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Lee Capristo
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Anne Arundel 100

Book Corner

Written by Holly Blumner, associate professor of theater, film, and media studies

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As a college student in Bangladesh in the 1970s, Asif Dowla, together with fellow student Dipal Barua, assisted their professor Muhammad Yunus in founding the Grameen Bank, a microbank system of credit. Believing that the poor were credit-worthy, and that public accountability and group collectives would promote honesty and repayment, the Grameen Bank began loaning money to poor families and sowed the seeds of financial empowerment for thousands of people.  The word “grameen” is borrowed from the Bengali word for “village.”

After a devastating flood in Bangladesh in 1998, when two-thirds of the country was under water for 11 weeks, 20% of the borrowers of the bank were late with their payments. The bank took that opportunity to re-examine its bank model and make changes to benefit the bank and its clients. Dowla, professor of economics at St. Mary’s College, and Barua have written a book about their experiences, explaining the changes in the banking system and how the new model better accommodates the needs of Grameen’s borrowers.

The Poor Always Pay Back: The Grameen II Story (Kumarian Press, 2006) has been translated into Chinese, French, and Bahasa Indonesian, and is now available in paperback. It is being sold on and at the College’s bookstore.

The book is required reading for graduate and undergraduate courses at Harvard, Princeton and Duke universities, and at the Norwegian School of Management.  In his review of the book for the Small Enterprise Development Journal, Geoff Wood, dean of humanities and social sciences at the University of Bath, United Kingdom, recommended that “pro-poor bankers, supportive policy leaders of governments and policy-oriented academics and students…have this book on their shelves.” 

The book is divided into seven chapters and a conclusion, using individual stories of borrowers to show how members have benefited from the bank.

The Grameen Bank has served as a highly successful innovative micro-credit model and an inspiration for self-empowerment, community, and the elimination of poverty. This book is an excellent resource for students, development practitioners, and anyone interested in alleviating poverty on a global scale.

The Grameen model is now used in more than a hundred countries. Yunus, who wrote a foreward for the book, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and Barua is now the deputy manager of Grameen Bank. Dowla, while still maintaining regular contact with the bank, was recently named the St. Mary’s College’s Hilda C. Landers Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts in recognition of his scholarship, commitment to students and classroom teaching. Dowla has taught at St. Mary’s for 17 years.