Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is it possible to eliminate poverty?

About three-forth of the total population of this planet are victims of poverty. Those who are fortunate and well endowed do not spend time thinking about the problems of the poor. The poor themselves are so preoccupied with the survival that they do not enjoy the luxury of thinking beyond the next meal. The largest proportions of the poor reside in South Asia and the Sub-Saharan region.

Everyone is familiar with the Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus and the story of the successful model of poverty eradication of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank. Prof. Yunus asserts that poverty is not a naturally ordained state of human existence. Poverty is unnatural as is human slavery and the colonial domination of countries. It is therefore natural to conclude that poverty need not be everlasting as indeed slavery or colonization were not.
Prof. Yunus believed that every human being is born with equal abilities, but with access to different degrees of opportunities. So he prescribes that if there was a way by which opportunities could be evenly spread out and made available to all, deprivation and poverty might be eradicated.

Prof. Yunus’s anguish and enquiries were triggered by the spectre of widespread deaths owing to starvation of the poor during a famine in Bangladesh. This reinforced the fact that not only do the poor not have access to resources during normal times, but this lack of access becomes fatal during periods of crisis. This further reinforces the fact that credit is only available to the prosperous section, while the poor who desperately need credit has no one to lend them.
The success story of Bangladeshi Grameen Bank is widely known. It started 30 years ago and according to Prof. Yunus, 80% of poor households in Bangladesh today have access to micro credit. Their target is to cover all households by 2010. The impact is reflected by Bangladesh’s superior ranking as compared to it’s South Asian neighbours in terms of social indices like infant mortality, maternal mortality, sanitation, nutritional balance and evil social customs such as dowry and child marriage. Prof. Yunus’s concept of “not - for – profit social corporate bodies” and a stock exchange for such “not - for – profit social companies” is under discussion in places like Harvard Business School and MIT – Sloan School of Business.

I had the priviledge of attending a seminar held in the Department of Economics, University of North Bengal, from 22nd to 24th March, 2007. I was fortunate enough to listen to eminent economists and scholars and I learnt that there are a number of success stories of Self Help Groups (SHGs) and NGOs in alleviating poverty in some isolated places in India. But given the vastness of our problems, the question arises that is it really sufficient. Micro credit has to become the core of India’s banking operations.

One of the greatest events of the 20th century was the innovation of ‘Satyagraha’ by Mahatma Gandhi to rid India of colonial occupation. It is probable that the concept of micro credit for the dispossessed to end poverty could be the biggest innovation of the 21st century.

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