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The Efficacy of Grameen Bank in Empowering Women and Alleviating Poverty: A Case
Study of Rural Bangladesh

Shamila Neemat Sarwar

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The evolution of microcredit started during the late 1970s, in the Jobra village of rural
Bangladesh, where women had no access to social capital. The groundbreaking vision of
extending access to small loans without collateral to the poorest of women was initiated by the
founder of Grameen Bank, Dr. Muhammad Yunus. By providing microcredit without the need
for collateral to the destitute women, Grameen Bank dismantled the stereotype that the poor are
not worthy of credit (Hunt 2015, 75). However, since the commencement of Grameen Banks
microcredit schemes, the institution has been questioned on its efficacy on generating womens
empowerment and alleviating poverty. Although Grameens microcredit services have not
resulted in significant poverty reduction, Grameen Bank has proved to be a vital contributor to
womens socioeconomic empowerment in rural Bangladesh. In order to evaluate Grameen
Banks microcredit initiative, this paper will scrutinize both the strengths and weaknesses of
Grameens microcredit in generating womens empowerment and reducing poverty. Based on the
analysis of strengths and weaknesses, the paper will suggest revisions and to the current
microcredit model that will strengthen Grameen Banks efficacy as a credible microfinance
The inception of microcredit was stimulated by Yunus encounter with a poor, young
woman named Sufia Begum, from the village of Jobra. Discussions between the two revealed
that Sufia had borrowed about twenty-five cents from moneylenders to make bamboo stools, and
was being charged excessive interest rates approaching ten percent per day (Grameen Bank
2011). Like Sufia, many other rural women were obliged to use the loans to make products and

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sell them back to the moneylenders, below the market price, as a condition of the loan (Manisah,
Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 1). Such rampant practices of bonded labor made Dr. Yunus realize that
rural women were suffering due to the lack of access to credit. The realization further enthused
Dr. Yunus legendary vision of extending small loans, other financial, and business services to
potential female entrepreneurs, who were too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans- a
practice which is now known as microcredit (Grameen Bank 2007). Yunus commendable efforts
to prioritize womens socioeconomic development through microcredit was acknowledged with
the Noble Peace Price Award. In 1976, Dr. Yunus commenced his experiment by lending a total
of twenty-seven dollars at a reasonable rate of about sixty-two cents per borrower (Manisah,
Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 1). Since then, microcredit has been operating in Bangladesh with a
predominantly female population and successful, high rates of loan repayment.
Literature Review
The efficacy of Grameen Bank in regards to generating womens empowerment and
reducing poverty has been a topic of extensive scholarly research. Some scholars applaud
Grameen Bank for reaching out to marginalized, rural women, functioning with an exceptional
loan recovery rate, and implementing a non-traditional, group-based lending banking strategy.
Despite microcredits overall success in empowering women, multiple scholars and political
elites have condemned Grameen Banks microcredit schemes for having transparency issues as
to whether the loans benefit women, imposing severe financial burdens on the poor women and
failing to eradicate poverty. The following section of literature review will present existing
debates on the strengths and weaknesses of microcredit to determine how well it has served as a
tool to empower women and alleviate poverty.

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As far as the strengths are concerned, Grameen Bank has been largely successful in
reaching out and providing credit to the most impecunious women, who were denied access to
credit by all other conventional banks. Thus, Grameen Banks microcredit services encourage
women to be independent in embracing a hands-on, self-teaching technique to access social
capital, where they are free to invest without any external intervention or assistance (Weber
2014, 559). In addition to offering credit, microcredit schemes also present non-credit benefits to
women, which have improved their socioeconomic status and material standard of living. To
examine the effectiveness of the credit and non-credit facilities on womens empowerment, Alam
conducted a study using data collected by the World Bank data set in 1992 (Alam 2013, 28). The
study revealed that the non-credit aspects of the microcredit programs do not only affect profit
above and beyond the credit aspects, but they also increase self- employment profit by 50% to
81% (Alam 2013, 28).
Additional research conducted by Women Aid International revealed that women were
largely benefiting from the non-credit aspects of microcredit. After two years of membership
with Grameen Banks microcredit programs, women were 1.8 times more likely to use
contraception than were non-members in the same village (Women Aid International). Therefore,
micro-credit programs not only allow women to invest in income-generating projects, but they
also collaborate with agencies that provide non-credit services such as information on the access
to modern contraceptives and family planning.
Furthermore, scholars commend Grameen Bank for functioning with an exceptional loan
recovery. As acclaimed by Grameen Banks report of Microcredit Summit Campaign
Establishes Poverty, on a regular working day, Grameen collects an average of $1.5 million in
weekly installments, with 97% female borrowers and 97% recovery rate on loans, which is the

