In opening the Annual Conference three days ago, Her Majesty Queen Rania eloquently noted, “when the sky is darkest, that’s when we see the stars.” We ended our three-day engagement in conversation with one of the brightest stars in economic development: Muhammad Yunus, the “father of microfinance,” the founder of the Grameen Bank.
Yunus urged GPF members to think of the current financial crisis as an opportunity for sweeping change. Rather than simply extricating ourselves from the crisis, we also should be asking about the new systems that would best serve humanity going forward. Do we really want to return to the pre-crises status quo?
Any new system should be based on the fact that “human beings are multi-dimensional, not simply profit-making machines…The current financial system does a remarkable job of tapping into the selfishness that human beings share. Let us re-orient our thinking to also tap into the selflessness of human beings; why not tap that commonality to pave the way for social businesses that create opportunities for others?” In recognition that millions of Americans have also been excluded from traditional banking systems, the Grameen Group launched Grameen America, which extends an entire suite of credit, savings and insurance services in the US as well as the developing world. Yunus spoke of the exogenous forces of poverty, asserting that it is imposed on them by the system they’re born into.
System change was the theme of an earlier panel on the innovations of those working within – and outside – broken education systems. The dynamic Geoffrey Canada of the groundbreaking Harlem Children’s Zone and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, now have decades of experience re-inventing education systems in the most disadvantaged areas of the United States. These panelists with domestic experience were joined by former USAID Administrator, Henrietta Fore, who shared her global perspective on providing quality education. Wendy spoke of a sea change in attitudes. “No one, even in academia, used to think that it was really possible to overcome the effects of severe poverty in schools,” she said. “Even committed teachers face a tremendous struggle with low expectations that pervade disadvantaged schools – and it’s taken decades to build a counter-culture among TFA teachers that is strong enough to overcome those attitudes. Teachers have now made the transition from ‘survival mode’ to an expectation that their efforts bear significant fruit in the form of high-achieving students.”
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