Distributing the Future: Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank

Sun, 8 Feb 1998 10:17:31 EST

It has been said here before that there may be humans still living with
neolithic technology at the time of "transcendence" of the first real post-
humans. This statement captures the idea that the future is certainly not
evenly distributed and points to the fact that as we on the cutting edge of
transhumanism contemplate the coming of post-humanity literally billions of
humans struggle their entire lives with poverty and ignorance.

I've recently been reminded of someone who seems to embody a clearly extropian
approach to the social, economic, political and moral issues raised by these
facts. Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank and its associated enterprises
(http://www.grameen.com/gfly.htm) embody many of the extropian principles in a
broad front of efforts to "more evenly distribute the future." Yunus makes so-
called "microloans" (on the order of $50-$100) to would-be entrepreneurs in
the third world (especially in the Indian subcontinent). Most of his
borrowers are women, who use the credits to establish small businesses such as
irrigation services, textile manufacture, small-scale retailing and the like.
Borrowers are organized into neighborhood credit-guarantee associations that
multiply as one member after another utilizes Grameen credits, much on the
model of American midwest agricultural credit co-ops at the turn of the
century, but on a much smaller scale.

Apparently Grameen has been wildly successful. Here's an excerpt from an item
that can be found amongst Grameen's material on microloans at their website
(http://www.grameen.com/grameen/gbank/micro/trinews.html ):

> Microcredit was invented 20 years ago in Bangladesh
> by Muhammad Yunus. Today, Professor Yunus's Grameen
> Bank and copycat organizations have 3.5 million women
> borrowers; adding their dependents, that amounts to about 20
> percent of Bangladesh's population. In the latest
> elections, held on June 12, 1996, these newly enfranchised
> flexed their muscle. The Islamic Society, the fundamentalist
> party antagonistic to the West that wants to keep women at
> home, lost 14 of its 17 seats in Parliament.

Friday, NPR carried a news item about Yunus' latest venture: Using his bank's
microloans, he is selling solar-powered cell phones to poor people in
Bangladesh. (http://www.grameen.com/grameen/gtelecom/index.html). They pay for
themselves quickly in villages that have never known any form of
telecommunication, and serve as a vector for modernization on many fronts. An
example cited was the use of the phones by village farmers to check market
prices for their produce to reduce exploitation by grain traders. The NPR
story noted that Grameen Communications supplies phones to its customers at a
price of $300 per unit. The Bangladeshi government phone system was selling
them for about $50,000. Grameen's web site reveals that Yunus' next plan is
to set up a wireless, solar-powered internet system in Bangladesh for the same
purpose, using the same financing methods. Now THAT'S what I call extropian:
Using "bottom-up", highly distributed systems of networks based on principles
of individual effort and responsibility, people are employing innovative means
and the highest available technology to bootstrap themselves upward. The next
time you're feeling a little discouraged, stop by Grameen's website for a shot
of enthusiasm!

Greg Burch <Gburch1@aol.com>----<burchg@liddellsapp.com>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide
http://users.aol.com/gburch1 -or- http://members.aol.com/gburch1
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover