Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Lombardy ready for 'bank for poor'

Region wants to host offshoot of Yunus' Grameen bank
(ANSA) - Milan, March 3 - Lombardy would be happy to host a ''bank for the poor'' proposed by Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus, the Regional President Roberto Formigoni said on Tuesday.

Speaking a day after Yunus unveiled his proposal to open an Italian offshoot of his Grameen Bank, which offers unguaranteed loans to the poor, Formigoni said Lombardy was keen to get involved in the initiative. ''It's just an invitation but I believe Yunus is already thinking about it,'' said the regional president. ''In many ways, Lombardy would be the ideal location. I have great respect for the Nobel laureate and Lombardy has always kept a close eye on initiatives such as these''. Yunus, who was jointly awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with the bank that he founded, revealed his plans during a visit to Italy on Monday. He said he hoped to get the project off the ground within the year, with assistance from Bologna University and Italian bank Unicredit, with the specific goal of helping Italian women unable to obtain loans by conventional means.

The focus on assisting women has played a crucial role in the development of the bank, which was founded in 1976 in Bangladesh, where women struggled to access the services of large commercial banks. According to the Grameen website, 97% of Grameen's borrowers are women.

The Grameen initiative now operates in developing countries around the world, with 7.71 million borrowers and 2,541 branches.

The US and Australia are home to Grameen microfinance projects and the Italian offshoot will also function as a non-governmental organization, rather than seeking to operate as an official bank. The Grameen system works on a trust basis, lending money to those without collateral in order to help individuals start small businesses and raise themselves out of poverty. Although Yunus's claim that the bank has a 98% repayment rate has been questioned, the positive impact of the Grameen model has been praised by many external bodies, including the World Bank. Yunus has also underscored the Grameen principle's resilience in the face of the current financial crisis. ''This has had no impact on us,'' he said. ''The crisis affects those financial systems that build castles from air. When we make a loan, it is for concrete reasons, like buying a cow''.


Meanwhile, award-winning Italian film director Marco Amenta has announced plans to start work on Yunus's life story. ''It is a story that touched me deeply,'' explained Amenta, whose other films have focused on real life stories of the Italian mafia and justice system. ''Yunus is a person who made a choice and refused to stand by and accept things as they were. It will be an epic film, recounting a universal story''.

The film, based on Yunus's autobiography, Banker To The Poor, will be an international co-production shot in English. Filming is expected to start later this year

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