AddThis ShareCONTACT: DAVID RUTHPHONE: 713-348-6327E-MAIL: [email protected] Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to present 2010 commencement address at RiceMuhammad Yunus, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a world leader in the fight against poverty, will speak at Rice University’s 97th commencement May 15, 2010. And continuing a tradition that began with this year’s commencement, Rice will present an award in the speaker’s name to a graduating student whose work best serves the humanitarian issues represented by the speaker. “I was thrilled that a committee of students selected Muhammad Yunus as their choice for commencement speaker, and I am even more delighted and grateful that he has accepted,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Dr. Yunus’ humanitarian spirit and entrepreneurial actions have improved the well-being of thousands of women and their families in some of the poorest parts of the world. It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring choice to convey the message to our students that small contributions and individual efforts can benefit the lives of many.”A native of Bangladesh with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Dhaka University and a Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt University, Yunus tried to help impoverished women in his native country by giving them small loans of his own money in 1974. He was professor and head of the Economics Department at Chittagong University at the time, and his visits to villages around the campus led him to found the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in 1983. The bank provided microloans to the poor as a starting point for industries built around the borrowers’ skills. “The poor taught me an entirely new economics,” Yunus wrote in the best-seller “Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty.” “I never imagined that my microlending program would be the basis for a nationwide ‘bank for the poor.’ … I was only trying to relieve my guilt and satisfy my desire to be useful to a few starving human beings.”Grameen is owned by the poor and now has nearly 8 million borrowers, and 68 percent of them have used their loans to start a small business and work their way out of poverty. Since its inception, Grameen Bank has loaned more than $8 billion to the poor, and nearly all of the bank’s loans have been repaid. Including family members of the borrowers, Grameen’s membership totals 40 million. Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development.Grameen America has also been established in Queens, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb., to offer low-interest, collateral-free loans to poverty-stricken women trying to rebuild their lives. Other cities are requesting branches as well.Yunus has applied the principles behind Grameen Bank to form Grameen Healthcare, which sets up small centers to deliver affordable health care for the poorest of the poor. Last month President Barack Obama acknowledged Yunus’ humanitarian efforts by presenting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.For his achievements, Yunus has received awards from all around the world, including the King Abdul Aziz Medal, the World Food Prize, the Sydney Peace Prize and the Ecuadorian Peace Prize. He has been awarded 26 honorary doctorate degrees, and the Bangladesh government issued a commemorative stamp to honor his Nobel award. His most recent book, “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism,” was issued in paperback this year.The prominent global recognition that Yunus has received was one of the factors that appealed to the students on the commencement speaker selection committee. “Dr. Yunus is a fairly high-profile humanitarian,” said committee chair Michael Gustin, professor of biochemistry and cell biology. “The students felt that he is an innovator working with poor people to try to improve their situation, and his work has been well-recognized.”The selection process for the 2010 commencement speaker began last spring. “We started earlier than in the past because the calendars of the well-known speakers that the students are interested in are likely to fill up quickly, so we wanted to give them more lead time,” Gustin said.Committee members included graduate students Eileen Meyer and Kristjan Stone; undergraduates Susan Wu, Trey O’Neill and Tracy Dansker; and Matt Taylor, associate dean. Three students who graduated in May were also on the committee: Matt Youn, Teddy Butcher and Ian Feldman.