“The quiet ambassador of microfinance around the world makes her one of the outstanding women world leaders for financial inclusion in the world” (S. Ghosh, April 2008).
Nurjahan Begum was recruited in 1976 by Muhammad Yunus, the microfinance pioneer and founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006 for his work on eliminating poverty with the concept of microcredit. Grameen Bank (Grameen means “of the village”), is a profit-making business, that lends small amounts of money based on trust, requiring no collateral, owned by the poor and working for the poor. It is a community-based organization providing a chance at a better life for those who live in poverty.
Poverty, illiteracy and superstition were customary as well the subjugation of women was rampant in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh. Nurjahan’s mother, wanted her daughter married, but Nurjahan was determined to finish her studies and find work. Her brother wouldn’t allow her to attend Chittagong University and study history, so she studied Bengali literature, the only subject at the Chittagong’s Women’s College. In 1971, Nurjahan Begum was hired by Yunus to write up case studies of women who were given micro-loans. “Not only did women experience poverty more acutely than men, but they also behaved differently because of it. As the number of female borrowers increased, the staff observed that money which entered the household through the mother seemed to have a more profound impact on the family as a whole. When a woman brings income, the immediate beneficiaries are her children” (Yunus, p.142).
Nurjahan was touched by these women’s experiences. She would walk to the villages interviewing and recruiting destitute women to work together and form groups, separate from the men, to help each other in starting their businesses. A center was then formed of six groups. Each center elected chief and deputy which would gather weekly at the center house which would accommodate between 6 to 8 borrowing groups. The center house was known as the “heartbeat” of the Grameen’s project; the motto was: “Discipline, Unity, Courage and Hard Work.” This is where villagers began to have a voice in the community, where they gathered to repay their loans and discuss undertaking a collective project specific to the villagers’ needs, such as food and shelter. Over the years, Nurjahan Begum helped create the Grameen Bank social manifesto: The Sixteen Decisions, which addressed a wide range of social problems, were a code by which the groups would live by and was recited by the members before the end of every meeting (p. 97).
Nurjahan Begum became the principal of the Grameen’s Training Institute and the administrator of several other programs, inspiring young educated women to get a career in helping disadvantaged women. She took over as Managing Director after Muhammad Yunus retired in 2011. Her lifelong dedication and work with the borrowers of Grameen Bank have impacted the social lives of thousands of impoverished women and children in Bangladesh.
Nurjahan went on to serve Grameen Bank for 35 years. Since then, Grameen bank has extended to many branches of social development in the sectors of agriculture, health care, nutrition, family planning, childcare and business opportunities. Nurjahan Begum has played an important role as Managing Director, Director and Chairperson of the different branches Grameen Bank.
Bernstein, D. (1996). The Price of a Dream, the story of the Grameen Bank. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Chaudhuri, C. (April 2008 ). Nurjahan Begum: The Quiet Ambassador for Microfinance, retrieved from http://leaders.womensworldbanking.org/2015/10/23/the-quiet-ambassador-for-microfinance/
Contributed by: Chantal Archambault
KEYWORDS: Economic solidarity, Collective economy, Community Gardening, Microfinance