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College Student Shares her Discovery of Microfinance

By Kelsey McGrath

In January, I spent a couple of hours with staff at Opportunity International’s Oak Brook office.  Although it was just a lunch break for them, it was a turning point for me.  This semester, I’ve decided to double major in Global Studies and Spanish.  And I am so incredibly happy and fulfilled with this decision.  I’m loving all of my classes for the first time in my college career, and I am actually incredibly interested in what I am studying.  

In my Global Studies class, we focus primarily on developing countries and the causes of poverty.  It has been great to connect what I have learned about microfinancing from Opportunity to what we are learning each week in class.  

Also, I now know what direction I want to take in life.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to join the Peace Corps after I graduate from UIUC. Then later, I would absolutely love to work with an international organization that serves developing countries in alleviating poverty—whether that be in a sector of the United Nations, Amnesty International, or even Opportunity International.  

A couple of weeks ago, Muhammad Yunus came to speak to our campus and I was fortunate enough to attend.  He invented the concept of microcredit and founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.  In 2006, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with the Grameen Bank) for his efforts in economic and social development.

His speech was absolutely fantastic and incredibly inspiring!  And it related to everything that I’ve learned about Opportunity.  He was a dynamic speaker who emanated wisdom and hope. He talked about how he came up with the concept of the Grameen Bank, saying, “I didn’t know anything, so I could do anything.  Once I learned how conventional banks work, I just had to do the opposite.”  

Conventional banks typically serve men, are owned by the rich, turn people away for lack of credit, have borrowers come to the banks’ premises, and don’t concern themselves with the children of clients.  So Yunus created the Grameen Bank, where 97% of its borrowers are women, it is owned by the borrowers, it utilizes mobile banking, and it ensures that the children of clients are educated through high school, and hopefully college.  I loved when he said, “We are not interested in your past; we are interested in your future.”

He also spoke about poverty in a general sense, asking, “who creates poverty?  Is it a creation of the person?”  No.  ”Poverty is an artificial imposition on a person.  It is built by the system [institutions, policies, concepts], and unless we change the system, it will be extremely difficult to beat.” He affirmed how a poor person is just as capable and creative as any other person.  There is nothing wrong with them so why do they have to suffer?

The concept of social business was also thrown in the mix—of not asking, “How much money did we make this year?”  But rather, “How many children came out of malnourishment this year, and how many next year?”  

This resonated with me, because as a freshman in the College of Business, I was turned off by the huge emphasis on profit maximization.  I love this idea of social business that is built on human selflessness.  He ended with his talk with, “Nothing is impossible.  We created this mess and it is in our power to remove it.”

Anyway, I very much enjoyed his speech, and I hope you have enjoyed reading a tiny bit about it.

P.S. If you’re a college student, and would like to do something tangible to help alleviate world poverty, check out Opportunity’s partnership with the Two Dollar Challenge athttp://www.twodollarchallenge.org/.

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