Grameen Bank: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due


After a year in which we saw capitalism do so much bad we forget the power of free markets can do so much good. However, one man didn’t forget. In fact, he embodies that vision. His name, Muhammad Yunus.

As the father of microfinance, the Nobel prize winner provides small loans to low-income borrowers with promising business plans through his Grameen Bank.

The program began in 1974, when Yunus lent $27 to a group of poor villagers and realized that even small amounts could make transformative differences. He set up the Grameen Bank, which has since disbursed about $6 billion in tiny loans to about 7.4 million Bangladeshi micro-entrepreneurs, mostly women in businesses such as street vending and farming.

In Bangladesh, Grameen also functions as a savings bank, makes college and housing loans, and operates projects in areas such as telecommunications, yogurt production and solar energy.

The problem with capitalism, Yunus tells Fast Money, is its distinction between companies pursuing profit and charities pursuing good. His bank model operates with corporate efficiency, but pumps profits back into social objectives.

Despite an explosive growth rate and opportunities to do business with the wealthy, Grameen remains true to its mission; it still only gives loans to the poor, and mostly women.

"We saw that money going to women brought much greater impact (on households), Yunus explains to the traders. "It's not the repayment, it's not the risk, it's the impact."

That might sound odd for most banks but it’s been a very successful formula for this one. Since its inception, Grameen Bank made profits every year, except for 1983, 1991 and 1992. And 99.5% of its loans are repaid.

Today, the Head Office of Grameen Bank is located in Mirpur-2, Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, after so much success in poor nations it's branching out. Grameen America does business in our country -- offering loans between $500 - $3,000 to the poorest Americans who don't have access to credit.

Make no mistake, a bank that specializes in doing business with the very poor is thriving right here, in this nation. Yunus's work is truly an inspiring story, but you may be wondering what’s its relationship to Wall Street and Fast Money?

It's that the guiding principle of banking should be to "open your banking system to the people. There are millions in America who can not open a bank account," concludes Yunus.

And perhaps it’s also that Muhammad Yunus is proof positive that greed can in fact be used for good.

To see our entire interview with Muhammad Yunus and learn more about Grameen Bank please watch the video above.

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Trader disclosure: On Jan. 26th, 2008, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC’s Fast Money were owned by the Fast Money traders; Seymour Owns (AAPL), (BAC), (EEM), (F), (FXI), (PBR); Seymour Owns A Short Position In (SNE); Seymour's Firm Owns (BIDU); Macke Owns (MS), (BAC), (SDS), (MCD); Adami Owns (AGU), (C), (BTU), (GS), (INTC), (MSFT), (NUE); Najarian Owns (EEM) Call Spread; Najarian Owns (FCX) & (FCX) Short Calls; Najarian Owns (GE) Put Spread; Najarian Owns (MSFT) & (MSFT) Short Calls; Najarian Owns (MS) & (MS) Short Calls/Put Spread; Najarian Owns (PALM) Calls with wires