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Idea + $27 = Nobel Peace Prize!

In 1976 Muhammad Yunus, when taking a trip to the village of Jobra in Bangladesh during the devastating famine of that year, met a woman who was struggling to make ends meet as a weaver of bamboo stools.

She needed to borrow money to buy materials; but having no assets the conventional banks shunned her. Her only option was to turn to local money-lenders whose extortionate rates of interest consumed nearly all her profits.

Yunus, then a professor of rural economics at Chittagong University, reached into his own pocket and gave the woman and several of her neighbors loans totaling $27. When they surprised him and paid back the loans, he started traveling from village to village offering more tiny loans. And in the process, cutting out the greedy middlemen.

That led to his founding of the Grameen Bank (Grameen means �village� in Bengali), and the rest is history. The bank has now loaned $5.72 billion to 6.6 million Bangladeshi, 97% of whom were women, and today provides services in more than 70,000 villages.

This year Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize, a long-overdue stamp of international recognition for his accomplishment of the seemingly impossible. He enabled millions of people to become productive, self-reliant citizens by extending them a little credit, so they could fight their way out of poverty and climb the economic ladder with dignity.

Yunus popularized the term �microfinance,� and there are now several web sites that enable individuals to give or lend small amounts of money to others who post their funding needs. One is www.donorschoose.org, where public-school teachers can post wish-lists for supplies and resources their budgets won�t cover; later kids often send pictures and thank-you notes to the donors.

Globalgiving.com works similarly but funds small charitable projects around the world, and kiva.org connects users with loan-seeking entrepreneurs outside the United States. At prosper.com, those with money to lend can view requests from U.S. residents with Social Security numbers. (The sites all have layers of safeguards, such as verifying hardship tales and checking terrorist databases.)


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