Nobel Peace winner has Ph.D from Vanderbilt

Bangladeshi micro-credit pioneer also taught at MTSU

Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh's "banker to the poor" who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize today, turns out to have Nashville ties.

Yunus came to Vanderbilt University as a Fulbright Scholar in the late 1960s, earned a Ph.D. in economics from V.U., and taught for some years at Middle Tennessee State University. In 1976, back in his native Bangladesh, he founded Grameen Bank.

Grameen ("rural," in Bengali) provides loans in very small amounts, most often to women, enabling entrepreneurs in the impoverished countryside to acquire the most basic of capital -- perhaps a chicken to lay eggs or a cell phone that can be rented out to fellow villagers in places where no land lines exist. Over the years, it has loaned nearly $6 billion to more than 6 million borrowers, who have maintained a default rate of only 1 percent despite the lack of any collateral.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in awarding the $1.4 million prize in equal shares to Yunus personally and to Grameen Bank, stated that "micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions." It hailed Yunus and the bank for showing that "across cultures and civilizations, even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development."

Yunus told reporters today that he plans to use part of his winnings to fund a venture that will produce low-cost, high-nutrition food for populations in poverty.

The economist has visited the Vanderbilt campus several times over the years, and he was named the university's distinguished alumnus for 1996.