Grameen is lending king in Queens

  • Business
  • Friday, 24 Apr 2009

NEW YORK: Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, known as the “banker to the poor” for making small loans in impoverished countries, is now doing business in the centre of capitalism – New York City.

In the past year, the first US branch of his Grameen Bank has lent US$1.5mil, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, to nearly 600 women with small business plans in the city’s borough of Queens.

People around the country are struggling to repay mortgages and credit card debts, but Grameen America says its loan repayment rate is more than 99%.

“While other banks are collapsing, this one remains strong,” Yunus told reporters at a street fair, where about 100 Grameen America borrowers sold wares ranging from food and flowers to clothes and jewellery.

“Microcredit has been one area the crisis has not impacted. The crisis has not touched it, still it is robust as ever,” said Yunus, who started Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983.

Zemia Shoffner received a loan of US$2,000 in January from Grameen America, which she used to take a baking class to expand her catering expertise and drum up more business.

“I have been running my business for about three years now and (the course) meant a lot because it makes me more marketable,” Shoffner told Reuters, noting her bad credit meant she could not get a traditional bank loan.

“This has really allowed me to live my dream. I had another job and I wasn’t really happy, so now I really have the freedom to pursue my passion. It means everything,” she said.

In Bangladesh, Grameen Bank has lent nearly US$8bil, in increments of a few dollars to a few thousand, to millions of poor borrowers – almost all women – to run small businesses. Bangladeshi economist Yunus and his Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Karen Giral, 20, who is pregnant with her second child and lives in Elmhurst, Queens, has paid off her first loan of US$600 and now has a second loan of US$1,000. She has used the money to build her business selling Avon products.

“It was a really big help because to save up that much money is ... hard,” said Giral, who heard about Grameen America from her mother. – Reuters

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