The Grameen Bank, Social Business And Information Technology For The Poor – What Lessons Can PNG Learn?

“World’s income distribution gives a very telling story. Ninety four percent of the world income goes to 40% of the population while 60% of the people live on only 6% of the world income. Half of the world population lives on $USD2 a day. Over one billion people live on less than $USD1 a day” – 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate, Prof. Muhammad Yunus.

What Is A Social Business?

In his Nobel Lecture Prof. Yunus introduced to the world the concept of a social business and challenged the free market economy. He said because of the restrictions placed by capitalism and motivation to maximize profit, we have forgotten the social and emotion needs of human beings. In-fact the motivation to maximize profit has resulted in the increase poverty in the world today.  

I was watching his lecture on my Mac (Power Book G4) and was thinking about the rapid expansion of micro-credit schemes in PNG. By the way, just in case you are not aware, Grameen Bank is a micro-credit Bank. Over 97% of its borrowers are women!

Micro-credit banks have become successful in lending money to the rural people because they have targeted a need.

 We talk about improving the quality of life for our rural people, well, give them chance and the opportunity to do exactly that! And the micro-credit banks are booming because there is a niche for such services in the smaller towns and rural areas. Bank South Pacific Bank now has over 52% of the domestic market (they forgot to mention in the urban areas!) so they are now targeting other pacific islands countries, and my guess is that they will consolidate their market in the Oceania region than open a branch in New Zealand or Australia. I am not banker but by studying how they are moving, that is my prediction.

Back to social business. From the words of Pro. Yunus, “social business will be a new kind of business introduced in the market place with objective of making a difference in the world. Investors in the social business could get back their investment, but will not make any dividend from the company. Profit will be ploughed back into the company to expand its outreach and improve the quality of its products or service. A social business will be a non-loss, non-dividend company”.

The challenge he said was to innovate business models and apply them to produce desired social results cost-effectively. The areas which social business can get into are – health care for the poor, financial services for the poor, information technology for the poor, education and training for the poor, marketing for the poor and renewable energy. 

An Example Of A Social Bussiness – Grameen’s Social Business.

The Grameen Bank, which Prof. Yunus helped established has a social business. You can read about it here.

Information Technology For The Poor – The Grameen Bank Example.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is shaping the world and will continue to do so as far as we can predict. Grameen Bank saw that the rural and poor people also have a need for ICT and created a mobile phone company – for the poor!

What they did was they gave loans to village women to buy mobile phones to sell phone services in the villages. And they saw the synergy between micro-credit and ICT.  The phone business was a success and became a coveted telephone business for Grameen borrowers. Village women who own mobile phones and were selling the service were known as “telephone-ladies”. These telepphone-ladies quickly learned and innovated the ropes of the telephone business.

Today there are nearly 300, 000 telephone ladies providing telephone service in villages in Bangladesh.  Grameen phone has more than 10 million subscribers, and is the largest mobile phone company in Bangladesh. The telephone-ladies generate 19% of the revenue of the mobile phone company and 4 telephone-ladies are board members.

We Create What We Want!

I will end by quoting Prof. Yunus exact words because if I para-phrase them, they will not have the  same effect as his own words.

“We get what we want, or what we don’t refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world. We wanted to go to the moon, so we went there. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, it is because we have not put our minds to it. We create what we want. What we want and how we get to it depends on our mindsets. It is extremely difficult to change mindsets once they are formed. We create the world in accordance with our mindset. We need to invent ways to change our perspective continually and reconfigure our mindset quickly as new knowledge emerges. We can reconfigure our world if we can reconfigure our mindset”.


About rodney itaki

I am a medical doctor from Papua New Guinea. My posts focuses on current and emerging health issues in PNG.
This entry was posted in Health, Information communication technology, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Grameen Bank, Social Business And Information Technology For The Poor – What Lessons Can PNG Learn?

  1. Emmanuel says:

    Very Inspiring, thank you…

  2. Emmanuel says:

    Was thinking about your posting a bit more…do you think we would still have problems with small businesses dveleoping because of a lack of efficient transport infrastructure? And obviously communications.

    I love the idea but those two issues seem to pop up in my head, for example a lady growing carrots in Hagen gets a loan to transport her goods to Lae, how much will she end up selling her carrots to say, Andersons? Would Andersons get carrots cheaper in bulk from Australia?

    I don’t know the figures on my example above, but I guess the small businesses that a Grameem Bank like institution in PNG is supporting will need to eventually be competitive to be prosperous.