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highest recovery rate compared to all other banks in Bangladesh (Grameen Bank 2011). The
intensive loan collection by bank officers and the rigid repayment requirements also attribute to
Grameens high repayment rates on microloans (Rai 2004, 218-220).
In addition to that, Grameen Banks ability to operate effectively by implementing an
innovative, and unconventional group-based lending technique is also identified as one of
Grameens fundamental strengths. Unlike conventional banks, Grameen Bank prohibits the
collateral-based banking technique, employs peer-monitored and group-centered lending to
encourage participation of the poor women (Yunus 1997). Thus, by adopting a non-traditional
banking method, Grameen Bank has been a pioneer in shifting the responsibility of providing
rural lending from commercial banks to subsidized, rural development banks (Karim and Law
2013, 45). For that reason, Aftab Uddin accredits the group-based lending strategy for adding an
accountability factor to the lending process, as each member must repay the loan in order for
another member to take out a loan (Uddin 2015, 83-86). Each of these factors enable Grameen
Bank to maintain high repayments on microloans.
On one hand, some scholars applaud Grameen Banks social capitalism techniques to
empower and promote self-sufficiency among the lives of the rural, marginalized women through
microcredit. Pitt, Khandker, and Catwright conducted a study to investigate microcredits impact
on the socioeconomic well-being of poor women and concluded that communities benefit more
when loans are granted to women as opposed to men (Pitt, Khandker and Catwright 2003, 1998).
Nevertheless, there remains a lack of transparency as to whether microcredit empowers rural
women and that has prompted a debate among scholars. Consequentially, international policy
makers, political elites and religious leaders of Bangladesh disgrace Grameen Bank for
empowering women over men. By generating self-employment among rural women, microcredit

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empowers women and makes women less dependent on their spouses, which is perceived as a
violation of the Sharia law, the Islamic law in Bangladesh (Weber 2014, 562). Resultantly, men
in the communities joined local politicians and criticized Grameen Banks mission of turning
women into entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Manisah, Huel, and Kalra expose that the boycott of
1995, when men and local politicians in the rural communities objected to Grameen Banks
mission of converting women into entrepreneurs (Manisah, Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 8). The
blatant disapprovals pressured borrowers to stop repaying loans. The subsequent decline in
repayment rates also undermined Grameen Banks original credibility for maintaining an almost
100 percent repayment record, a commendable performance that had distinguished Grameen
from other charitable and government programs (Manisah, Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 8).
Maxted adds to the controversy by claiming that microcredit gives men additional
authority over women, which disempowers women in the process. Based on his cross-sectional
study from 342 randomly selected married men in five northwest villages, Maxted concluded
that microcredit was primarily offered to poor married women, but in practice the loans were
mostly controlled by their husbands (Maxted 2013, 44). Such transparency issues as to who
ultimately benefit from microcredit, are legitimate limitations of micro-credit poverty-assessment
schemes that weaken the overall goodwill of Grameen Banks microcredit programs.
In addition to the reproaches of transparency issues, Grameen Banks microcredit
schemes have also been charged with the allegation of a failure to eradicate poverty. Aftab Uddin
argues that in its 35 years of existence, a negligible number of impoverished borrowers have
succeeded to repay high-interest-rate loans (Uddin 2014, 44). Similarly, muted results of the
randomized control trials of microcredit show that in Grameen Banks 35 years of lifespan, there
has been negligible evidence of microcredits ability to reduce poverty (Roodman and Morduch

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2014). Although data found in the US-based Microcredit Summit Campaign, indicate that
Grameen Banks microcredit schemes have helped many families to raise their income above
$1.25 a day, contradictory data reveal that only 10% of people have moved up, leaving the other
90% where they were initially (BBC 2011).
Contrary evidence is found in Shahs village study, based on three microfinance programs
that had been operating for over a period of five years. The study suggests that microcredit has
been successful in alleviating poverty among the poor rural populations of Bangladesh (Shah
2010, 670). However, Shah acknowledges that the microcredit services are not accessible to all
women, which further suggests that Grameen Bank has not been effective in reaching out to the
poorest of women. Thus, based on the mixed results of the current research, there seems to be a
lack of evidence supporting the argument that Grameens microcredit has been fully successful in
its poverty alleviation schemes.
Discussion and Analysis
After an examination of the strengths and weaknesses of Grameen Bank, one must
commend Grameen Bank for its institutional strengths of taking up a daunting challenge and
providing finance to the most marginalized rural women, empowering women through both
credit and non-credit services, and operating successfully with a non-traditional banking strategy
that is characterized by group-based lending.
Building on the strengths of Grameen Bank, Grameens microcredit program has been a
pioneer in reaching out to poorest of women by extending the access of social capital to them.
Giving these women access to credit has enhanced their economic opportunities and empowered
them in the process. Before the innovation of microcredit, the marginalized rural women found it
highly difficult to seek employment opportunities outside home or engage in labor market

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participation, due to socially constructed gender roles and conservative, patriarchal norms
(Manisah, Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 1). Moreover, there were extreme barriers to self-employment
because the poverty stricken women did not have access to social capital, and were unable to
invest in their own businesses. Hence, the access to microcredit allows the women to invest in
their own businesses and generate self-empowerment, which further enables them to earn
income, and ultimately, escape the vicious poverty trap.
Additionally, Grameen Banks ability to operate with a predominantly poor, female
population and effective high rates of loan repayment is also praiseworthy. Both the small size of
the loan without requirements of collateral, and the intensive loan collection method have largely
contributed to the successful loan repayments (Rai 2004, 218-220). To understand why these
strategies have been successful, it is important to realize that Grameen Bank has deliberately
made microcredit most accessible to the women, without requirements of traditional collateral. If
physical collateral were a prerequisite for borrowing, the poor women would be unable to
participate, due to their extreme poverty levels. Rural women also acknowledge the fact that the
small sized loans without collateral are best suited for them as they have minimal banking
education. Hence, women have the incentive to pay back microloans on time in order to ensure a
good, long term relationship with Grameen Bank and safeguard their future investment plans.
Likewise, Grameens group-based lending strategy that was initially started as an
experiment, has proven to be effective. Because borrowers do not have physical capital,
microcredit institutions such as Grameen Bank and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee
(BRAC) focus on using social collateral, and implement the group- lending strategy (Manisah,
Huel, Kalra, et. al 2004, 4). In the peer-monitored, group -lending system, if one member
defaults, the other group members are responsible for repaying the loan from their own

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resources. If they fail to do so, they suffer from public, moral shaming and are deprived of access
to future loans. One of the complications that may arise from the group- based lending is the
free- rider problem, as other group members are obligated to pay the penalty, given that one
group member defaults. However, by adding an accountability factor to the group based lending,
microcredit institutions can ensure that it is in each members self-interest to ensure that the other
members pay.
Despite the stated institutional strengths, there have been substantial criticisms on
specific functional deficiencies of Grameen Bank. Grameen Bank is severely condemned for
imposing an additional financial strain on poor women, for having a lack of transparency as to
whether microcredit is reaching out to and helping the poorest of women, and also demeaned for
its failure to alleviate poverty. Even though microloans, without collateral are incentives for
women to repay them on time, expectations of rigid repayment schedules become impediments
to the long term goals of building sustainable rural financial networks (Rai 2004, 218-220).
Thus, maintaining high rates of loan recovery may seem lucrative and beneficial for the financial
competence of Grameen Bank, but they inflict an additional financial pressure on the poor
women, and may demoralize them from borrowing from Grameen Bank. Consequently, Grameen
Bank may lose women clients, which will inevitably stifle Grameen Banks credibility as an
efficient non-profit, microcredit institution.
Besides, there are growing concerns regarding whether microcredit empowers women
directly. There have been instances where microcredit, specifically designated for women were
redirected to other male members of the family, thus depriving women from using the credit
towards their personal economic and social well- being (Chowdhury, Ahmed and Mukhopadhya
2014, 725). Such cases mark evident transparency issues as to who ultimately uses the

