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Muhammad Yunus to speak at graduation

Microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus will deliver Duke’s 2010 commencement address, President Richard Brodhead announced Thursday.

Yunus, a banker and economist, first experimented with the concept of microfinance, also termed microcredit, while serving as an economics professor in his native Bangladesh. Microfinance involves making small loans to the poor to help them break free from a cycle of debt.

“Everybody wants some big famous person, and I think we got that, but I think we got more than that,” Brodhead said at an afternoon meeting with 10 student leaders.

In 1983, Yunus established the Grameen Bank as a collateral-free banking system based on microcredit. And in 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was presented to Yunus and Grameen Bank “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.”

Grameen America launched its first branch in New York City last year. In August, President Barack Obama awarded Yunus with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Yunus last came to the Triangle in February to explore the possibility of bringing a Grameen America branch to the region and to speak at North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also the 2009 commencement speaker for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“There are two clear tasks in front of you—one, to end poverty in the world once for all, and two, to set the world in the right path to undo all the damage we have done to the environment by our ignorance and selfishness,” Yunus told graduates while speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s commencement in June 2008. “Your initiatives can produce big results, even lead you to achieving these goals. Then yours will be the most successful generation in human history.”

Brodhead selected Yunus from a list of 10 potential speakers submitted by the commencement speaker student advisory committee last Spring.

The committee, composed of 10 undergraduate and graduate students, was newly implemented this year, said Chris Collins, executive assistant to the University Secretary and the committee’s supervisor. She said student members were nominated by their academic deans and were encouraged to participate through an advertisement in The Chronicle.

Committee members met and shared names as a group for more than a month before sending the final list of 10 names to Brodhead in May, Collins said.

Brodhead contacted Yunus to offer him the speaking role and an honorary degree, and Yunus accepted almost immediately, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

“He’s a great speaker and a genuinely nice and interesting person,” said Schoenfeld, noting that the University wanted a speaker who would deliver a unique address.


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