To Glasgow Caledonian University yesterday for the conferring of an honorary degree on Muhammad Yunus, followed by the first Magnus Magnusson Lecture, given by Professor Yunus. He is the founder of the Grameen Bank, first established in Bangladesh, but now a world-wide operation, which gives small loans to poor people who, because they are unable to provide security, cannot get loans from the conventional banks. Yunus started out determined to ensure that at least half the borrowers would be women (the proportion is now 97%), because they had had no opportunity to learn how to handle money, and no experience of the freedom and empowerment which comes with it.
I was struck by a memorable phrase he used to sum up this situation: ‘Women [in Bangladesh and some other countries] grow up apologetically’. Profoundly true, I think, of so many other people who are still oppressed and marginalised: the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, gay people, members of certain ethnic groups.
It struck me, too, that the Church has often been complicit in making people grow up apologetically, by emphasising guilt and unworthiness, rather than freedom and love. Above all, the Church can learn from the way in which the policies and practices promoted by Yunus have fostered trust, by contrast with the climate of suspicion surrounding most financial transactions. The near-destitute to people to whom the Grameen Bank lends maintain a repayment rate of 99%.
As Yunus remarked, in another lapidary phrase, ‘trust begets trust’, something which the various quarrelsome wings of the Anglican Communion could well take to heart.