A Nobel Peace Prize-winning 'bank for the poor' could soon begin operating in regional Australia.
The Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, is a microfinance organisation offering loans to disadvantaged budding entrepreneurs in Cambodia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and the USA.
Grameen Australia representatives are currently in the northern New South Wales city of Grafton where they hope to launch the first Australian branch of the program.
Director Masud Isa said Grameen offered small loans, known as microfinance, to the impoverished without requiring collateral.
"The primary basis is people who are financially excluded, those who cannot give collateral security to the bank or the banks don't consider them bankable," Mr Isa said.
"Most of the borrowers in America are women from Latin America and black Americans from low income populations on social welfare."
Women inspired to become entrepreneurs
He said the Grameen Bank had dispersed more than $26 billion to 8.8 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom were women, since 1983.
"In Bangladesh, the best part of it is the women, who would be sitting back in the houses in a lineal and very conservative society where they were not even allowed to come out of the house," Mr Isa said.
"We inspired them to come out of the house and converted them into entrepreneurs.
"Poverty declined very fast and financial exclusion declined very fast [and] the power balance within families changed.
"When money is being channelled to women, it not only benefits the family, it benefits the women's empowerment process as well."
Mr Isa said Grameen clients had payback rates of about 98 per cent, and the repayments were made with interest but over longer periods of time than traditional banks.
"The impact has been humongously [sic] good," Mr Isa said.
"Giving money to those people to create employment and jobs not only changes the balance of economic disparity but also lifts them to a level where they can start dreaming of a better life."
Grafton stands out as region to benefit
Grameen Australia chief executive, Duncan Power, said the organisation had researched areas of Australia that would benefit from their service, and the Grafton region stood out.
Mr Power and Mr Isa were invited to the region by Bendigo Bank representatives and together this week, they have been holding community meetings to determine interest in the service and the logistics of how it will be implemented in Grafton.
"We're very excited about the prospects of helping more disadvantaged people locally in every community around Australia," Mr Power said.
"People who are disadvantaged need to help themselves to take a step up and we believe our model of social entrepreneurism can actually help lift people out of their situations by not only creating a job for them but give them a whole prosperity in their life."
Mr Power said it was not just the developing world in need of services like the Grameen Bank.
"We've gone to rural and regional areas in many countries across the world and we believe Australia's no different," he said.
"What we're investigating is what will work here and what's effective here.
"Grafton will be an interesting test case; there's a cross-cultural mix of people here and I think that's important.
"Our vision would be to see a microfinance banking organisation similar to what's in the US also in Australia, partnering with corporate Australia, philanthropists and entrepreneurs."