Vienna, 13 October 2006 - "Muhammed Yunus is being honoured not only as an internationally renowned economist but also as a courageous advocate of the poor," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today on the occasion of the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 to the 66-year old economist Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh.
Yunus developed the idea of micro-financing which gives poor population groups and particularly women the opportunity to take a first step towards overcoming poverty. In 1976 Yunus founded the Grameen Bank with the aim of helping the very poorest leave poverty behind by granting them small and micro-credits, sometimes of no more than 30 dollars. The programme even supports illiterate people who otherwise would not be creditworthy. Before Yunus came on the scene these people had been forced to borrow money at extremely unfavourable conditions, which led to a deterioration of their situation in the long run.
In the meantime, the Grameen Bank and its system of micro-credits had often been copied; indeed, the United Nations had even designated 2005 as the International Year of Micro-Credits in order to underline the importance of micro-financing in the fight against worldwide poverty. "The encouraging success shows what an individual can achieve by pursuing a bold and far-sighted idea. The core idea is the systematic promotion of self-responsibility and self-determination. In the past three decades these small and micro-credits have been used to found innumerable small enterprises, creating jobs and contributing to long-term economic stabilisation," emphasised Foreign Minister Plassnik.
Micro-financing is also part of Austria's development policy. "The Austrian Development Cooperation is based on innovative financial services for micro-enterprises, because even small amounts can lead to remarkable effects in our partner countries," stressed the Foreign Minister. In Nicaragua, for instance, one of the country's largest micro-financing institutions was established; it currently numbers some 32,000 clients. In South-East Europe, financial markets were receiving sustained support within the framework of the European Fund: as early as 1998, the Austrian Development Cooperation, in cooperation with the European Commission, Germany and Switzerland, had made credit lines available to small and medium-sized enterprises in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Montenegro. "This investment has paid off: 230,000 new jobs have been created, and more than 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises have been offered credits and thus concrete development opportunities," concluded Plassnik.
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