The Wrong Choice for Grameen Bank

As Members of the United States Senate who are committed to the economic advancement of women around the globe, we are profoundly troubled by recent proposals that would fundamentally alter the future of Bangladesh's Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank. For more than three decades, Grameen Bank -- headquartered in the capital of Dhaka -- has stood as one of Bangladesh's most recognizable and remarkable achievements. It is a model institution for modern development -- providing life-saving loans to poor women and helping lift countless individuals out of poverty. For this reason, it has been replicated by others around the globe. One unique aspect of Grameen Bank is that its shareholders are the very people who borrow from the Bank. To date, Grameen Bank has served over 8.4 million borrowers. Its shareholders -- the majority of whom are poor women -- are proud of its success and committed to its core mission. They understand the plight of poor and rural women because many of them have faced the same challenges. We adamantly disagree with any proposal that would remove control of the Bank from the women borrowers who own a majority of the Bank's shares. The Grameen Bank Commission, which was created by the Bangladeshi Government with little obvious purpose other than to harass Grameen Bank and embarrass its founder Professor Muhammad Yunus, has recommended three options to radically restructure the Bank. The first would give majority control of the Bank to the Government of Bangladesh instead of allowing it to remain governed by its borrowers. A second equally devastating option would turn the Bank into a private company. The third option would break the Bank apart into 19 separate entities with no legal relationship between them. If implemented, any of these recommendations would destroy the independence of the Grameen Bank and undermine the women borrowers and shareholders who have made the Bank what it is today. Any effort to restructure Grameen Bank is the wrong decision and one that threatens the future of Bangladesh's most vulnerable and the tremendous strides the country has made toward poverty reduction and growing civil society. We strongly urge the Government of Bangladesh to reject these ill-advised recommendations and instead allow Grameen Bank to operate with the respect and autonomy it has both earned and deserves. Doing so would send a clear message to the people of Bangladesh that their government is more interested in helping them achieve a better life than scoring cheap political points and it would signal Bangladesh's desire to become a more integrated and influential member of the international community.