    But on an even lower level, it could create smaller economies within villages. For example in one small village out in Morobe, one villager grows chicken, one is a carpenter and one is a baker and they survive off each other by selling and buying from each other in that village

  3. rodney itaki says:

    Thank you Emmanuel for your comments. I have to agree with you that the 2 most important factors that will determine the success of small rural agricultural bussiness is a good transport infrastructure and a reliable communication system.

    Bangladesh is a very flat country and they have very extensive railways to almost every rural villages so the transportation costs from a rural village to a major town is relatively cheaper compared to PNG. In PNG obviously with our roads and highways being habitually neglected, it will be a struggle. With the IT boom in India and China right now, the effects are also being experienced in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. So IT in these countries is growing at an explosive rate!

    There is one province in PNG that has set the standard for good transport infrastrucure development and maintainance – ENBP. I did my grades 11-12 at Kerevat National High School and what I found was realy amazing. There is SEALED ROAD to almost all parts of the province. If it is not sealed, the roads are well mantained. I think it is one of main reasons why ENBP’s economy, which is agriculture based is the best in PNG.

    With regards to the example of a Hagen lady coming to Lae to sell her carrots, my guess would be that with high transport cost the prize the lady will be selling to Andersons for will be high compared to what Andersons would get if they buy in bulk from Australia. But if we take the marketing approach that is used by cocoa and coffee industries than I think the produce by villagers will be cheaper.

    For example, instead of a villager directly selling to a supermarket like Andersons, they will sell to a vegetable buyer (a company) who buys vegetables from villagers. They will also make sure the quality of the produce is acceptable following set standard guidelines. Such companies will also have to provide technical assistance to villager on how to grow vegetables that is of good quality. The same way as the coffee and cocoa industries provide technical assistance to small plot holders.

    The vegetable buying company than sell the produce in bulk to retailers like Andersons. I think it will be cheaper that way compared to imported vegetables. That is just my logical explaination. Someone dealing with such bussiness would be in a better position to see the economics of such transaction I am describing.

    And an efficient and reliable communication system, not only for individuals but more importantly for bussiness so that communication and transaction between bussiness is cheap. We still have have a long way to go but I think its good to talk about these kind of things.

  4. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  5. annilkhan says:

    Burning question: Has micro credit done a lot?
    found a good article and book on micro credit and grameen
    Contributors of this book are Doug Henwood, Patrick Bond, Bosse Kramsjo, Badruddin Umar, Susan F. Feiner and Durcilla K. Barker, Farooque Chowdhury, Robert Pollin, Gina Neff , Anu Mohammad, Omar Tareq Chowdhury.

    Here of the excellent article of this book:

