Tag Archives: Nobel Peace Prize

A statesman and honest man

I was saddened today to read of former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer diagnosis. The 90 year old ex-president announced today that he has cancer that began in his liver and has spread to other parts of his body. Carter, our nation’s 39th president, served in that office from 1979-1981. He and Walter Mondale defeated incumbent Gerald Ford and were defeated for a second term by Ronald Reagan.

During his presidency he was mocked for his “down home” folksy manner, his cardigan sweaters, and his devout Christian faith. He was mocked as being naive and ineffective. His chances of reelection were seriously damaged by his inability to get cooperation for his agenda from Washington, a stagnant economy, high interest rates and inflation. His reelection was further hampered by his failure to secure release of Americans taken hostage by Iran.

Still, during his presidency, Carter pardoned Americans who left the country rather than fight in the Viet Nam War. He navigated the country through a devastating fuel crisis and brokered several peace deals. No one, to my memory, ever accused him of illegal behavior, infidelity, or being bought off by powerful money interests. No one questioned his faithfulness to God, his country, or his family.

Since he left office, President Carter has continued to live his life of service to God and to the world. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate peaceful settlements to conflicts around the world. Rather than sitting in his office congratulating himself on his accomplishments or making speeches for tens of thousands of dollars, President Carter has worked tirelessly to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

President Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, have spent many hours working on Habitat for Humanity houses. They have done more than show up for photo ops. They have provided funds and have pounded nails and painted walls to make homes available for those who had no place to live.

Carter, through his nonprofit, the Carter Foundation, has fought disease and poverty around the world. His agency has been instrumental in nearly eliminating the devastation and pain caused by Guinea worm in Africa. He has fought mosquito born illnesses in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Besides pounding nails, visiting Africa, negotiating peace accords and making fund raising appearances for his and other nonprofits, he has written 23 books.

Few, if any, other presidents have lived such a remarkable and tireless life after their stay in the White House. The impact he has had will continue long after he is no longer in this life. History will remember President Carter as a great man and a statesman. The whole of his remarkable life will be the measure of the man. He may not be ready to rest yet.

Most of us could never come close to the accomplishments of this great, but humble, American. The lesson, however, is not that we strive to become President and do what Jimmy Carter has done. To follow his example, however, of honesty, sincerity, compassion and service to others is something we all can strive for in our own way.

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Looking at the world upside down

When one of my daughters was young she liked to be upside-down.  As a baby, when she fussed, she would quiet down if we held her with her head lower than her feet.  When she got to be a toddler, she spent quite a bit of time standing on her head.  She watched television upside down.  She sat on the sofa upside down.  Something about that alternative view of the world seemed to fascinate her.

Sometimes drawing is taught by asking the student to draw a subject upside down.  Apparently drawing from that different perspective allows the brain to process what we see differently.  Maybe it allows us to see what is really there rather than what we expect to see.

The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bangladeshi economist, Mohammad Yanus, is quoted as saying “All of Bangladesh has changed if you look from the bottom up.”  It was from that upside-down perspective that the 66 year-old, American educated, university professor came to understand what others had missed–that what was needed to help the poorest of the poor who live on less than $1 a day was a loan.

Yanus’s first loan to a group of people in a small village in Bangladesh was a mere $27 US.  The villagers paid him back and the idea of micro credits took off.  Since that day in 1976, Yanus and his grameen Bank network and other similar micro credit institutions have made small loans to more than 92 million clients.  Eighty-five percent of the recipients of micro credit loans around the world are women and the loans average a mere $160 each.  There is no collateral required and the money must be used for self-employment or to generate income.

According to Yanus, he has turned the ideas of the banking industry upside-down as well.  Money is lent only to those who cannot acquire affordable credit because they have nothing to guarantee a loan.  Occasionally these individuals do manage to negotiate a loan from a money lender.  Usually they cannot generate enough income to pay back such loans because the interest rates they are charged are so high that all of their earnings go to pay the lender.

Yanus emphasizes that the money lent by his Grameen Bank is a loan not a grant.  The bank charges a reasonable amount of interest which, when the loan is repaid, generates new money available to be loaned to even more people in the community.  The local Grameen Banks are owned by the borrowers and the money repaid is recirculated in the community.  The banks also provide a place for local residents to save their money and earn interest on their deposits.

Interestingly, most of the borrowers are women.  Professor Yanus, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company said that his experience was that women were both more likely to repay the borrowed amount and to use the profit earned from their micro enterprise to better the well-being of their family and community.

In addition to loans, the Grameen Bank network provides financial and business education and community development.  The Grameen Foundation, USA’s web site cites examples women around the world who are able to feed their families and send their children to school because of these small loans and the small businesses they have made possible.  The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Muhammad Yanus and the Grameen Bank for the impact they have had in reducing poverty around the world.

The concept pioneered by Muhammad Yanus is upside down because it takes a huge problem and uses a small scale solution multiplied over and over again.

Perhaps we could solve more big problems if we tried standing on our heads and looking at them from the bottom up.

Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains