I am deeply touched by the great honor given to me by electing me a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee. It was a big surprise to hear the news about the Award. I still cannot make out how the trustees of this prestigious foundation could notice a small effort such as ours, which has reached only some 100,000 in a population of more than 90 million. I can only admire the foundation for taking a big risk in choosing me, and in demonstrating its confidence in our work when we need it the most.
As a student of social science I could not feel comfortable with what I learned. When it came to applying this knowledge in solving real problems, it appeared toothless. I continued to get a feeling that the knowledge that we present in the discipline of social science is replete with pretensions and make-believe stories. We have picked up the habit of imagining things, rather than seeing things as they are.
Social scientists enjoy being up above in the sky and having a panoramic bird's eye view over a wide horizon. A bird's eye view is certainly very revealing when you've already fortified yourself with enormous quantities of close-up shots at ground level and you know what you are looking at. The view from the sky without the supportive close-up view from the ground merely encourages you to take recourse to daydreaming.
Not all people have access to a bird's eye view. Poor people don't. They are too busy eking out a survival for themselves with their worm's eye view. With this view they have to assess their immediate neighborhood in a continuous search for a way which will keep them out of trouble today.
When a problem is seen in a lumped form, it is easy for the viewer to be overwhelmed by its enormity. In many cases, however, large problems are merely a composite of a great number of simple problems. Simple problems can be solved by simple people. But by putting them together to make a complex problem we take them out of the comprehension of the everyday person. Once we remove something from the comprehension of an individual, we have incapacitated him mentally and physically. He cannot make himself useful in any way in solving the problem.
Poverty can be better understood if we look at it from the ground level and at a very close range. Then, instead of generating billions of words about it, we can find ways to cope with it.
Poverty is not caused by a person's unwillingness to work hard or lack of skill. As a matter of fact, a poor person may work very hard -- even harder than others -- and he has more skill and time than he can use. He languishes in poverty because he does not receive the full worth of his work. Under the existing social and economic institutional arrangements someone else always comes in between and skims off the income that was due to him. The existing economic machinery is designed in such a way that it allows this process of grabbing to continue and gather strength everyday, so that the earnings of others can make a handful of people richer and turn a large number of people into paupers.
A poor person cannot arrange a larger share or return for his work because his economic base is paper thin. If he can gradually build up an asset-base he can command a better share.
Land to the landless will help build up this base. There are other forms of assets which will improve his economic situation. Credit, for example; it is a liquid asset. The recipient of credit can decide which particular tangible form he will convert this asset into. Best of all, credit is something that a nation can generate at a rate commensurate with its requirements.
With financial resources at his disposal, an individual is free to build his own fate with his own labor. Nothing can match the spirit of a free human being.
Many suggest generation of employment as the solution to the problem of poverty. Employment per se does nor remove poverty. Unless designed properly, employment can turn into a handle to perpetuate poverty. Employment may mean being condemned to live in a squalid city slum or working for two meals a day for life.
Removal of poverty must be a continuous process of creation of assets by the poor at a steady rate. Poor people know what they must do to get out of the rut. But the people who make decisions refuse to put faith in their ability.
In Grameen Bank, not only are poor men and women changing their lives by their own efforts, in the process they are changing the lives of the people who work with them. Bank workers, who are in fact the architects of this bank, continuously surprise us with their ability and willingness to put in extra hours, travel longer distances in difficult terrain, and reach toward new horizons of activities. On this magnificent occasion I wish to record my sincere thanks and gratitude to them for making Grameen Bank a great institution.
I am overwhelmed by the honor you have granted me. I realize very well that I am receiving this Award because hundreds of young men and women in the Grameen Bank have been working so hard to make a dream come true. With all humility in my heart I receive this wonderful Award and thank you, and then my co-workers.