The Hall of Knights in the Valdštejnské Palace, seat of the Senate (Upper house) of the government of the Czech Republic, was the splendid venue for an address by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh on “Responsible Capitalism”.
Amidst the splendour of the painted ceiling and mirrored walls, the great and the good of Czech academic, economic and political life gathered to enjoy a stimulating address full of good stories from the founder of the radically different Grameen Bank.
The lecture was sponsored by the Bata Shoe Foundation and Mrs Sonja Bata was there alongside the Vice-President of the Senate, Dr Alena Gajdůšková to welcome us all. My friend, Professor Petr Sáha, (Rector of Tomas Bata university in Zlin) presided and we sat back to enjoy Professor Yunus offer a vision of another way of banking – perhaps absolutely the opposite of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Union Bank of Switzerland and the failed Icelandic banks.
Grameen Bank was founded to make loans to poor women in Bangladesh for small scale entrepreneurship. Professor Yunus told us he sought to take ideas from the big banks and do exactly the opposite. So, no corporate headquarters in iconic buildings in the centre of London, Frankfurt or Zürich. No, for Grameen they work out of villages and bankers go to people rather than inviting people to go to the marbelled hall of the bank. As Professor Yunus commented “our service is provided at the doorstep of the village barbers.
Grameen Bank is now international – “branches” in 80,000 villages with 8.3 million borrowers ! With 1% default rates, Grameen Bank is clearly stepping out on more solid ground in loan management than the big corporate banks of Europe and the USA.
If it seemed slightly incongruous to meet in such a splendid setting to listen to heartwarming tales of upside down banking, it certainly made a delightful change to hear stories of good banking in support of the poor on a day when European news was full of accounts of banking greed.