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Staff writer Muhammad Yunus is not your typical banker. You won’t catch him traipsing around in designer suits or marching briefcase in hand through the corporate halls looking for new clients.No, this simply dressed Bangladeshi banker marches to a different beat: he strives to lend money to the poor — the more impoverished the better. The surprising success of his unconventional approach, known as “microcredit,” has thrust Yunus, founder and director of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, into the global limelight. Now he is increasingly capturing the attention of those in Japan.”Grameen Bank is a very different bank from the banks you are familiar with. Conventional banking is based on the principle of the more you have, the more you can get,” Yunus said. “We kind of reversed it, saying that the less you have, the higher priority you get and if you can prove that you have nothing, you get the highest priority.”While in Tokyo to speak at an International Cooperation Day symposium and promote his autobiography released in Japanese last week, Yunus also met with government officials. Twenty years since Yunus began experimenting with giving small loans to the very poor to promote self-employment and reduce poverty, Grameen Bank has branches in over half of the nation’s villages and has lent more than $2.5 billion. More than 90 percent of the bank’s borrowers are women, and the repayment rate on loans exceeds 95 percent, he said.And Japan, as the world’s and Bangladesh’s largest aid contributor, could learn from this, Yunus contends. “The Japanese government is a very important actor in the international foreign assistance area, but they don’t behave that way. They do it very quietly,” Yunus said. Only within the last three or four years has Japan started to address social issues and only a tiny fraction of the money allotted goes toward microlending, he said. A rethinking of aid disbursement, focusing on lending to the poor, rather than on conventional projects — such as building roads, bridges and hospitals — is called for, he said.”Ideally we would like to see the bulk of their foreign assistance go into microcredit, because it addresses the issue of poverty very directly, individually,” he said. In addition, the current financial crisis, while every day increases the number of people living in poverty, is also an opportunity, he said. “We have to redesign the financial system so that it can become a universal service, not a service to the privileged few. Particularly in the context of the present financial crisis, we have an opportunity to redesign financial institutions.”

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