Development Economics

Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus Visits IIEP

Beginning this year, GW’s Elliott School is managing/coordinating the Grameen Bank and Trust Bangladesh internship program, which provides internships in Bangladesh for both GW and other students (graduate as well as undergraduate).  The Grameen Bank is one of the key pioneers in the microfinance movement in developing countries.

As part of inaugurating our new partnership, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Laureate and Grameen Bank founder, joined us for the day (on October 26, 2016).   IIEP was happy to serve as one of the cosponsors of his visit.

In the morning we held a faculty breakfast for Prof. Yunus and IIEP Affiliated Faculty.  After a social gathering, we met around the table over breakfast.  James Foster gave a very nice introduction for those who hadn’t met Prof. Yunus, drawing on Prof. Yunus’s Vanderbilt years (where James taught before joining the GW faculty seven years ago).


Professors James Foster and Stephen Smith met with Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Prof. Yunus presented his history with Grameen in a very humble way, saying he had no detailed plan, but proceeded by solving problems as they appeared to him.   He went to villages, where residents explained their problems with loan sharking.  In response, he lent villagers some of his own money.  Then, when it got to point where he couldn’t continue or expand on that basis, he went to a bank to borrow funds for Grameen – somehow persuading bank officers that backing his idea for lending to the poor would work.  Prof. Yunus reminded participants that Grameen is not an NGO; rather, it is an institution owned largely by its borrowers (essentially, what we call a credit union in America).

In this regard, he spoke also about his emphasis on, and advocacy for, social enterprise, the Grameen Trust being the largest, building on his 2008 book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (which I highly recommended in my review of the book for the Stanford Social Innovation Review).


Professor Stephen C. Smith and Muhammad Yunus

In the afternoon, we held a special edition of the Development Tea, at which Professor Yunus discussed his work and broader development questions with graduate students from both economics and international affairs.  Prof. Yunus then addressed a large audience at Lisner Auditorium, at which Pres. Knapp awarded him the George Washington University President’s Medal.  GW President Steven Knapp hosted a special luncheon discussion in Yunus’s honor, and Elliott School Dean Reuben Brigety did the same at dinner, each engaging a mix of faculty, students, and alumni.

At IIEP, we are looking forward to continuing our exchanges with Prof. Yunus and Grameen in the coming years, and we encourage our undergrad and grad students to consider applying for this valuable internship program.

Notes: You can find more information about Grameen Bank at  Its importance for development and poverty reduction is examined in my textbook with Mike Todaro, Economic Development, 12th Edition, in the Chapter 11 Case Study; and some of its programs are reviewed in my book Ending Global Poverty.


Stephen C. Smith is a Professor of Economics and International Affairs and Chair of the Department of Economics at the George Washington University. He received his PhD in economics from Cornell University and has been a Fulbright Research Scholar, a Jean Monnet Research Fellow, a Brookings Visiting and Non-Resident Fellow, as well as an IZA Research Fellow. Professor Smith is the author of Ending Global Poverty: A Guide to What Works (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); co-author with Michael Todaro of Economic Development (12th Ed., Addison-Wesley, 2014); and co-editor with Jennifer Brinkerhoff and Hildy Teegen of NGOs and the Millennium Development Goals (Palgrave Macmillan, June 2007). He is also author or coauthor of approximately fifty journal articles, and numerous other publications. (Further details at

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