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Japan version of Grameen Bank launched to help lift people from poverty

Muhammad Yunus, founder and former managing director of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, is seen in this photo taken at the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on July 20, 2010. (Mainichi)
Meiji Gakuin University professor Masahiro Kan, who assumed the presidency of Grameen Nippon. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese version of the Grameen Bank, called "Grameen Nippon," was launched on Sept. 13, aiming to extend microloans to those in need in Japan to help them escape from poverty.

"The widening of the economic gap has reached a serious level, and it is necessary to introduce microfinance in Japan as a means to bring people out of poverty," said Meiji Gakuin University professor Masahiro Kan, who has assumed the presidency of Grameen Nippon, at a news conference in Tokyo on Sept. 13.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who launched the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, will chair the Japanese entity, which was inaugurated as a general incorporated association. It is the first time for a Japanese incarnation of the Grameen Bank to have been established.

Grameen Nippon began operations as a money lender the same day, and aims to transform itself into a depositary institution in about 10 years. It will extend loans to those eligible for welfare benefits as well as low-income earners including single-parent families, basically targeting those living within an hour's distance from the institution's headquarters in Tokyo's Chuo Ward.

Borrowers will be required to form a group of five members for mutual aid, and the repayment status of the first two borrowers in a group will determine whether the institution can extend loans to the remaining three.

Although members of those groups are not regarded as cosigners, the institution says it expects members to take responsibility for the repayment of their own loans so that their fellow group members can receive financing.

The initial amount of loans is set at 200,000 yen per borrower, with an annual 6 percent interest. The usage of such loans will be limited to entrepreneurship and acquisition of qualifications in preparation for entering or returning to the workforce.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the poverty rate in Japan stood at 15.6 percent in 2015.

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, City News Department)

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