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microloan. However, even if the loan is redirected to the male members of the family, womens
primary access to microcredit means that they have a greater control over household income and
an upper hand at influencing the spending and consumption patterns of the family. With
increased control of household income, women are also likely to regulate consumption and
spending on areas such as childrens nutrition, health, and education all of which will not only
empower women, but also enhance the economic standards of living for the entire family. Thus
by empowering women, microcredit can empower the entire family, which inadvertently makes
women better targets for microcredit.
In addition to transparency issues, Grameen Bank has also confronted persistent
allegations of a failure to eradicate poverty in rural Bangladesh. There have mixed results on
microcredits poverty alleviation schemes. Microcredits slow performance in reducing poverty
can be explained by the fact that Grameen Bank is a social institution, which is not driven by a
profit motive and thus suffers from a meagre financial stability. As a result, Grameen Banks
inability to operate with a profit motive is discerned as a functional drawback and it has
weakened Grameen Banks identity as a financially sustainable institution. However, given that
Grameen Bank is a social institution, the main focus should be grounded in reaching out to the
poor and serving them, as opposed to advancing their interests on earning profits (Kull, Cunt and
Morduch 2009, 168-170). This excavates Grameen Banks institutional dilemma of having to
choose between the need to provide collateral free loans and the need to maintain high
repayment rates from the poor borrowers. It has been seen that the obligation to repay the loan
imposes excessive financial burdens on them, which in effect aggravates their existing poverty
levels (Chowdhury, Alam and Wright 2005, 298). Under such circumstances, reaching out and
lending to the poorest becomes excessively difficult as these women are already poverty stricken.

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Despite the charges of low financial stability, Grameen Bank strives to maintain relatively
low interest rates compared to high commercial rates- a factor that has successfully increased the
demands for microcredit services among the poor rural women. While one may argue that these
low rates constrict the banks profit margins, these low interest rates also allow Grameen Bank to
focus on alleviating poverty rather than generating high returns. Therefore, in one way, Grameen
Banks low financial stability may have slowed poverty reduction scheme. Yet, Grameen Bank
has successfully demonstrated that the provision of microcredit at low interest rates is quite a
reasonable strategy, when it comes to addressing the financial needs of poor, rural women.
A broader look at the Grameen Banks widespread influence indicates that the Grameen
Bank model have sparked the emergence of additional microfinance institutions (MFIs) in
Bangladesh such as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), and the Association of
Social Advancement (ASA) (Amin and Sheikh 2011, 1). Moreover, Grameens microcredit
model has created 138 replication allies in 37 countries of the world, which include Columbia,
Guatemala, China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and many more (Grameen
Foundation 2015 ). Had Grameens microcredit model not been successful, it would not have led
to the increase in the peoples demand for microloans and the growth of other microfinance
institutions (Amin and Sheikh 2011, 1).
Nonetheless, persistent criticisms of Grameen Banks microcredit model prevail. For
instance, the controversy regarding Grameen Banks failure to alleviate poverty became even
more lucid when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, along with other religious and political
elites, blatantly censured Grameens micro lenders for extracting money from the poor in the
name of poverty alleviation (Bajaj 2011). As a result, legal actions were taken to remove
Muhammad Yunus from the position of the managing director of Grameen Bank. Nevertheless,

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Dr. Yunus, has been a pioneer in the field of microcredit and his contributions to advancing the
cause of poor unbanked women are undeniable. As a result, the decision to remove Yunus from
Grameen Banks managing director position garnered deep concerns among Bangladesh and the
international community (PR Newswire 2011). Despite the criticisms, the extensive international
support Dr. Yunus has from the local community of Bangladesh and the international community
affirms that microcredits contributions to the socioeconomic development of both women and
the economy are acknowledged and celebrated on both, local and global scales.
Revisions of Grameens Current Microcredit Model
Based on the examination of strengths and weaknesses of Grameen Bank, it is important
to consider necessary modifications that can strengthen Grameen Banks efficacy as a
microfinance institution. The three persistent areas of weakness of Grameen Bank, as identified
earlier are: the imposition of extensive financial strains on women, issues of transparency as to
whether microcredit reaches out to and empowers the poorest of rural women, and microcredits
failure to help alleviate poverty among the rural women. Hence, Grameen Bank can make the
suggested amendments which are as follows: accept additional subsidies and curtailing
managerial costs to strengthen the financial sustainability, include an oversight committee to
ensure greater transparency, and extend additional non-credit benefits to ensure more effective
means of poverty reduction.
Firstly, in order to minimize the imposition of financial burdens on poor women clients,
Grameen Bank must accept additional subsidies and reduce transactional and managerial costs to
strengthen their own financial stability. As of October, 2011, Grameen Bank is dispersed across
several districts of rural Bangladesh and operates with 2,565 branches, and provides services in
in 81,379 villages (Grameen Bank 2011). With the persistent concern about Grameen Banks

