No offense to Bono, but we were thrilled to see the Nobel Peace Prize go to innovative Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus today. Yunus received the award on the strength of his Grameen Bank project, which allows poor people to borrow small sums of money without collateral. The arrangement, known as microcredit or microfinance, can mean the difference between starvation and subsistence for those who don't qualify for conventional bank loans and services. The Grameen Bank has lent an estimated $5.65 billion to 6.6 million Bangladeshis -- and 97 percent of the bank's customers have been women, according to the Associated Press. The average amount the bank's customers borrow is $200, and the bank has a 99 percent repayment rate.
Bangladesh, with its debilitating poverty and eroding coastline, is a natural fit for microcredit, but Yunus' efforts have also inspired similar systems elsewhere; banks modeled on the Grameen Bank are estimated to have helped 17 million people worldwide. A related AP story profiles a woman in Angola, who received a microloan of around $1,000 from a bank modeled on Grameen and has since established a profitable business, sent her daughter to school and bought a home.
Yunus and Grameen will receive about $1.4 million as part of the prize, funds Yunus says he'll use to create inexpensive, nutritive food for the poor. What a guy. He has been pretty modest about receiving the award, too -- one of his aides told the AP that the prize was an "honor for millions of poor women who have made this possible."