Address by Princess Máxima
Middelburg, 13 May 2006
at the presentation of the Freedom from Want Award to Muhammed Yunus.
Freedom from Want, President Roosevelt said, was a commitment to erase hunger, poverty and pestilence from the earth. He challenged the nations engaged in war to strive together in peace to achieve this magnificent objective, hopefully leading the world to the greatest age of Mankind.
On this 13th day of May, 2006, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Award for Freedom from Want is given to
the founder of the micro-credit movement, a visionary who lifted the poorest people of his country to new horizons of hope, a revolutionary who took the creative energy of capitalism and combined it with the moral obligations of social responsibility; a teacher and a leader who has inspired followers in countless places to understand that trust and solidarity are collateral assets of the poor.
Bangladesh is your birthplace and remains your home. Encouraged by parents who stressed the need of education and who gave you a legacy of compassion to enrich your brilliance, you became a Fulbright Scholar and earned a doctorate in economics at Vanderbilt University, returning to become a leading economist in your own country. In 1974, Bangladesh suffered a terrible famine in which thousands starved to death. As you witnessed the tragedy where life and death lost all meaning, your intellectual understanding of economics gave way to your need to understand the real-life economics of the very poor. "Why was it," you asked, "that people who worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, did not have enough food to eat?"
You took your students on a field trip to the village of Jobra. You interviewed women who made bamboo furniture. Their labor was without profit. The lack of access to reasonable credit facilities made them prisoners of a system that assured their poverty. You understood that very small loans could make a significant difference in a poor person's ability to survive.
With $27 dollars from your own pocket, you made the first loan to these village women who not only repaid it but also established a growing business that gave security to their families. A new concept - micro-credit - was born. It sounds simple today but in 1974 it took courage, wisdom and genius to do something to change the poverty you had observed. A great idea took root and altered the world of the very poor in dramatic and hopeful ways.
The traditional banking world was skeptical when you established the Grameen Bank in 1976 to make loans to the poor, but the bank's record sustains your instincts. Grameen has made over $5 billion dollars in micro-loans with a repayment rate of 99%, a percentage unparalleled anywhere in the banking world - and all from the unbankable" the desperately poor. Your bank is owned by those it helps. It has made over 16 million loans, 96% to women, the most marginalized group among the poorest of the poor. The economic empowerment of women has had a dramatic impact on stabilizing their families as well as strengthening the communities where they live. You helped prove that women are powerful agents of change and creative managers of meager resources.
The micro-credit movement has allowed millions of individuals to work their way out of poverty with dignity. You have advocated that the right to credit should be recognized as a fundamental human right. The results of your work give powerful meaning to your advocacy. Increasing income, improving social and health situations in families and empowering women and men to a better involvement in the social, economic and political structure. Today, thousands of institutions all over the world operate micro-credit programs. All of them, inspired by your example.
There are those who say that your work is the single most important development in the struggle to eradicate Third World poverty in the past century. We know that you have made freedom possible for countless millions -- Freedom from Want. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a grateful world salutes your extraordinary achievement.