Muhammad Yunus: Combating Poverty

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Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, ©2000 Eddie Adams


  • 6 – 8


  • Microcredit

Additional Resources
PDF (includes worksheets)


  • Article 23: Right to Desirable Work
  • Article 25: Right to Adequate Living Standard


  • 160 minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe “poverty” and its long-reaching effects.
  • Identify factors contributing to the cycle of poverty.
  • Understand banks’ traditional “3C’s” approach to lending money.
  • Understand Muhammad Yunus’s microcredit approach.
  • Analyze the benefits of microcredit as well as the challenges it faces.


  • What does it mean to live in poverty?
  • What are poverty’s far-reaching effects?
  • How can we make poverty a thing of the past?


  • Drawing conclusions
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Evaluating
  • Analyzing and applying information
  • Supporting a position
  • Participating in group planning and discussion


  • Economic systems
  • Values
  • Choice
  • Empathy
  • Needs and wants
  • Factors of production
  • Justice
  • Decision making
  • Civic values
  • Human rights


  • Social Studies Standard 2: World History
    • Intermediate KI 1 PI 1; KI 4 PI 1, 3, 4
  • Social Studies Standard 3: Economics
    • Intermediate KI 1 PI 1, 2; KI 2 PI 4
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Intermediate KI 1 PI 1; KI 3 PI 3: KI 4 PI 1, 3
  • English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2, 4; Writing PI 1, 2, 4
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2; Writing PI 1, 2
  • English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2; Writing PI 2, 3

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS for ELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies 6 – 12

  • RH/SS.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • RH/SS.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • RH/SS.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • WH/SS.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • WH/SS.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.


  • Poverty
  • Bank loans
  • Credit
  • The 3 C’s
  • Collateral
  • Microcredit
  • Grameen Bank


  • Internet for video clips


Student Activities


  • Introduce the following questions to the class, telling the students these are our guiding questions for the next lesson:
    • What does it mean to live in poverty?
    • What are poverty’s far-reaching effects?
    • How can we make poverty a thing of the past?
  • Conduct a short class discussion, brainstorming a definition or description of “poverty” and how it impacts people’s lives.
    • Record students’ answers on chart paper or interactive whiteboard to refer back to during the unit.
  • Show the students the Web site on poverty:
  • Ask students for ideas on possible ways to end poverty. Through this discussion, the teacher should lead the class to the conclusion that those in poverty need money to improve their lives. One place to borrow money is from a bank.


  • Divide students in small groups. Each group is to pretend they are a group of bank managers in charge of giving out loans.
  • Distribute copies of May I Have a Loan? worksheets to each group. (link to doc)
  • Review the indicators banks generally look at in order to determine if a person qualifies for a loan, called the 3C’s, or one’s Character, Capital [or Collateral], and Capacity.
  • Instruct the groups to discuss the pros and cons of giving the people described on the worksheet bank loans.
  • When finished with the exercise ask the students to share with the class their decision, identifying whether or not they would be approving the loan.
  • The teacher will wrap up this class discussion by going back to the earlier discussion and the essential questions: How can we make poverty a thing of the past if banks don’t give people loans? Are there any other ideas or solutions?


  • Students should reflect upon their work in class by reviewing their initial answers to the May I Have a Loan? worksheet. Students should complete the Activity 1 Reflection Sheet: What I’ve Learned by writing a paragraph in response to the following questions:
    • Why can’t the poor get bank loans?
    • What other ideas or solutions can you think of to address this problem?


  • Review Activity 1 Reflection Sheet answers in a class discussion, summarizing the main problem-how the lack of credit given to the poor continues the cycle of poverty. Discuss the students’ answers on how to break the cycle.
  • Show the class the video clip Pennies a Day, introducing Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.
  • Ask students to reflect upon Yunus’s approach to loaning money to the poor and their own approach in Activity1.
    • How is Yunus’s idea different from traditional lending practices?
    • What were the benefits to Yunus’s ideas?
  • Distribute Activity 2: Reading for Information (symbol for link) on the Grameen Bank. The teacher may differentiate the lesson based upon reading levels:
    • Reading A (taken from What is Microcredit? Grameen Bank -Banking for the Poor, July 2010 (symbol for link) is for lower level readers
    • Reading B (taken from Is Grameen Bank Different from Conventional Banks? Grameen Bank -Banking for the Poor, July 2010 (symbol for link) is for stronger readers.
    • Students could read independently, or the teacher may create groups of students of mixed reading abilities and have the students work together.
  • After reading articles, students are to complete the assignments described on the Activity 2 Reading for Information (symbol for link) worksheets including the creation of a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two banking systems.
  • Students will able be asked to write a written response to the following question:
    • Do banks have a responsibility for helping to end poverty?
    • Should changes be made to loan practices today?


