Muse by David Teitsma

My attempt to understand and be understood.

Wow! What an amazing and insightful book. But moreover, I am astounded by Muhammad Yunus's life and accomplishments.

Within the last year I have learned and researched about micro-lending and the opportunity that loans without collateral can give. I was under the impression that micro-lending was a rather new (within the last several years) concept and practice. However it has been around for several decades! It makes me kind of ashamed(at myself but also the lack of attention this received in the media) that I didn't know more about how this part of the world was being changed. Also, this book really deepened my understanding of micro-lending.

Yunus's life speaks to the many people that want to "change the world" and help the oppressed and persecuted. Yunus didn't start with some big action plan, rather he noticed a women how just needed $5 to buy the raw materials to weave instead of going through a middleman who would loan his the materials at horrible costs. He started small and took steps from there.

While I don't want to summarize the book or offer a review, I want to present some items that I noted:

  • Yunus as a economist could see how charity and just helping someone wasn't really help. "When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding a solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with outrlives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences." (Yunus 249) Very good point. This is why I give to charity's that aren't a typical 'charitys'. For instance Kiva, which is a collector and distributor of money to micro-lending organizations. Also CRWRC, provides services that are not based on charity but working with nationals to allow them to help them self.
  • Similarly government programs do not help, instead they line the pockets of the rich and politicians. For instance, a non-profit might make a point of utilizing less than 10% of contributions for administrative costs in the U.S., however the country where the money is going to might be taken by corrupt politicians, people, or police anyways.
  • Yunus targeted the true poorest of the poor. Not only did they have the worst conditions but by helping everyone on the lowest rung of the ladder it helped everyone on the bottom of the ladder to move up.
  • Capitalism is not inherently bad, rather its greed that corrupts it. He proposes that corporations be social-consciousness-driven enterprises. That corporations do not have to be just focused on profit, but can also be focused on social objectives. As of recently I have noticed more and more companies doing this (however sadly most of the time it is a marketing ploy), like Yahoo encouraging individuals to switch a light bulb to a compact florescent. Or Microsoft installing solar panels on some buildings. Or Dunkin Donuts only using fair-trade espresso beans. Also, Yunus did not just discuss this but proves it through his successful programs that encourage non-greedy capitalism.
  • "In the world of development, if one mixes the poor and the non poor in a program, the non poor will always drive out the poor, unless protective measures are instituted right at the beginning." (Yunus 42, 206)
  • When Bangladesh experienced four horrendous floods and a severe tornado, the loan officer stopped their normal activity and started providing emergency services, like shelter, medicine, food, and protection. However, Grameen provided these immediate services, but then continued with regular business soon after. However, "we want to give our members time to mourn their loved ones, but we do not want them to sink into apathy and lethargy from despair. We want them to start right up again thinking of survival schemes... During periods of disaster, old loans are rescheduled and a grace period is accorded for repayment." (Yunus 138).

    This page makes me ashamed at the U.S. It seems that when there is a disaster (Katrina) that those affected focus on their pain, agony and rights that they should be provided, while not working very hard to get out of their situation. They feel the government owes them justice, in the form of shelter and food, but neglect to work towards securing these items through their own means.
  • Yunus points out several times that many NGO's go wrong when the focus on training programs. The poor are not poor because they lack skills, rather because they lack means (this is one central point that Yunus wants to cement in readers heads). I would agree from my limited perspective that training is almost always to extensive, and is probably instituted as a safety net so organizations feel more secure. In other words it allows them to feel like that are not taking chances and they do not have to believe in the individuals. (Yunus 141)
  • Yunus states, "[o]ne research institution in Bangladesh estimates that of the more than $30 billion in foreign donor assistance received in the past twenty-six years, 75 percent was not spent in Bangladesh. It was spent on equipment, commodities, and consultants from the donor country itself." (Yunus 145) This is just another example of how charity doesn't really help. Sorry Bono.
  • I'll quote Yunus again since he states it so well himself. "[Development] should refer only to a positive measurable change in per capita income of the bottom 50 percent of the population." (Yunus 146) Whereas some say that just increasing the GNP for a nation shows a nations is improving in concern to their poor.
  • Yunus' ten indicators of a poverty-free life:
    1. a house with a tin roof
    2. beds or cots for all members of the family
    3. access to safe drinking water
    4. access to a sanitary latrine
    5. all school-age children attending school
    6. warm-clothing for the winter
    7. mosquito nets
    8. a home vegetable garden
    9. no food shortages during the most difficult time of the year
    10. sufficient income-earning opportunities for all adult members of the family.
  • He encourages some patriotism but discourages "high walls around our borders of our countries." As these restrict markets, especially of poor countries that not have no clout, especially when compared to market leaders. (Yunus 255)
  • Yunus is so humble in pointing out the problems he has identified in American government and culture. He critiques but doesn't point his shaking finger.
  • Finally, Yunus' life is proof of the talents, and gifts that God gives to everyone, even if they don't believe in Him.
Yunus, Muhammad. Banker to the poor. New York: Public Affairs, 2003.