Business, Faith and the Common Good Symposium: A Reflection by Loriana Harkey, Part 2

The second presentation I attended at the Business, Faith and the Common Good Symposium was given by a representative from Grameen Bank. Grameen Bank in Omaha opened in 2009. Erika Arguello has a history of dealing with harsh experiences and overcoming obstacles, but she uses this to inspire and help others struggling with similar situations. Grameen Bank is a way for low-income individuals to make a living by taking out loans. This bank also offers financial knowledge to help its customers manage their money. Ms. Arguello spoke little English herself because most of her customers cannot speak English. Though there are multiple locations of Grameen Bank, such as in California, Washington, and Minnesota, the majority of the people from Omaha who use this bank are Latina women. Ms. Arguello talked about how passionate she was about her job and about how much she truly loved to travel to help others outside of Omaha. This presentation was actually one of the few times she had to use her public speaking skills and though she was admitted that she was nervous, I personally thought she did a superb job. I even got to practice my Spanish speaking skills by asking her a question in Spanish during the question and answer session after her presentation.

The focus of the presentation was a video in which a man by the name of Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh spoke eloquently about helping the poor and less fortunate. He talked about social responsibility and how producing something as simple as yogurt can help fix the issue of malnourishment of children in Bangladesh. If two cups of yogurt are given to a child once a week for one year, that is equivalent to giving that child their full health back, because the yogurt contains all the nutrients that a child needs. He also spoke about how charity is when you give money, but it only has “one life” because once you give it away it is gone. But with a business, like Grameen Bank, it recycles that money, and puts it to work to develop a business for the less fortunate and continuously provides for them. He mentioned that first of all, it is important to realize there is nothing wrong with the poor, but there is something wrong with the framework of society because it does not allow the poor to thrive. And to do so, we need to engage in social business, but not to make a profit. We need to do so with the right intentions, to help the less fortunate. His last words of inspiration were as follows, “The world is run by ideas not theories. We made the rules, so we can change them. Don’t be a slave of your own rules.” In other words, he wants us to not restrict ourselves in the methods or ideas we have to help the poor, even if they are not as popular as other ideas like charity or do not seem as good as other ideas. If we start small and are successful with that small business, we can always grow larger. But it is harder to start big and have to downsize because our ideas were too far-fetched and not well thought out or supported.

After the video, Ms. Arguello spoke specifically about the Grameen Bank in Omaha. She gave the following scenario: If I person wants a loan, then Ms. Arguello, searches for at least four other ladies who also want to a loan. Through this process, there are no papers or identification required, a concept most banks would not allow, but rather Ms. Arguello comes to each lady’s house and helps them fill out an application. Grameen Bank has a partnership with Wells Fargo. This means that if the ladies do not have a bank account or are unable to use one, Ms. Arguello personally helps them set one up, even though she admitted this is not a job requirement. She simply does it because she cares so deeply for these ladies and remembers similar struggles from her past life. In her words, “discipline, unity, and hard work is the recipe for success.” Ms. Arguello also gave an example of how she was able to help a woman get a loan without her having a social security number, but the only reason this was possible was because she had good credit. Ms. Arguello not only helps people get loans but offers solutions on how to develop strategies to pay back the loans. Many of the customers do not know how to manage their money, so this is a skill she focuses on teaching to as many people as possible. She also is willing to help them have transportation to get to the bank or, as seen in a previous example, she is willing to go to the home of the customer.  It was evident that Ms. Arguello worked above and beyond her job requirements, and I am so happy I was able to be present for her presentation.

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