Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright have joined a growing chorus of global leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that have decried the Bangladeshi government’s latest maneuvers to take over the Grameen Bank. The bank has been a pioneering model emulated worldwide, demonstrating the power of microfinance to help lift individuals out of extreme poverty.
Historically Grameen Bank has been 97 percent owned by its customers, women from Bangladesh’s poorest regions. In late 2010, the government installed a chairman and gave him the authority to name a new managing director, a charge previously held by the bank’s board, the majority of whom are borrowers. This shift has created concern worldwide that shareholders will lose ownership of the Bank. There are also increased reports of government corruption, including the raiding of government run banks by government officials and bribe demands that led to the cancellation of the World Bank loan for the Padma Dam.
In the Wall St. Journal, Shultz and Albright wrote, “Grameen Bank is more than just another financial institution. It is a symbol of how people who lack advantages of any kind can nevertheless lift themselves out of poverty through hard work and personal accountability. We hope the government will think again and choose instead to preserve a system that has worked well, earned credit for Bangladesh on the world stage, and inspired followers across the globe.”
There is growing momentum to support the borrowers of the Grameen Bank in ensuring the institution retains its independence:
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. State Department have expressed concern regarding the bank takeover.
- U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer led all 17 female U.S. Senate members in urging the Bangladeshi government to preserve the autonomy of the Grameen Bank.
- Journalist David Bornstein, who specializes in writing about social innovation, and entrepreneur Richard Branson have publicly voiced support for the Grameen Bank shareholders in the New York Times and The Times, respectively.
- More than 140 prominent female Bangladeshi leaders have expressed their solidarity with the women of Grameen Bank.