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Nobel Laureate: Alleviating Poverty Key to Maintaining Global Peace

This year's Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus, says the award is shining the international spotlight on the fundamental link between alleviating poverty and maintaining peace. He spoke to reporters Monday in Washington.

The head of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, says getting the Nobel Peace Prize meant a big change in his life.

"Suddenly, you are in the spotlight, the global spotlight, and your every word is analyzed, and your every move is watched," he said.

Grameen Bank is a financial institution that specializes in extending micro-credit, which involves lending small amounts of money to poor people to help them get started in money-making activities.

Yunus says he is especially gratified that the award has highlighted the crucial link between poverty and peace, and that alleviating poverty is an important part of maintaining peace in the world.

"I am particularly happy because the Nobel Peace Prize has done a wonderful thing to us - linking poverty and peace together," he said. "This is one message [that] kind of got lost. I was very happy that they could link it, and they linked it very strongly, that poverty is a threat to peace."

He said the other side of that argument is that ignoring poverty can create the conditions that lead to terrorism.

"Terrorism cannot be fought with guns. That's no solution," he said. "You can put it down for awhile, keep it quiet for awhile, until it comes back with more force. So, this [Nobel] prize kind of highlighted that issue, that poverty is an issue that you have to pay lot of attention to, because otherwise, it becomes a breeding ground for all kinds of violence, all kinds of possibilities to disturb peace in the world."

Yunus started the Grameen Bank 30 years ago, after he made his first loan of $27, out of his own pocket, to a Bangladeshi woman who was making bamboo stools.

Now, he says, the bank lends nearly one billion dollars a year in small loans that average about $130 each. He adds that nearly all of the bank's seven million borrowers are Bangladeshi women, who, he says, deserve to share the spotlight.

"So, that's another message, that poor women in Bangladesh are worth having the Nobel prize, they are the Nobel laureates," he said. "And they will be the one who will be receiving the prize."

He said the Grameen Bank's millions of borrowers are all part-owners of the bank, and said he initially wanted to take all of them with him to Norway to receive the prize.

"When the Nobel Committee announced half of the prize goes to me, half goes to the Grameen Bank, I said, 'we'll take the owners of the bank to the Nobel Committee, to receive the prize, all seven million of them.' They got kind of scared, because the total population of Norway is [only] four and a half million," he said.

He said lending money to the poor is not just business, for him and his bank, it is a mission.