From Two Cents a Day to Earning a Living

A Bangladeshi woman who skillfully made beautiful stools lived her life in dire poverty, making only two cents a day. Why? Because she had no money to buy bamboo and was forced to borrow from a money-lender who demanded she sell her finished stools back to him at a price that was so low that two cents profit was all she could manage.

This is what she explained to Muhammad Yunus, a U.S.-trained economist who wandered around the local village asking people what lay behind their plight. He wondered why the economic theories he had studied at Vanderbilt weren’t working in Bangladesh.

When he asked the skilled stool maker if she could earn more if she were freed from the moneylender, she said, “Yes I can.”  Finding other villagers in the same dilemma, Professor Yunus gathered 42 people who needed a mere 68 cents each to pay-off their moneylenders, buy materials, and begin selling their wares to the highest bidder.

With this small loan profits soared from two cents to $1.25 a day, which in Bangladesh was enough to pull the villagers out of dire poverty. And so began what we now call microfinance and Grameen or “Village” bank.

Grameen does business the reverse of custom. Most banks lend to the rich but Grameen lends to the poor, most banks lend to men but Grameen lends to women, most banks lend to the literate but Grameen lends to the non-literate, most banks make big loans but Grameen makes small ones, and while most banks require collateral, Grameen does not.

Today Grameen Bank has lifted millions of people out of poverty, serving more than 100 million of the world’s poorest families. And Muhammad Yunus has won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Check out microfinance and Grameen Bank as a way to aid the worlds poorest. Make a donation with KIVA or volunteer with RESULTS.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 23, 2011, in feminism, gender, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Globalization has shed a bright light on the inequities of wage earning worldwide- the ability to send money around the world and the burgeoning micro-finance philanthropic trend is showing how harsh the reality of business can be for women economically disadvantaged nations. Having traditional and cultural barriers to marketplace entry (like familial caste, arbitrary gender slanted World Bank rules, etc) can make supporting her household a dream- a reality for skilled female workers.

    The organizations that you mentioned in your blog are making a world of difference in how the world can rise to its potential when the local presence is not enough.

  2. Prior to reading this article, I had no idea that such an institute as Grameen existed. To think that there are people out there (specifically rural women in this case) living in poverty and earning only two cents a day is astounding! I really admire Grameen’s cause in lifting these women out of poverty by lending small loans, such as 68 cents, to get them out of their funk and back on their feet. In the United States alone, there are people spending their money (or lack of money, i.e., credit cards) so frivolously on luxuries they really don’t need. According to the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Credit Report, the average credit card debt per household as of July 2011 is $15,799! I think a lot can be learned from this. For one, there are still very noble institutions out there like Grameen that serve for the common good and are not just trying to pinch every penny away from you (i.e., big corporate banks and Wall Street). A very well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize for Grameen!

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