  • Review students’ Venn diagrams and written responses on the Activity 2 Reading for Information worksheet. Allow for students from each reading group to share information.
  • Distribute Speak Truth to Power reading on Muhammad Yunus to be read as a class.
  • Review both the idea that microcredit banking is helping to end the cycle of poverty as well as the unit’s guiding questions.
  • Show the video clip UNICEF: Microfinance Promoting Women in Togo to further help students see the benefits of microcredit on poor women’s lives.
  • Ask students to revisit their initial responses to the guiding questions:
    • What does it mean to live in poverty?
    • What are poverty’s far-reaching effects?
  • Ask students to respond to the following questions in a class discussion:
  • When economic problems are solved, what are the domino results?
  • How might microcredit help make poverty a thing of the past?

Become a Defender

Students should choose one of the following activities.

  • Students should reflect upon Muhammad Yunus’s new approach to combating the age-old problem of poverty. How will students let others know about what they have learned? Students can create a written or visual piece (artwork, PowerPoint, and movie) to share with family members.
  • Students can investigate microfinancing groups and then vote on an organization to support. They can then start a class fund raising project such as hosting a hunger banquet to earn money to make a loan.
  • Students will apply the lessons learned from Muhammad Yunus’s work to a local poverty issue by researching current events.
  • After finding statistics or information on local poverty, students should reflect on the questions:
    • How is poverty affecting your local community/state?
    • Could microcredit be a solution to approach this problem?
    • Students should write a letter to the editor or to a local bank explaining what they have learned about microcredit and why they believe it can be beneficial to ending local poverty.
    • Background information for this project: 2010 New York State Poverty Report:
  • Muhammad Yunus has helped Bangladesh combat poverty. However, microfinance alone cannot rid the world of poverty. What else can be done?
    • Have students research Dr. Yunus’s newest theory for ridding the world of poverty called “Social Businesses,” which encourages businesses to reinvest profits in helping others. (The Conversation: Can Microloans Change the World? May 19, 2010:
    • After conducting research, students can write letters to companies who have partnered with Grameen Bank such as Intel, Adidas and Dannon, congratulating them on their efforts, or to other companies of their choice asking them to become part of the partnership.


  • Ask the students: Do you think the microcredit concept would work in other places? Would it work in the U.S.? Why or why not?
  • Distribute the April 1, 2008, New York Times article “Lending Plan Won Prize, but Will It Work Here?” for class reading.
  • What special challenges does the Grameen system face in the US?:
  • Distribute the July 8, 2010, Newsweek article “The Poor Always Pay.” This includes an update on Grameen in the US. Discuss the question: Does the bank seem to be progressing? Why/why not?


The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender”!


  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one person or many


  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit,
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth to Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth to Power for the school library

The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials)

The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.

The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January.

Additional Resources

The Grameen Bank
The Grameen Bank’s website offers information about the history of microcredit and explains, in a more in-depth fashion, the current function of the bank and how it continues to help people with access to credit.

The Yunus Centre
The Yunus Centre, Dr. Yunus’ personal organization, works toward creating a poverty-free world. Their website works as a hub for information and opportunities related to Dr. Yunus’ work and other social business and micro-finance-related enterprises.

The Microcredit Summit
The first Microcredit Summit was held in February 1997 in Washington, D.C. They launched a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families, especially the women in those families, with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005. They almost reached that goal in 2005 and have since re-convened to set out new goals. Their website provides extensive information about the summit and their ongoing campaigns.

A US-based Microcredit group that works specifically in New Hampshire to bring small loans to small businesses.

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