By Tiffany Hsu
Los Angeles Times.
Muhammad Yunus, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate for pioneering the concept of lending to tiny businesses and entrepreneurs who are poor, swung through Los Angeles over the weekend to mark the official launch of his Grameen America microfinance organization in the city.
The event at the Skirball Cultural Center drew several hundred people, many of whom came to see the man known as the Banker to the Poor. Yunus developed his ideas about credit without collateral as a weapon against poverty during a 1974 famine in Bangladesh, where he was an economics professor.
Yunus, 74, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 and helped expand it to thousands of locations worldwide. In 2011, the Bangladesh government forced Yunus to resign his leadership of the bank, a controversial decision that officials said was due to Yunus’ advanced age.
He launched Grameen America in 2008. The eight branches in New York have a nearly perfect repayment rate from borrowers, Grameen says.
The organization, aided by $2.5 million from the California Community Foundation, hopes to eventually expand its two branches in Boyle Heights and Pico Union to 13 total and provide more than $100 million in microloans to 14,000 women-owned businesses by 2020.
Before heading to the Global Social Business Summit in Mexico City this week, Yunus spoke with The Times. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What is it about Los Angeles and its demographics and entrepreneurial landscape that make it a prime place for Grameen to be?
A: I’ll put it the other way: Entrepreneurial ability and potential is in everybody. So it’s not in L.A. or any particular community. We started to believe that is built into a human being no matter where he or she lives — no matter if they live in L.A. or the top of a mountain or in a forest — same ability. But the facilities to explore those entrepreneurial abilities, to push those abilities to come out, don’t exist. So we started in New York City, and many other cities were interested in doing the same. We were invited here, so that’s why we came. We don’t choose anything. If you ask us to go to some deserted area, we’ll be happy to do that too. We go and try not to come to pre-judgment.