Grameen Bank, the Nobel-winning anti-poverty organization, is in peril. A Bangladeshi government commission created last year has recommended breaking the bank into 19 pieces, filling the board with government officials, taking away the voting rights of over 5 million shareholders, and giving the government ownership of the bank.
Grameen has been a safe, stable, successful institution for more than 30 years. The key is its independence, which has protected it from political turmoil. Nationalizing Grameen Bank and the Grameen businesses, which do vital work on poverty-related issues, would lead to their decline and demise. The commission is creating a problem where none existed.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has the power to reject the commission’s findings, and she should do so. The letter below appeared with the signatures of 40 world leaders in the International Herald Tribune on August 13, 2013. Please sign it, and join in preserving Grameen as a force for good in the fight against world poverty.
Honorable Prime Minister Hasina,
We are allies and friends of Bangladesh—men and women, public servants and businesspeople, and citizens whose countries have all known the sting of poverty. We write to commend your leadership in the fight to end poverty in your country, and to urge you to reject the findings of a recent commission that would jeopardize the role that Grameen Bank and the Grameen family of businesses have played in that fight.
The Grameen family of businesses has delivered a profound and lasting benefit to the people of Bangladesh.
• Grameen Bank has allowed millions to lift themselves and their families out of destitution, creating an independent, borrower-run company and a model for NGOs the world over. Its borrowers, 97% of whom are women, have shown the power of an economic model centered on equality and inclusion.
• The 54 other social businesses within the Grameen family have provided tailored services to the poor and underprivileged: rehabilitating Bangladeshi fisheries; bringing low-cost, nutritionally rich food to impoverished communities; building health clinics to offer affordable medical care; and introducing solar power to rural areas without electricity.
• Their founder, Muhammad Yunus, has been a tireless advocate for Bangladesh’s success in improving the lives of its people.
Both Bangladesh and the international community have a compelling interest in the safety and soundness of these institutions. We commend you for ensuring that Grameen Bank and the Grameen businesses are operating in the interests of the people they are meant to serve.
However, the “Special Commission on Grameen,” created in May 2012, has not shown the same concern for the well-being of these institutions. We believe that it and its members are attempting to lead your government astray, and are putting the Bangladeshi people and their allies at great risk.
The Commission, which was set up to offer guidance on the future of the Grameen businesses, recently provided your Finance Minister with a set of recommendations. These recommendations would disenfranchise nearly 5 million borrower-shareholders in Grameen Bank, dismiss the borrowers who sit on the bank’s board of directors, and replace them with government officials. They would also result in the government seizing portions of the Grameen businesses.
These are recommendations which you and your finance ministry have the right to reject. We believe that implementing them could be disastrous. They would lead Bangladesh to violate its obligations under bilateral investment treaties, and to compromise the independence that has protected Grameen Bank from political turmoil over the last three decades. Moreover, we are concerned that the Commission may not be presenting its work in good faith, after the prolonged absence of half the commission’s members was disclosed in the international press.
You have continued Bangladesh’s progress in combatting poverty and expressed a commitment to keeping Grameen Bank and the Grameen businesses healthy and stable for generations to come. We share that goal, and we urge you to reject any effort by the Commission that would injure Grameen and the Bangladeshi people.
Former U.S. Secretary of State; Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group
Executive Chairman, Evercore
Former Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Sir Richard Branson
Founder and Chairman, Virgin Group; Co-Founder, The B Team
Gro Harlem Brundtland
United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change; Former Prime Minister of Norway
President and CEO, UN Foundation
CEO, MicroVest Capital Management LLC
Former Senior U.S. Senator for the State of Connecticut; Former Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking
Former President of Mexico
Edward M. Kelley
Governor (Ret.), Federal Reserve Board
President, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Former Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Eugene A. Ludwig
Founder and CEO, Promontory Financial Group; Former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency
Former U.S. Ambassador to Austria
Nobel Peace Prize winner and peace activist
Former President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; Former Acting U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management
President and CEO, Skoll Foundation
Former U.S. Executive Director, World Bank Group
Dean of Yale Law School and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law
Former Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Former U.S. Federal Housing Commissioner
Former U.S. Senator from the State of Michigan; Former Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Development
Former President, Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, Bonn, Germany
Former U.S. Senator from the State of Maryland; Former Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Development
Managing Director, Promontory Financial Group; Former Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Senior Fellow, Urban Institute
Chairman, Participant Media
Former Norwegian Minister of International Development and Minister of the Environment
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
Former President of Peru
Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Finance, Said Business School, University of Oxford
Chairman, UN Foundation Board of Directors
Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Anglican Archbishop
Executive Director, Georgetown Center for Women, Peace, and Security; Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues
Former Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Vice Chairman, UN Foundation; Former U.S. Senator from the State of Colorado
Founder, Zeitz Foundation; Co-Founder, The B Team