Paris, 16 October {No. 96-183} - Muhammad Yunus, managing director of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, today received the 1996 International Simon Bolivar Prize at UNESCO Headquarters in recognition of his contribution to helping eliminate poverty and improving the status of women in rural areas of Bangladesh.

UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor presented the US$25,000 prize, along with a certificate and a Simon Bolivar bronze medal to Mr Yunus, known as "the banker of the poor," at a ceremony this evening in the presence of Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas, Venezuelan minister of foreign affairs.

"Your ideas are perfectly in line with those of UNESCO," Mr Mayor said. He recalled that Mr Yunus, who holds a Ph. D. in economics from Vanderbilt University in the United States, founded the Grameen Bank after returning to Bangladesh in 1972 and becoming aware of the gap between the economic theories he taught and the living reality of Bangladeshi peasants. "Your whole action has been directed to alleviate poverty and to give the poor human dignity, because in your own words, 'poverty is the denial of all human rights.'"

Mr Yunus, 56, created the Grameen Bank in 1983 as an establishment to assist the poorest, particularly women, in avoiding loan sharks. He is the inventor of the "micro-credit" system which makes loans with limited guarantees, enabling those who normally are excluded from credit to work independently in such profitable fields as crafts. Some 94 percent of those who borrow from the bank, with branches today in 36,000 Bangladeshi villages, are rural women.

The banks created "a system of apartheid," Mr Yunus said at the ceremony. "Grameen Bank challenged this apartheid system." Today, the Grameen bank lends USD35 million each month in "tiny, tiny" loans and has a 98 percent repayment rate, "the envy of many top banks in the world," he added.

The Bangladeshi banker announced that a micro-credit summit will be held next February in Washington, D.C. to find ways of providing loans to the world's poorest 100 million families by the year 2005. "It's up to us to decide if we want to change the world," Mr Yunus said. "If we decide to change it, I firmly believe we can do it. Let's do it."

The seven members of the international jury unanimously selected Mr Yunus over 14 candidates for the prize. Created by UNESCO and the Venezuelan government, the prize was first awarded in 1983 to King Juan Carlos of Spain and Nelson Mandela. It was awarded in 1990 to Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and in 1992 to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

The prize recognises particularly meritorious actions contributing especially to the "strengthening of a new international economic, social and cultural order" in accordance with the ideals of Simon Bolivar, a South American general and statesman who helped part of that continent to achieve independence in the early 19th century.

Mr Mayor and Mr Yunus signed a co-operation agreement in September 1995 that calls for UNESCO to provide a life-oriented education programme for Grameen borrowers covering literacy, health, business and other skills. In addition, the Organization is providing technical assistance for the creation in Bangladesh of a rural cellular telephone company and solar energy company.


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