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lack of financial sustainability, it is crucial for Grameen Banks to curtail current operational,
transactional and managerial costs. Hence, Grameen Bank can reduce managerial and
operational costs by shutting down relatively ineffective braches and reinvesting on the costeffective branches. With the effective minimization of transaction and operational costs,
Grameen Bank can continue to lend out small loans without collateral, without having to impose
heavy loan recollection schemes. In addition to that, Grameen Bank can also consider
introducing new incentive schemes for loan repayments, launching deposit banking programs
like other commercial banks, specifically to allocate saving across rural areas. (Varghese 2001,
258). The suggested efforts will not only help minimizes the transaction costs and help
strengthen Grameen Banks institutional and financial sustainability, but will also relieve the
poor women from additional financial burdens of high repayment rates.
Secondly, Grameen Bank can implement an oversight committee to ensure the effective
outreach of both credit and non-credit benefits to poor women. A designated watchdog
committee can help maintain keep records of where the loans are being employed. Additionally,
Grameen Bank can implement other regulatory mechanisms such as maintaining a monthly or bimonthly written statement from the women borrowers to certify that these loans have been
utilized directly by the women themselves to start up their businesses. Incorporation of such
effective monitoring mechanisms by such watchdog committees sponsored by the Grameen Bank
will help combat the past problems of transparency.
Thirdly, in order to ensure more effective poverty reduction schemes, Graemeen Bank
should provide more non-credit benefits to rural women. Although Grameen Bank has been
successful in providing credit to poor women, women still lack sufficient knowledge on how to
invest the social capital for their personal and economic well- being. Thus, Grameen Bank must

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provide additional non-credit services such as educational training and awareness, health
services, technology information materials on reproductive health and family planning programs
for both men and women. Moreover, Grameen Bank can also consider lending specific
educational loans to women borrowers to ensure that those in utmost need are getting access to
the tools of human capital development, which can ultimately help them rise out of poverty. As a
result of Grameen Banks provision of basic financial and non-credit services, women will be
more educated, which will further enable them to eliminate barriers to work opportunities that
refrained them from generating incomes and thus allowed poverty to accentuate.
However, the prevalence of cultural barriers in the rural areas and a negative attitude
towards women working outside the house do not allow the credit aspects of microcredit to
benefit the women fully. To combat these cultural barriers, Grameen Bank should consider
educating rural individuals on the positive effects of empowering women could result. Such
efforts will result in a positive change in the mindsets and lead to a redistribution of labor
dynamics. With the moral support from families, it will be easier for women to take up more
entrepreneurial roles. These factors will also increase womens labor force participation, and
allow microcredit to result in increased womens participation in the countrys economic
development. Hence, with the proper incorporation of both credit and non-credit materials,
Grameen Banks microcredit program can enable women to break the social constructs of typical
gender roles, make independent decisions about their work and family life and facilitate faster
rates of poverty reduction, and uplift larger numbers of marginalized women from poverty.
Therefore, after scrutinizing the overall strengths and weaknesses of Grameen Banks
microcredit schemes, it can be asserted that microcredit has and will continue to have positive

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effects on the socioeconomic well-being of poor rural women. The institutional strengths of
Grameen Bank in regards to their deliberate outreach to marginalized, rural women, maintenance
of an outstanding loan recovery rate, and execution of an inventive, group-based lending banking
strategy have enabled microcredit to make significant improvements to rural womens
socioeconomic status. On the other hand, constructive criticisms, which include imposition of
financial burdens on poor clients, transparency concerns as to whether the loans benefit and
empower women, and a recurring failure to alleviate poverty mark the existing zones of
deficiency, which can be fulfilled with a comprehensive set of modifications. Therefore, the
suggested amendments such as accepting additional subsidies and curtailing managerial costs to
strengthen the financial sustainability, including an oversight committee to ensure greater
transparency, and extending additional non-credit benefits to ensure more effective means of
poverty reduction can enable Grameen Bank. With the incorporation of the recommended
revisions to the present microcredit model, Grameen Bank can ensure more effective
contributions to both socioeconomic well-being of women, that are likely to trickle down to all
segments of poorest of populations, both male and female, and have more positive impacts on
the poverty reduction of the entire economy of Bangladesh. In addition to these modifications,
Grameen Banks microcredit model should be studied and advanced further to make it evolve
into a universal, poverty alleviation tool, that has been innovated as of yet.

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