Grameen bank: A multinational corporation based on solidarity?
Transposing these ideas into the Czech environment, we could certainly find several domains where similar parallels can be found in the nowadays crisis. But it is not the point I would like to make today. One month ago, I took part in a conference about social business where I heard a speech of the bangladeshi professor of economics and Nobel prize for peace winner Muhammad Yunus. He was talking about his view of doing business – „social business“ in his words – based on an idea of helping the poorest people around the world to escape from the vicious circle of poverty by lending them small sums of money. These so called „microcredits“ gained a spectacular success all around the world and Yunuses Grameen Bank, launched in Bangladesh in 1983, rapidly expanded and continuously mushroomed in other countries. Nowadays, Grameen Bank operates in more than 40 countries including USA and in 2006 its net income was more than 20 million dollars. For some, fabulous success on both economic and especially social level. More than 97% of Grameen bank´s borrowers are women and the system of lending money is conditioned not only by repaying the debts (financial return) but also by behaving according to the „16 decissions“ - such as a contition of sending children to school, drinking clean water or maintaining sanitary precautions etc. Thanks to this „educative“ dimension, thousands of families manage to improve their living standards and some even escape the poverty (social return).
On the other hand, looking at Yunus through Korten´s lenses, we could also develop several critical arguments. Yunuses Grameen bank is, in a way, accepting the neoliberal approach as it continuously becomes a multinational corporation itself. By investing in the world´s poorest populations through yielding loans, these are becoming indebted and dependent on the power cumulated by Grameen bank. We could also argue that in its market, Grameen bank often holds a monopoly or at least occupies a large part of the market which would, according to Korten´s arguments, drive off the concurrence and reduce the competitivity. Last but not least, as Grameen bank accepts the growth imperative, it should be obliged by the market pressures to increase the economic performance and its gains. Comparing to the usual banks´ interest rates, Grameen´s interest rate on its main credit product in 2006 was close to 20% and some of its „moral conditions“ could be easily interpreted as an imposition of a the market ideology. Muhamad Yunus continues in expanding and multiplying his businesses and since a few years he has been cooperating with several large multinational corporations such as Danone or Veolia.
But still, there are some facts about Grameen Bank that are not fitting well in Korten´s description of multinational corporation´s impacts. The first one concerns its relation to unemployment. Grameen Bank doesn´t seem to „colonize“ markets in the same way as General Motors. On the contrary it creates new markets, attracts new investments and helps the poorest to create their own small businesses, to learn the meaning of responsibility and saving money and to support the self-employment. Neither does Grameen Bank merge with other companies in order to become more profitable. Again, we observe something rather opposite. More and more banks are introducing „microcredits“ and more and more entreprises are getting interested not in buying, but in cooperating with Grameen Bank. Remains the last point mentioned by Korten´s description of multinational corporation – the concentration of power and capital in the hands of minority getting richer. If the Grameen bank´s websites don´t lie, we find a surprising answer, this time totally contradictory: 94% of the bank´s equity is owned by the borrowers themselves. Grameen banks is almost purely a cooperative bank. Only the remaining 6% are said to belong to the Government of Bangladesh. Does that mean that the founder of Grameen bank Muhammad Yunus doesn´t own any single percent of his own business? Are we still talking about the multinational corporation in a Korten´s sense? And if the answer is „no“, what kind of multinational corporation are we then talking about? Is the term ever appropriate for this kind of „business“? And considering the potential impact of Grameen bank´s inspiration for thousands of businessmen all around the world, is it appropriate to think that this kind of market-based solutions can contribute to more just, equal and wealthy world in the „non-profit“ sense of this word?
P.S. Aby řeč nestála, připojuji něco ze školních škamen a vyzývám své anglicky mluvící přátele k diskusi :)