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Microlending Pioneer Muhammad Yunus Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of nonprofit microlender Grameen Bank, received the Congressional Gold Medal this week, adding to his collection of awards that also include the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He was awarded the medal, Congress' highest expression for distinguished achievements and contributions, at a ceremony held Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.

Congress awarded the medal to Yunus, 72, for his work to battle global poverty.

Grameen Bank, which Yunus founded in 1976 with $27 while working in an economics program in his native Bangladesh, aims to help the rural poor overcome poverty by offering loans for activities that generate income, as opposed to consumption, as well as for housing and education.

Since its founding, Grameen has loaned $13.4 billion to roughly 8.4 million borrowers, mostly women, and demonstrated the power of microcredit to aid the world's most economically disadvantaged people.

"Professor Yunus set out to do what may be the biggest thing of all, and that is liberating people to seek a better life," House Speaker John Boehner told attendees at Wednesday's ceremony. "And not just any people, but men and women who had only known misery, and only those who had been told that they were no good."

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, noted in prepared remarks that Yunus' idea "is simple, yet revolutionary — he is a disrupter — and that's the biggest compliment I can give — to offer loans to the poor to start their own businesses."

"Its success is rooted, in large part, in the power and potential of women," Pelosi added.

In recent years, borrowers have obtained loans for rice paddy trading, grocery shops, bamboo works and cow fattening, according to Grameen Bank's latest annual report. Beggars can obtain loans for umbrellas or mosquito nets that carry repayment terms as low as 3.4 cents a week.

Borrowers own 95% of Grameen Bank's shares, while the remainder is owned by the government of Bangladesh. Though the bank operates only in Bangladesh, Yunus has extended its programs worldwide through the Grameen Foundation, which he founded in 1997.

Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal must by co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and at least 67 senators before the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committees, which oversee the medal, will consider the measure.

Past honorees include such notables as pioneering surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey, the Native American Code Talkers, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Roberto Clemente, Robert F. Kennedy, Marian Anderson, Jesse Owens, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Major General Ulysses Grant, Major General Andrew Jackson and George Washington.

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