While researching rural poverty in Bangladesh in 1976, Chittagong University economics Professor Muhammad Yunus saw how village artisans relied on usurious moneylenders for the cash needed to buy raw materials for their basket-weaving and other crafts. So Yunus lent $27 from his own pocket to 42 artisans to end their dependence on the moneylenders.
That was the first step in the creation of Grameen Bank, today one of Bangladesh's most successful institutions and a blueprint for ending the misery of Asia's worst-off villagers. Grameen has dispersed $2.3 billion to 2.2 million rural Bangladeshis, mostly women, in 35,000 villages. About half of the borrowers rise above the poverty line within a decade of their first loan. "There is no reason why anyone should be poor on this planet," Yunus, 58, wrote recently. His latest venture: cellular phone businesses run by village women. Ring up another strike against poverty.