OSLO -- Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus said yesterday the prize has given momentum to his cherished program of helping the poor through small loans, bringing him a flood of e-mails and invitations to meet with world leaders.
Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, was in Oslo to accept the 2006 peace prize he shared with his Grameen Bank, which for more than two decades has helped people rise from poverty through microcredit. Yunus will receive the prize at a City Hall ceremony today.
The loans are enough for a family to buy a goat, a cellphone to rent out, or raw materials to make products for sale. The laureate said the world pays more attention when he promotes microcredit as an effective means of fighting poverty.
"I have said it many thousand times before," Yunus said at a news conference. "But when I screamed before, people hardly heard me because my voice didn't go very far. Today, with the Nobel Peace Prize, if I whisper the whole world hears me loud and clear."
He later said he gets invitations to visit world leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, and that he is receiving "so much mail these days that I can't even open my e-mail."
"That is the kind of difference the Nobel Peace Prize makes," Yunus said.
Yunus is the first Nobel laureate from Bangladesh, a poverty-stricken southeast Asian nation on the Bay of Bengal. At the news conference, he said his win emphasized the link between eliminating poverty and achieving peace. "Poverty is a threat to peace," he said. "That is a message for the whole world."
Grameen Bank was the world's first lender of microcredit to poor people who do not qualify for loans from conventional banks. No collateral is needed, and repayment is based on an honor system. The bank reports about a 98 percent repayment rate.
The average loan is about $200, and interest rates range from zero to 20 percent depending on how the money is used. About 7 million people have Grameen loans, 97 percent of them women.
Yunus said Grameen is helping reduce poverty levels in Bangladesh by about 2 percent a year.
"If Bangladesh, with a very big population of 145 million, can reduce poverty by half by 2015, it is an exciting thing for the whole world," he said. "If we can do it, anyone can do it."