Congress Passes Durbin-Holt Bill Awarding Yunus Gold Medal for Microfinance Work

(Washington, D.C.) – The United States Congress has passed a bill introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) in the House of Representatives to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Dr. Muhammad Yunus in recognition of his contributions to the fight against global poverty and to promote economic and social change. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last year, the House of Representatives last night, and will now be sent to President Obama for his signature.


“Dr. Muhammad Yunus believes overcoming poverty is not just a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice,” Durbin said. “For more than thirty years, his theory of microenterprise has become a phenomenon – touching the lives of more than 100 million people around the world. It is hard to think of any single idea in our lifetime which has lifted so many people out of the deepest depths of poverty. He is truly deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal and I am honored to call him a friend.”


Dr. Yunus is recognized as the developer of the concept of microcredit, or the extension of very small loans to the poor. Microcredit, through loans of just a few dollars, enables the poor in developing countries to become entrepreneurs, sell vegetables, clothing, hand-made goods, as well as other products in order to slowly generate profits and work their way out of poverty.


“Muhammad Yunus, widely known as the “banker to the poor,” is one of the world’s great humanitarians and an economic genius,” said Holt, who Friday joined Dr. Yunus for a talk at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. “Over the last three decades, Dr. Yunus has made the elimination of poverty his life’s work, and the concept of microcredit has been widely adopted as a means of combating poverty worldwide. Muhammad Yunus and those who have followed in his footsteps have made it possible for the working poor to transform themselves into an entrepreneurial middle class and for beggars to become business people. We honor his achievements and his extraordinary vision.”


Durbin first met Dr. Yunus in Bangladesh and has worked with him for more than ten years to advance microcredit and economic development in the world’s poorest nations. One of Dr. Yunus’ greatest successes in recent years has been microcredit programs targeted toward poor women. Most of these programs have repayment rates greater than 95 percent and have helped women around the world change their lives and the lives of their families. It is for these efforts that Dr. Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.


In 1974, as Bangladesh was struggling with a terrible famine, Dr. Yunus, a professor of economics, led his students out of the classroom and into a poor village nearby. There, they discovered that impoverished people could not get ahead because of the predatory business practices of money-lenders who exploited their poverty and desperation. With just twenty-seven dollars of his own money, Professor Yunus liberated 42 victims of these unfair practices from their debt burdens. From that first experience with the power of small sums of money, Professor Yunus developed the concept of microcredit. The World Bank estimates that microfinance institutions now serve 160 million people in developing countries.


The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award which can be bestowed by the U.S. Congress. Former recipients of the decoration include George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Elie Wiesel, Pope John Paul II, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.