Seva and Grameen Partner on Eye Hospitals for Bangladesh
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Seva and Grameen Bank are launching an unprecedented initiative to build a network of eye hospitals in Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries where more than 650,000 people suffer from preventable blindness.
In 2006, Seva staff and our partners from Aravind Eye Care Systems in India met with Yunus at Grameen headquarters in Bangladesh to further develop plans for what will be the largest single undertaking of its kind. “Basically, we’ll be taking our proven model for creating eye hospitals that can be self-sustaining and scaling it up to a new level,” explained Dr. Suzanne Gilbert, Director of Seva’s Center for Innovation in Eye Care. “The buildings, equipment and staffing will be supported with funding from Grameen, and the systems and training will be developed by Aravind and Seva. We left the meeting feeling so excited about the venture, and then just two weeks later Professor Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize — so of course, now it’s even more of a thrill!”
Yunus founded Grameen Bank 30 years ago with revolutionary mission unlike any other bank: to help people lift themselves out of poverty. Grameen, which means rural in Bengali, pioneered the concept of microcredit, giving very small loans to poor Bangladeshis who wouldn’t dream of doing business at traditional banks.
Most of Grameen’s borrowers use the loans to start businesses, spending the money to buy things like farm animals or materials to produce handmade goods. To date, the bank has loaned over $5.72 billion in amounts averaging $130 to 6.6 million impoverished Bangladeshis. Even more astonishing is the fact that the borrowers of Grameen own 94% of the total equity of the bank — and 97% of them are women.
The Nobel Committee praised Grameen, saying that with the help of microcredit, even the world’s poorest people can work to bring about their own development. As Yunus puts it, “The Grameen loan is not simply cash. It becomes a kind of ticket to self-discovery and self-exploration.” Of course, support of self-development is central to Seva’s mission. We seek long-term solutions to poverty and disease that support economic independence of the communities we serve.