Date: 17 April 2013
Venue: Rotunda, Capitol Hill
Time: 11:51 hrs-12:07hrs
What an amazing experience for any human being. All the beautiful words are spoken about me and my work by the leaders of this great country. I just can't hold my tears. All my life I was trying to tell people what I felt to be important. Trying to draw attention to my thoughts and actions. Today I come to this hall; I get all the attention I can think of. I hear the endorsement in the loudest voice, in the most powerful voice possible.
That itself is the greatest award that I could ever receive, anywhere, any time. Thank you very much for saying these amazing words and endorsing my simple ideas. I came to this Capitol Hill many years back, in 1971. I had no idea what this whole complex is all about. I was totally puzzled. I came as a desperate young man because people were being killed in my country and we declared our country as an independent country, Bangladesh. And the US government was not supporting our cause. I was 31-year-old teaching in the Middle Tennessee State University. I left my job, came down to Washington, to meet every single senator and congressman. In the process, I became an expert in the geography of this Capitol Hill. It has a very complex topography. Soon I became almost an expert on it. I felt that I could be a very good congressional assistant of a congressman. I learned a lot about the system that worked here. I was amazed that when the US government was opposing Bangladesh, US Congressmen and Senators were supporting us. That was a completely different thing than what I thought would be possible. This encouraged me. My job was to bring people from the constituency of each congressman to come here, guide them to the senators office, congressman's office and give them the briefing note what they should be telling to their congressman to support us. Tremendous amount of support we built up in this country among the people where the government was opposed to us. I will never forget that. I came back again in 1984, and '85 from Bangladesh for a different cause. This time I was invited to tell my story about Grameen Bank. Nobody knew about it at that time. A group called RESULTS, nobody heard of them at that time, organized by some crazy music teacher from Florida, Sam, pushing this idea of microcredit created in Bangladesh by Grameen Bank.I was brought into many congressional committee hearings, to present what I have experienced. Gradually RESULTS built up a tremendous momentum for their movement. Today when we talk 150 million people are taking microloans because of what you have done in this congress. This could happen because of the support you have provided behind it, and the most passionate volunteers of RESULTS, mobilizing forces to bring this information to every congressman, every senator. Thank you volunteers here, as well as everywhere else. What is it that I was trying to do? Not a big thing. All I had promised to myself in the context of the terrible economic situation when I went back to Bangladesh, leaving my job at the university in Tennessee, to see what I can do. The problem was so acute my economics knowledge didn’t have a clue of a solution. I thought let's forget the textbook economics. Let me just make myself useful to one person a day. That's all I wanted to do. And that was my beginning. And I did a lot of little things. The first little thing I did was to try to protect people from village loan shark. That was such a big problem. Suddenly I thought -- why don't I lend the money myself. Why am I complaining about the loan sharks? If you want to get rid of them, just loan it yourself. So I started lending from my own pocket. And that was the beginning of the whole idea of microcredit. Today we are still doing that impacting on millions of people's lives. Today I'm so happy that it can penetrate easily in every persons mind, as well as policy makers mind. I'm very happy today.
I come back after 37 years after I created Grameen Bank, to receive this wonderful honor that you have given me today, endorsing what I have done. I'm receiving it not for me, for all these women who work so hard to make the world convinced that they can take care of themselves with the support of financial institutions. Not charity, but the institutional support to help them do the things they are capable of doing. I'm receiving this Award on behalf of those millions of women. I am also receiving this Award on behalf of all the people of Bangladesh. It’s not only an honor for me personally, its honor for the whole nation of Bangladesh and the very hard working people of Bangladesh. They are determined to make a difference in their lives. All we need to do to provide them the right kind of institutional support. I'm very happy to come back today in the Capitol with my family members. I'm so happy that Monica could sing on this wonderful occasion which is attended by all my friends from all over the world. I see president Fox sitting here, former first lady of South Africa Zanelli Mbeki, and my friends from France, Japan and other countries. A global gathering of friends who believe in the same cause that I believe in. I think we can make a big difference because of all the power that you give us today. As I was doing my work in the villages, I saw a lot of problems in the lives of the people, health problems, problems of housing, problems of nutrition. Every time I saw a problem I wanted to solve it in my way, one person at a time. I responded by creating a business to solve a problem. I created company after company. Some of them became very large companies. Like, company to install solar home system in the village houses. Nobody believed solar home system could work in Bangladesh, particularly in the rural area. I created a company to try it out. Since we don't have electricity, I found a good chance to bring solar energy in the villages. I created a tiny little company to sell solar home system. People didn’t believe in it. But we didn't give up. We started selling five solar systems per month. 10 solar systems per month. 100 solar systems per month. Sixteen years later we now sell 1,000 a day. And we just crossed 1 million home systems in Bangladesh last November. It's a business, but it is a business not for making personal profit.
People are poor, not because something is wrong with them. Poverty is not created by poor people. Poverty is created by the system we have built. Here is a place where this system is built. We have to look back where we went wrong. If we fix our system, nobody in the world will be a poor person. Each human being is packed with unlimited creative capacity. And I give the example of the bonzai tree. I say take the seed of the tallest tree in the forest. Put the seed in the flower pot. It will grow into a cute little tree. We call it bonzai. Poor people are bonzai people. There is nothing wrong in their seed. They could be as tall as anybody in the world; simply society did not allow them the space. Give them the space so that they can grow. We created all the businesses in the world to make money. As a result we created money centric world. We became money chasers. I keep pointing out that human beings are not robots. We are multi-dimensional. We make money through business, fine, but at the same time we can use business to solve problems. I gave examples of what I do. We can change the world like we can change the banking system. We admire the power of micro-credit, but even 37 years after micro-credit was born banking system has not changed. Why not? That puzzles me. I hope it puzzles you too. Why doesn't it change? Why can't it open its doors to all people? What's wrong? Why should micro-credit be a footnote? We can change the world to make sure that nobody remains to be a poor person. I'm very happy that congressmen and senators and leaders of both parties have agreed to engrave these words in the medal that we can put poverty in the museum. Let’s believe in it, let's make it happen. I hope someday soon we will visit museums to see poverty since we wouldn’t see poverty in the human society. Poverty doesn’t belong to civilized human society. And similarly, we should create a world where nobody will be an unemployed person. There is nothing wrong with human beings. Why should anybody be unemployed? Why is a person unemployed? Because we create a system which makes it happens. The system is making people suffer, for no fault in them. If we know that the fault is in the system, it’s our responsibility to fix it. Then everybody can be productive, creative human beings as they are supposed to be. Let's create a world where nobody would die unnecessarily. Nobody will suffer from unnecessary diseases. Today’s science and technology bring us all the facilities in the world to deliver healthcare at home. We don't have to go to the old fashioned ways of big extra-expensive machines, hospitals and clinics and everything else. It can be done with a mobile phone or as simple as that.
With the great, great honor that you give me today on this thrilling occasion, you re-enforce my firm belief that we can create a world much better than what we have done so far. Let's believe in our capacity and make it happen. Thank you very much.