Thursday, August 12, 2010

It’s Not Easy Being Gr(am)een

Today we visited a new branch, and attended a new group recognition ceremony. I found the visit particularly interesting because the Branch Manager said something I hadn’t heard before: “Getting the poor to pay back isn’t easy, it takes work…. It’s not like flowing water. You can’t just give away money and expect it to come back….”

I don’t mean to say everyone told us it was easy. They did not. It’s just that it is challenging to get people to talk about the challenges involved in the Grameen Bank model. Taking a look back, it is easy to talk about the challenges. When the bank was first starting, simply getting people to join was a huge challenge, as many naysayers and overbearing husbands started crazy rumors, such as, “They will steal your money, they will convert you to Christianity, they will send you abroad….” But 30 years later, that is no longer a problem. Everyone here knows Grameen.

But instilling a sense of discipline, and teaching new borrowers the rules and regulations, remains a challenge. As these women are often poor, illiterate people, not familiar with these types of financial transactions, they may not just understand right away. You need to keep going back to ensure they understand, and are utilizing their loan properly. The Area Manager, who was there for the group recognition, clarified, “It takes new members time to learn all Grameen Bank rules and regulations. They can’t just read them in manual. They must learn from older borrowers, center managers, branch managers, and by gradually moving through the Grameen system. It takes time for new staffers to become efficient, just as it takes time for the new borrowers to become efficient.”

That makes sense. And as I think about it, how many of us will live and die and never understand all the rules and regulation of our own banks. These poor women are way ahead of us.  

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