    The metamorphosis of micro-credit debtor
    Farooque Chowdhury

    Micro-credit, the well-propagated mantra in the fight against poverty, is now expanding crossing the national boundaries as capital has done for centuries. Countries in the centre and in the periphery in the present world system are near-spellbound by this mantra. The actors include kings, queens, statesmen, bankers, charity foundation initiators, economists, development workers and the poor. Only the last one is at the receiving end.
    The metamorphosis of the micro credit debtor exposes the acts the capital plays in the act of micro credit and makes all its pious pronouncements hollow. The metamorphosis takes not only to the debtor, but also to other members of the debtor-household.
    The debtor of the micro credit turns owner of the tools or raw materials necessary for producing commodity as the debtor returns home from market after purchasing these with the credit money. But with the joy of ownership a poor debtor enjoys through this metamorphosis there comes a new burden, the burden an industrial proletariat does not have to bear: the burden and responsibility of maintaining, repairing and replacing the tools, equipments or parts of these and the costs that accompany it as the debtor is going to produce and going to be a producer of commodities. It is an extra burden. Usually the job is done not only by the debtor, but also by the other members of the debtor—household. That means time, necessary or surplus labour, depending upon a situation. The proud ownership carries another intricate calculation. An industry owner provides premise, shade, light, water, storage facilities, transport, etc. for producing a commodity and before hiring a wage slave the owner has to spend money for these ranging from construction, power and water connections, supervision, etc. which are calculated before the surplus value is appropriated. But in case of the micro credit debtor turned independent owner of tools of production all these burdens fall upon the debtor. It is the responsibility of the debtor turned owner to repair/replace/heal and to spend money for these. That means the debtor has to arrange the constant capital, and sometimes, the variable capital. The creditor does not always provide the money required for these purposes or the debtor has to set aside a portion of the credit money for these purposes. If the debtor sets aside a portion then the person has to extend extra time to the portion of labour that produces surplus. Moreover, the debtor turned owner has to construct/raise a shed for carrying on the production activity and spend money and labour power belonging to the debtor and the debtor’s household. Actually, the debtor, most of the time, uses own premise, rent for which is paid by the owner of the production unit, the debtor. Maintenance and repair is paid by the debtor, now turned into an independent producer. An industrialist has to pay rent for the premise, utilities and other facilities while they are within the premises producing commodity. But in case of the micro-credit all these are the debtor’s responsibility. The metamorphosis of the debtor to owner of tools, etc., to independent producer thus does nothing but increase the surplus labour time and squeeze necessary labour time so that the repayment of the loan can be made as per schedule.
    The debtor turned producer has to plan, search and work out comparative advantage, and procure and transport required raw materials for the commodity to be produced. The debtor, now acting as procurement manager of the household-based production unit, procures and carries or transports the raw materials for the commodity to be produced. Sometimes it is the spouse or sibling who performs the task, unpaid and unaccounted labour power put into the process. Is the equation in favour of the fellow who went to the banker for the poor to realise the fundamental right the banker propagates? Reality is that the shortened necessary labour time and the lengthened surplus labour time, obviously provide the answer. What about the level of appropriation? It is, certainly, not at the level Marx ‘calculated’. It is super-appropriation, never imagined by the mine owners of Rome, the colonial plunderers, the plantation owners, the slave owners in pre-slavery America, the multi-nationals operating in the countries on the periphery, not even the plundering-lumpen capitalists in a number of underdeveloped countries, but only by the multi-national micro credit capital. So, Michael Lipton and John Toye said in ‘Does Aid Work in India?’ : Rates of return on credit projects are particularly high in India; and Joe Remenyi said in ‘Where Credit is Due: Income Generating Programmes for the Poor in Developing Countries’: Credit – based income generating projects may be the most profitable way in which society can invest…Diminishing return has not set in this field…;…banking on and with the poor is a very good thing to do…. The typical successful CIGP …required an investment well below $1,000 per sustained wage – paying position created (one – tenth of the ratio in the formal sector)…[W]hen one is living at the margin of survival earning around $1 a day, an increase in earning capacity of 50 cents a day represents a substantial improvement in cash flow. These statements tell the truth.
    The metamorphosis of the debtor moves further as the fellow turns wage labourer. The micro credit finds a new commodity as, borrowing from Engels, the ‘source of new value,’ source of surplus ‘income’ with which the debtor will repay and ‘this commodity is labour-power’. The labour power is stored up in the bodies of the micro credit debtors and other members of the debtor-household who extend respective labour power to extend the surplus labour time so that the repayment could be made on schedule. As an independent producer the debtor has to fix the pace of production and that determines the debtor turned wage labourer’s pace and length of working hour. Even, the debtor wage labourer has to borrow labour power of others in the household, who are actually paid only by bare subsistence. To make the statement complete it is not the debtor only, but other members in the debt ridden household, along with the debtor, also, turn wage labourer, at least, part time. Does it not appear more intense than the conveyor belt or the Taylor system innovated by the industrialists to increase surplus value? Thus, the entire household turns into a household of wage labourers, full time or part time. Actually, the pace of work is determined by the time schedule of the repayment. Within the scheduled time for repayment the independent producer turned wage labourer, along with the co-workers in the household have to produce and sell