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A real money guy

Getting a Nobel Peace Prize was easy, Muhammad Yunus said Saturday to a sold-out crowd at Concordia College. All the founder of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank had to do was study traditional banking principles and do the opposite. "Conventional banks ...

Muhammad Yunus

Getting a Nobel Peace Prize was easy, Muhammad Yunus said Saturday to a sold-out crowd at Concordia College.

All the founder of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank had to do was study traditional banking principles and do the opposite.

"Conventional banks love to lend money to men and rich men," Yunus said. "We reversed it. We said we'll give it to the poor and particularly to the poorest women."

The Grameen Bank, which means village bank, also eliminated the need for collateral, elaborate business plans and lawyers.

The concept that started with Yunus lending $27 to a group of 42 craftsmen has now provided micro loans to 7.5 million borrowers.

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"Professor Yunus is a Nobel rock star," Concordia President Pam Jolicoeur said in her introduction.

Yunus, who won the prize in 2006, delivered the keynote address for the 20th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

He told the crowd of 1,750, primarily college students, they don't need to have a grand solution to make a difference in the world.

"You can solve problems in our own neighborhood," Yunus said. "Bring the problem to a bite size."

Yunus has focused his work on lending money to women because they are more likely than men to invest in their families and education. About 97 percent of Grameen Bank's borrowers are women.

"It does amazing things to a society when you bring up the level of women in the family," Yunus said.

That theme of empowering women as a strategy for peace was a common thread throughout the two-day event, even though all the guest speakers were male.

Greg Mortenson, co-author of "Three Cups of Tea" who spoke on Friday, founded the Central Asia Institute to build schools primarily for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist who participated in Saturday's discussion, is working on a book about the importance of empowering women.

"Once you give a woman a little bit of an education, a little greater input in decision-making, it is completely transformative of that individual and that society as a whole," Kristof said.

Saturday also featured Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Ole Mjos and National Public Radio correspondent John Ydstie.

The crowd immediately warmed to Yunus, who Mjos describes as "charisma incorporated in the human body."

While other speakers took the stage looking serious and staring straight ahead, Yunus smiled and waved to the crowd.

The audience rewarded him with cheers and four standing ovations, not bad for a crowd filled with Norwegian Lutherans.

Concordia College hosts the Peace Prize Forum every five years, taking turns with other Midwestern Lutheran colleges founded by Norwegian immigrants. This year was one of the largest forums ever.

Zack Kenz, Concordia's student body president, said the big turnout for Yunus' speech was inspiring and will have an impact on the audience.

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"They're going to hear his words and bring it back to their communities," Kenz said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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