St. John’s gained a new ally in the business field over the weekend when Dr. Muhammad Yunus, one of the world’s leading figures in microfinance and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, visited to announce a partnership between the University and Grameen Bank.
Originally established in Bangladesh by Yunus, the bank is known for giving small loans to people who are unable to secure loans from standard banks in an effort to lift them out of poverty. Repayment is based on an honor system.
Due to the success of the bank overseas, it has expanded its roots to the U.S. with Grameen America. This expansion also included the opening of a branch in Jackson Heights, Queens, in January 2008. And in 2006, Yunus received a Nobel Peace Prize.
However, the big show was inside Carnesecca, where St. John’s announced its new partnership with Grameen America.
“Through this partnership, St. John’s will assist Grameen America in achieving their goals, while Grameen will provide learning and research opportunities to our students and our faculty,” said James Pellow, executive vice president and chief perating officer.
The partnership will be managed through the newly created VISA program, which stands for Vincentian Institute for Social Action. The partnership was cemented with an exchanging of gifts, which included the St. John’s colors being given to Yunus.
After this announcement, the audience was treated to speeches by select borrowers, and multicultural songs selected by borrowers were performed. These ranged from Bengali and Mexican medleys to a performance of “God Bless America.”
After these performances, Yunus took the stage and gave a speech about the benefits of microfinance and how Grameen Bank and the partnership with St. John’s hopes to help eliminate poverty throughout the world.
“We have been coming up with the idea that this financial crisis, which is hitting every place in the world, is also a great opportunity,” he said. “It opens up great opportunity to undo things that have caused all those problems and design a new system that works in a way that these problems would not be there.”
Yunus shared his thoughts on how he thinks the financial system in the U.S. can be improved.
“The financial system should be designed in a way that it is inclusive, so that you do not have to make a certain set of money in order to be lent money,” he said. “Today’s financial system excludes many people all over the world, including the United States.”
Students said they had a positive experience hearing Yunus’ speech and learning more about Grameen America.
“I thought it was really well put together and expressed the University mission,” said Michael Yurik, a senior. “I thought it [Grameen Bank] was more about financing third world countries. I’m very thankful it’s supporting our local community and that I can go outside and see what the money goes toward.”