18. November 2014

Farewell to My Dearest Friend, Karl Osner

Muhammad Yunus, Founder Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2006

I was shocked to hear the news about the death of my great friend Karl Osner!
I cannot believe that he is no longer with us, that we will no longer have occasion for his usual meticulously planned meeting to go over every word and every point in utmost detail. What a dedicated human being he was, to save other human beings from the indignity of poverty!
Karl Osner was a visionary and a dedicated fighter against poverty. I don't remember how he became so involved in my work in the remote villages in Bangladesh. In the mid-eighties, we were a small unknown organization trying to lending money to poor rural women in the poorest regions of Bangladesh. We met him as a representative of a donor agency working through IFAD.
Later we learned that he was a high official of the German Ministry of International Cooperation (BMZ). Soon we found out this visitor was very different from all other visitors. He kept coming back to us to find what we needed, how could he help us, how the women could be served better. Was there anything else we would like to add to our service, what stood in the way of our expansion?
He made many visits to Grameen borrowers in the villages of Bangladesh and recognized very early on the power of  Grameen Bank’s approach in helping poor people get out of poverty with dignity, hope and self reliance. He started bringing very highly-placed German visitors to meet the women in the villages. It was not a just a casual visit to the village. He insisted that everyone live in the village, as close as possible, both in terms of physical distance as well as in living conditions.
He imitated the lives of the poor sharing their everyday life. He wanted to feel as one of them. He became friends with their children. He talked to them with the concern and love as if they were his own family members. He tried to capture the most  minute details of their lives. He wanted desperately to see if he could make a little change, to make it easier for them. He wanted to be part of their lives, and participate in their daily struggle.

He became so convinced about the self help approach of Grameen Bank that he thought it was essential for development policy makers in the North to see and learn from this program. He took this as his campaign to change the world.
He almost single-handedly introduced the Grameen Bank to German law- makers, policy-makers, media, academic institutions. What he saw in Bangladesh he wanted to put it in a conceptual framework of North South Dialogue (NSD) Program. He brought the policy makers of the North  to dialogue with the poorest people in the countries of the South in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  He developed a very intricately designed and practised Exposure and Dialogue Program (EDP) which involved the participants from the North being immersed in the real life situation of the poor of the villages, and being exposed to their daily work and struggles.
He encouraged the participants to write detailed case studies about the people they met, recording the details of their daily lives.  This immersion and case study preparation  was followed by a process of dialogue between the participants of the North with those in the South in order to understand what was needed to bring about lasting change.
He organized a series of these EDPs throughout the late eighties and nineties in Bangladesh, bringing many government leaders, ministers, parliamentarians, academics, representatives of the church, social activists, media representatives, NGO leaders of Germany  and other countries, to visit the villages to experience the lives of the poor people. He was meticulous in the planning and implementation of these programs. It was no mean task to bring top decision makers and opinion  formers to come and live in the villages for periods of one week or even longer.  But he managed to do that, and in the process transform the hearts and minds of so many people.
He promoted the EDP approach as a tool for the German government to use in their development and parliamentary work.  He was committed to this methodology as an effective way for policy makers to internalize the reality of the poor. He believed that this would enable them to shape appropriate policies in parliament and development policy, and thereby effect meaningful impact in the lives of the poor.

Karl Osner remained tireless in his efforts throughout the decades. He supported the work of Grameen Bank, and its replication around the world. We became  close friends. He took me around Germany, to introduce me to German people and their thinking, their life, their past and present. He consulted me in every step he wanted to take. He thought I understood him better than any other person. He took my words so seriously that sometimes I felt  embarrassed. My casual remark many times became his day-long even-week long concern. I felt  terrible that I caused him suh worries. 
Some years later, when I started creating social business, and was explaining how important these are for changing the lives of the people, he became one of the earliest converts. He enthusiastically embraced the concept.   Even when he became physically weak he did not give up his mission. He waited patiently to discuss his plans, which he never stopped making, with me to take next steps. He built a very committed team around him who tried to follow his instructions to the letter, in carrying out all his action programs. When he could not travel any more he hoped that I could come and meet him so that we could continue to make future plans. He never stopped. He never stopped designing, framing policies, dialoguing with people around him. He remained committed till the very end. He never gave up.
With his death the world has lost a great fighter against the injustice of poverty. The world has lost an ideal human being, a role model.  I, personally, have lost one of my dearest friends.

I sincerely hope that his legacy will continue to inspire the world. I hope the ground-breaking work that he began with NSD and EDP will continue to impact on people's minds, leading to changes in national and global policies and actions. That would be the most  fitting tribute to Karl Osner's life and legacy of hard work and dedication to the poor people of the world.