that quantity or that number of commodity that can bring in at least the amount of money needed to repay the instalment of the debt. If seasonal variations, changes in market, health problems, other unseen troubles, non-availability of raw materials or transport, in short, major and minor forces, i.e. ‘acts of god and acts of reality’, coordination with the marketing day and the instalment day are taken into account then the pace of production of a debtor turned independent producer turned wage labourer can be imagined. The person has to forget 8-hour working day, rest, amusement and attending to family chores. It is only to produce surplus enough for repayment. Does it sound like the sweating system? Does an industrialist having a supervisor or a foreman appear fool? While an industrialist has to devise a mechanism, a supervisory system and keep a physical appearance in the work place the micro credit capital does not require all these. Its mere regimentation, mere providing credit at the doorsteps of the poor and its higher level of ‘consideration’ or attention regarding collection of part of the credit from the debtor’s home so that the poor fellow does not turn a defaulter that determine the pace of production. This is the condition of the micro credit wage labourer, obviously a bit different from an industrial wage labourer. An industrialist ‘purchases the use of one week’s labour of [a] worker’ if the worker is paid on weekly basis, but the micro creditor purchases the labour of the debtor for an entire year, if, assumed that the loan will be repaid within a year, or for the entire period until the loan is repaid. With the payment for necessary labour time, a specific amount of money paid for subsistence of a worker and members of the worker’s family, an industrialist ‘ensures the continuance of labour-power even after his [the worker’s] death’, but the micro-creditor ensures the simultaneous use of labour – power of the household members of the debtor along with that of the debtor. The labour, through persistent struggles, has won, in relative terms, a number of measures to safeguard own body and soul and the capital has to compromise for its own sake. But the micro credit debtor turned wage worker toils without coverage of any such measure. The micro credit capital that finances micro-production units at household level is smart enough to escape, till today, the struggle of the debtor turned wage worker, by pass all rules, even norms attained so far, and stay safe. There is no working hour; no weekly holiday; no law, rule, regulation governing working time, working condition, safety measures, child labour, female working hour, etc.; no inspectorate looking at the working condition. This makes life miserable for the micro credit debtor turned wage worker and for the members of the household including the minors who help create surplus value without any legal coverage.
    Now, only a few numbers quoted from Microfinance Statistics (vol.17, Dec., 2004), a publication of the Credit and Development Forum. These will help comprehend, at least partially, the width and length of the micro credit net and the surplus value it appropriates in a single country. In Bangladesh, in 2004, the number of active members in the 721 micro financing organisations (MFO), reporting to the CDF, was 16,622,047 and in 2000, it was 11,021,663 in 585 MFOs. In 2004 the number cumulative borrowers from 721 MFOs was 16,244,242 in a country of 140 million. It was 7,409,773 from 585 MFOs in 2000. There are many other MFOs that have not reported to the CDF, many others are operating in different guises and many other programmes and projects operating not as MFOs but carrying on micro credit business. From how many souls do a group of industrialists in a poor country appropriate surplus value? Are those always more than the number just cited? There are answers, obviously, to this question. It is expected that a reader will search the answers.
    The metamorphosis of the micro-credit debtor continues further as the person moves to market with the commodity produced. The debtor then turns to an independent trader competing with peer debtors turned independent traders in the market place and at the same time they together fall prey to the vagaries of market governed by the mighty market forces. While carrying the commodity to the market, sometimes, some other members of the household, shares the load. This labour is unpaid in terms of wage. If counted or paid, the amount comes from the surplus value already generated. If it is unpaid then the amount thus saved stays within the surplus value to be paid to the creditor waiting for the next instalment of repayment. As an independent trader the debtor turned independent producer turned wage worker has to bear all the responsibilities of a trader. But an industrial labourer does not have to take all these responsibilities. The wage slave in a factory just completes respective job and gets compelled to be appropriated of the surplus labour time. Market, supply, demand, transportation of commodity to market, storage, taxes and tolls, speculation, price, etc. are not part of a factory worker’s business. But as an independent trader the micro credit debtor has to bear these extra burdens which are not the creditor’s concern at all. The creditor has tactfully, through the modus operandi, has put it upon the poor debtor’s weak shoulder. There are commodities in the market that are produced in larger, mechanised production units, with higher productivity, which means a cheaper commodity, and, commodities that enjoy facilities created by the WTO. This situation puts the debtor into an unfavourable, uneven playing field, cuts down the debtor’s competitive edge and presses down price of the commodity produced in the household by semi-skilled and unskilled workers and produced with artisan method and tools. There is the packaging, marketing and advertising factor. The person has to reconcile with the situation and that means further tightening of belt. The micro-credit thus pushes the debtor to such a situation with extra burdens while it demands regular repayment of the credit.
