Providing fishing nets . . !

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“..Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Provide him with a net and you feed him for a lifetime…” Adapted Chinese proverb.

Last week, I was invited for a function where adman Piyush Pandey released his book. There, I was introduced to a gentleman who unlike the others, who were suited and booted just wore a kurta pajamas. When he told me who he worked for I smiled and understood that the kurta he wore had helped more families to grow than all the suits in the room.

Around forty years back, a young professor of economics went for a walk in a village adjoining his university in Chittagong, Bangladesh. While there, he met a poor widow, Sufiya Begum, who tried to make a living by constructing and selling bamboo stools. She worked hard the whole day, and yet her daily net earning was just 2 cents.

Why? Because she had to take a daily loan for buying bamboos from the local moneylender, who charged exorbitant interest, and whose lending condition was that she sells her produce to him at a price decided by him!!!

She was poor – not because she lacked skills, or because she was lazy -but because she did not have access to working capital. All she needed was 27cents to get out of this vicious cycle. The kind professor gave her 27 cents… but then, also went on to find out how many others in the village lived on an income of less than $1 a day. To his amazement – and dismay – he found there were 42 such able-bodied skilled working people, whose total requirement to end their poverty was just $27!

He gave them that sum as loan, which they could use to break out of the cycle of poverty… and they returned the loan in due course. It was such an easy solution. Academically, this simple insight had a simple answer: Get the banks to give loans to the poor. But the banks refused, so the professor decided to create a bank for the poor! This led to the establishment of Grameen Bank – the “barefoot bank” – in 1983. The professor of economics, you guessed, was Professor Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2006. The rest, as they say, is history…

Today, the Grameen Bank has 2,226 branches operating in more than 71,000 villages of Bangladesh. It Has remained profitable all through its existence, except for 3 years, does not rely on external funding or donations since 1995 and has paid back its loans since then.

Whether we are a developed nation or an individual who is financially sound let us like Professor Yunus, provide the poor with nets to fish! Now, you know why I smiled with delight at the kurta-pajama bank’s representative in our country. He had come to provide fishing nets..!