While I Am Indulging My Amateur Interest in Microfinance . . .

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 2, 2011

Let me note this report with interest:

Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance in 2006, has been asked to step down as managing director of the Grameen Bank. The central bank declared him past the age of retirement and has ordered his removal. In Bangladesh, the mandatory age of retirement for public sector workers is 60. Yunus turns 71 this year.

That one paragraph should be enough to raise alarm bells; if the mandatory age of retirement were so important, Yunus would not have been allowed to serve 11 years past it. And indeed, as the article goes on to note, the Grameen Bank is being attacked by Bangladeshi politicians, and Yunus is being harassed by lawsuits.

“The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” as de Gaulle was fond of saying, so Yunus’s departure should not be overhyped. At some point, he was bound to step back from his work on microfinance, and at some point, someone else was bound to take his place. But it is worrisome that a rock star in the microfinance world is being shown the door. Yunus’s forced retirement may indicate that Bangladesh has suddenly become inhospitable to the work of the Grameen Bank. Whether that is because the work of the Bank is subpar (doubtful), or because the political situation has taken a turn for the worse (more likely), those interested in making microfinance a successful anti-poverty program have every reason to be concerned. That concern will only increase if a significant number of talented people follow Yunus out the door.

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