    The data on the sectors or sub-sectors that use micro credit in Bangladesh show the sources of surplus value appropriated and who ‘offered’ the surplus labour to generate the surplus value. In 2004, according to the data published in the above mentioned CDF publication, of the 379 MFOs reporting to the CDF, 27.94 percent of cumulative disbursement was in the agricultural sector that included crops, livestock and fisheries sub-sectors while only petty trading sub-sector covered 40.61 percent. The percentage of food processing and cottage industries was 6.28 and of transport it was 2.20. In the years 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000 the petty trading dominated. From where does trading, whatever its size is, produce the profit? A portion of it is surplus value generated by others in other places. What about the transport, the rickshaw van or the boat, and the cow fattening? The same answer. It is also the surplus value generated by and in different segments of the broader society that is appropriated by micro credit capital that gets in through the debtor’s hand. Other sectors and sub-sectors also provide similar explanation found in political economy. The above mentioned CDF publication provides a few more startling facts: ‘utilisation of loan by sector or sub-sector (as percentage of cumulative disbursement)’ in ‘social sectors’ in 2004 was 1.70 (health:0.44, education: 0.06 and housing:1.20); in 2003 it was 1.58 (0.45 for health, 0.04 for education and 1.09 for housing); in 2002 it was 1.41 (0.39, 0.05 and 0.97); in 2001 it was 1.76 (0.42, 0.11 and 1.23); and in 2000 it was 1.69 (0.37, 0.02 and 1.3). The ‘social sector’ meant by the cited publication was health, education and housing which are actually required for ensuring the debtor’s and the debtor household’s survival, keeping the body and soul of the household based producers or of the trader or of the transport operator together, ensuring that production or trading could be carried on or transport could be operated so that surplus value generation or taking share of surplus value generated by some other is ensured, so that the repayment that includes surplus value is ensured. If a debtor does not have a house or a shed the production unit will be inoperative or will face problems in the production activities; the raw materials, the tools, the fuel, the cow or goat or poultry, the commodity produced could not be stored in; the producer and others in the household joining in the production activities could not survive. So, the housing sub-sector was emphasized most while lending out money in the CDF defined ‘social sectors’. Of course, the façade was benevolence by the micro creditor. Then came health with the same arguments. A judicious choice of the appropriator! Material interest tops the list over human consideration. The extent of concern for health of debtor and debtor household is directly related and tied to the extent of concern of continuation of production, etc. activities. It was followed by education. The level of production and the level of transaction determine the extent of education required and the level of emphasis put into education. None can override this rule. The micro-creditor, also, faithfully follows this one and the life of debtor goes through this metamorphosis.
    Thus, the circuit of metamorphosis of micro-credit debtor moves on and ultimately it completes a full path: a poor, an appropriated person turns debtor, the debtor turns owner of tools of production., the owner turns household based independent producer, the independent producer turns wage worker, the worker turns independent trader, the trader stays entrapped into debt with worsened condition and bigger debt turning one to debt slave. In its circuit the micro credit debtor only produces surplus value or takes a portion of surplus value produced by some other debtor or some other person or persons in the society producing surplus value and transfers a portion of it to micro credit capital. The circuit is both, a closed and an open, signifying the contradiction. The closed circuit keeps the debtor in perpetual and worsening poverty; sometimes, borrowing from the micro-credit literature, graduating a percentage of the borrowers, but pushing down or entrapping others in increased number; and often, throwing back the graduated debtor to the den of poverty again; and in these cases, the mainstream economics finds the rationale in ‘shocks’, ‘setbacks’, etc., natural and social, as their terminology defines. But whatever happens in the lives of a certain percentage of the debtor that does not change the basic structure of the circuit in the broader social matrix, in the process of appropriation of surplus value. Ignoring the macro scenario and putting forth the micro, a few individual cases, putting forth the exceptions instead of the general rule does nothing but vulgarises the arguments itself pushed forward by the mainstream. The open circuit intensifies and accelerates the pauperisation process and thus creating pressure on the system that creates poverty, makes a person poor, and appropriates surplus value. The vulgar economics with ‘hollow eye and wrinkled brow’ (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice) extending support to micro credit capital may construct a façade by resorting, again, to vulgar arguments. It may argue that a certain percent of micro credit debtors have improved their living condition with the aid of the panacea as a few days ago they used to mean the micro credit. But this does not nullify the fact of appropriation of surplus value from others in the broader society. Rather, it puts the evidence that surplus value has been appropriated from some other persons. There are many economists in the bandwagon of micro credit who cite cases of increased consumption by the micro credit debtors. But it should not be missed that consumptions are of two types: productive and individual; while the first one is to create products the other is turned into means of subsistence. So, data of debtors’ increased consumption, claims regularly made by the mainstream economics, carry no meaning other than better and ensured supply of surplus labour power which is expropriated. The fact should not be missed that the entire system rests on the appropriation of surplus value and micro credit is a part and, now is an institution of the system. It is sustained by the system and it helps sustain the system.
    The socialisation of micro-credit, with its profit profile, allures other capitals in banks and financing companies to join in. The capital engaged in micro-credit ties, quoting from Shakespeare, the ‘poor man’s cottages [to] princes palaces,’ organises and regulates debtors including members of the debtor-households, keeps them entrapped in the micro credit web, appropriates surplus labour power of them and others in the broader society. Moreover, it now regulates, based on its global power, the analytical process of a section of economists who overlook the process of appropriation of surplus value upon which the micro credit thrives, and try to ignore definitions of political economy and propagate vulgar ideas.

  6. Hello all, here every person is sharing such experience, therefore it’s good to read this blog, and I used to pay a quick visit this web site everyday.

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