The more time you spend among poor people, the more you become convinced that poverty is not the result of any incapacity on the part of the poor. Poverty is not created by poor people. It is created by the system we have built, the institutions we have designed, and the concepts we have formulated.
Poverty is created by deficiencies in the institutions we have built---for example, financial institutions. These banks refuse to provide financial services to nearly two-thirds of the world's population. For generations they claimed it could not be done, and everybody accepted that explanation. This allowed loan sharks to thrive all over the world. Grameen Bank questioned this assumption and demonstrated that lending money to the poorest is not only possible but profitable.
During the global financial crisis that began in 2008, the falsity of the old assumptions became even more visible. While big conventional banks with all their collateral were collapsing, around the world microcredit programs, which do not depend on collateral, continued to be as strong as ever. Will this demonstration make the mainstream financial institutions change their minds about their traditional definition of creditworthiness? Will they finally open their doors to the poor?
I am quite serious about this question (although I know all too well what the likely answer is). When a crisis is at its deepest, it can offer a huge opportunity. When things fall apart, we can redesign, recast, and rebuild. We should not miss this opportunity to convert our financial institutions into inclusive institutions. Nobody should be refused access to financial services. Because these services are so vital for people's self-realization, I strongly feel that credit be given the status of a human right.
That poverty is created not by poor people but by their circumstances tells us something else important---something about the potential of human beings themselves.
Every human being is born into this world fully equipped not only to take care of himself or herself, but also to contribute to the well-being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential, but many others never get the chance to unwrap the wonderful gifts they were born with. They die with those gifts unexplored, and the world remains deprived of their contribution.
Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in human creativity and the firm belief that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty. Poverty is an artificial, external imposition on a person. And since it is external, it can be removed.
We can create a poverty-free world if we design our system to take out its gross flaws which create poverty. We can create a world in which the only place you would be able to see poverty is in poverty museums. Someday, school children will be taken to visit these poverty museums. They will be horrified to see the misery and indignity that innumerable people had to go through for no fault of their own. They will blame their ancestors for tolerating this inhuman condition for so long---and rightly so.
To me, poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed from the tallest tree in a tiny flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil base that you gave it is inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds, but society never gave them the proper base to grow in. All it takes to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.