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Nobel Laureate Urges Financial Services for Poor

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus gestures as he speaks to media representatives before the opening of Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit in Nairobi, 6 Apr 2010

Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus is calling on business, philanthropic and political leaders gathered in Nairobi to help eradicate poverty by providing the world's poor with access to financial services.

Speaking to more than 1,500 delegates from 75 countries at the 14th annual Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit in Nairobi, Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus called it a "landmark summit". He said it highlights the microfinance industry's success in the face of the global financial crisis.

Yunus said microfinance continues to flourish, providing opportunities for people in the developing world to lift themselves from poverty.

"In this crisis, microcredit was not the one which was closing down the shops," Yunus said. "It was the big banks which were closing down their shops. So one of the lessons of these dark days: we need to reinvent banking. And microcredit provides the direction in which we have to go."

Microfinance is a movement within international development to provide financial services to the poor. Organizations typically provide small loans, called microcredit, for individuals to start business in their communities. The practice is seen by many as a means of empowerment for people who have traditionally been denied access to credit and banking institutions.

Called "the Banker to the Poor," Yunus is seen as one of the pioneers of microcredit and the microfinance industry. He is the founder of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, an organization which has been providing microcredit since the 1970's. In 2006, Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to Yunus, microcredit provides a sustainable business model to solve the world's problems.

"That is what microcredit is all about: business to change the world. Not making money. We can change the world by making businesses for healthcare, for environment, for housing, for drinking water, whatever problem we have," Yunus adds.

But Yunus told the delegates many African countries lack the laws necessary for microfinance institutions to operate. In these countries, donor-funded, humanitarian organizations often provide microcredit, which Yunus sees as inefficient. He called for African states to establish the legal structure necessary to fully realize the potential of microfinance.

The four-day summit will explore new ideas in poverty eradication. Discussions throughout the conference will focus on the applications of microfinance in core development fields such as the environment, agriculture and health.

The Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit is the latest in a series of regional summits held by the Microcredit Summit Campaign. The organization seeks to ensure credit for more than 175-million families worldwide by 2015. The next summit will be hosted by Spain in 2011.