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Case Study: Bangladesh

Debt is a problem for many people in Bangladesh - not as the result of credit card overspending, or large mortgages, but simply from everyday survival.
If people do not have enough money, they are forced to turn to moneylenders, who often set very high rates of interest. Land or possessions are used as collateral (security for the loan), and if disaster strikes, such as a flood or cyclone, then they are unable to repay the loan and lose the land. People become trapped in poverty, with no hope of escape.

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The Grameen Bank

In 1976 a Bangladeshi economist, Muhammad Yunus, set up the Grameen Bank or ‘village bank'. It has done what no bank before has ever dared to do – it only lends money to people in extreme poverty. Most of these people have no guaranteed income, land or education. Borrowers are organised into groups of five, to provide mutual, morally binding group guarantees. This means that if one member of the group fails to repay a loan, then no one else in the group can borrow money. Borrowers agree to accept the bank's rules and conditions, which include educating their children and keeping their families small.

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Success of microcredit

This system of ‘microcredit' – the majority of loans are very small, with the average being about £50 – has proved very successful. It has more than 2.4 million borrowers, 95% of whom are women. The rate of loan repayment is high, reaching 97%. The bank has proved that the poor can repay loans, women can be successful entrepreneurs, and also that the poor can save. In fact, group saving have been as successful as group lending. There are 1,170 branches, and the bank provides services in 40,000 villages – more than half the total number of villages in Bangladesh.

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Exporting Bangladeshi ideas

The Grameen Bank is involved in far more than microcredit these days. There are a range of business activities including fisheries, irrigation projects, and the textile industry that parts of the bank has become involved in each with its own organisation. Another part of the ‘Grameen family' is setting up an Internet service provider. The aim is to provide access to the Internet by setting up kiosks in villages. The Grameen Bank is involved in projects in more than 40 countries, and the idea of microcredit has spread around the world – to the USA and the UK.