, and climate change adaptation. No one will win from this struggle, but millions of poor women will lose

These attacks have brought condemnation within Bangladesh, including from the chairman of BRAC, the world’s largest NGO. The U.S. government has spoken out strongly against these charges, including strong statements from the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh and Sen. Kerry.

We continue to work in close partnership with Prof. Yunus, Grameen Bank, Friends of Grameen (headed by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland), and our allies in the U.S. government. Join us by taking actions to support Grameen Bank.

ACTION #1: Ask Your Member of Congress to Make a Public Statement

If your member of Congress has been supportive of microfinance, please reach out to them now and ask them to release a statement condemning this action by the Government of Bangladesh and expressing support for the independence of Grameen Bank . We need statements this week or next Monday to impact events in Bangladesh on Tuesday.   Use this tool to find a number for your member of Congress: http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/officials/ or you can call the Capital Switchboard at: (202) 224-3121.

If members are willing, they can also call the Bangladesh Ambassador to the US and express these concerns directly, in addition to a public statement.

Laser talk for calling your member of Congress: The government of Bangladesh is attacking the independence of Grameen Bank and trying to force Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus to resign. It has gone to court, and Yunus has appealed to the Supreme Court, which will have a hearing on March 15. The government has been attacking Yunus and Grameen for months. When allegations of corruption didn’t stick, they have resorted to trying to fire Yunus. These attacks hurt the people of Bangladesh and are not just against Grameen, but against independent civil society, which has been a critical partner in the poverty-alleviation progress Bangladesh has made. The US government has been actively defending the bank and Yunus, but additional public support from Congress is crucial now. Would the senator/representative issue a statement this week supporting the independence of Grameen and condemning the government of Bangladesh’s actions?

ACTION #2: Write a letter to the editor TODAY

While we are working on other media strategies, you letter to the editor may be the fastest way to raise awareness in your community, inform your editors of the situation, and tell your members of Congress to take action.

Remember to keep your letter under 150 words. Send your letter to RESULTS and to your members of Congress. Find your newspapers here: http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media/

Sample letter to the editor:
Title: Noble Peace Prize Winner Under Attack

Noble Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank are under attack from the Bangladesh government. Prof. Yunus is the father of microfinance. He started Grameen Bank to provide the poorest women with small loans to start businesses. They use the proceeds to care for their children and lift their families out of poverty. Without proof of corruption and without logical explanation, the government has spent the last four months attacking Yunus. They have now resorted to trying to fire him as managing director. If they succeed, they will effectively take over Grameen and set the rest of civil society on notice — if they can do this to a Noble Peace Prize laureate, who is next? I urge the US to continue to support Grameen and issue a clear statement to the press. I also urge rep/sen XXXX to issue a public statement condemning the actions of the Bangladesh government.

Background Resources

RESULTS press release (3/3/2011)

Sen. Kerry’s statement (3/3/2011)

US ambassador statement

New York Times article (3/9/11)

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