“I made a list of people who needed just a little bit of money. And when the list was complete, there were 42 names. The total amount of money they needed was $27. I was shocked.”

“Here we were talking about economic development, about investing billions of dollars in various programs, and I could see it wasn’t billions of dollars people needed right away.”

Yunus (born 1940), the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, founded a banking system 30 years ago to lend small amounts of money to the rural poor in Bangladeshi villages. Most of the low-interest microloans go to women, who use them to start their own profit-making enterprises, mainly in agriculture, crafts, or services. Grameen Bank now has 2,422 branches, employs more than 20,000 people, and has loaned more than $6 billion since its founding. Borrowers own most of the equity in the bank. The company has been profitable in all but three years since it was founded.

Yunus imagined what would happen if a bank extended credit to those people who would never traditionally receive it. In the process, he created a system that empowered the poor by helping them become entrepreneurs.