Before leaving for Manila to receive the prestigious Gusi Peace Prize, Dr. Atiur Rahman, Governor of Bangladesh Bank, said he was trying to pay back a long outstanding debt of taka one hundred and fifty to the poor people of the country.
"I am struggling to pay back this debt, but this debt can never be repaid", he told The Daily Observer on Saturday night.
The Manila based Gusi Peace Prize, which announced the nomination of Dr. Atiur Rahman, governor of Bangladesh Bank for this prestigious award, described the nominee as the "Poor Man's Economist" in the award citation.
Dr Rahman will receive the award on Nov 26 at a ceremony in Manila along with other eminent personalities from 14 countries.
"For me, it's not about winning an award. I am just trying to pay my debt to the people, through working for those who have been shattered by poverty," said Dr. Rahman at the Green Award Night jointly organized by South East Bank, The Financial Express and Policy Research Institute in the city.
Seated across from me at a roundtable at Radisson Hotel, the financial regulator told me that his life had been blessed by the support of the common people.
"Even so, I know I have a debt to pay the poor- not debt of a financial nature but debt as a psychological construct", he told the daily in reply to a question during a cultural programme at the ceremony, which was followed by the distribution of Green Awards to a number of entrepreneurs and companies.
Dr. Atiur Rahman spent his boyhood days in severe hardship. His childhood was a life of hard struggle, which compelled him to spend his days in severe misery. When he was unable to pay his tuition fees at Mirzapur Cadet College his teacher collected Tk 150.00 for him from the local people.
"On my first day in college, I frankly told my teacher M. W. Pit Sir that I would have to leave that Cadet College after three months as I was unable to come up with my tuition fees. Sir arranged the stipend/scholarship amounting to 150 taka by collecting it from people in the local bazaar," Dr. Rahman notes in his book, "From a Shepherd to an Economist".
"I still haven't been able to repay that debt. And if I spend my entire life repaying it, I still won't be able to repay that debt in cash. But I am trying to repay in other ways by fighting against poverty", Dr. Rahman said.
It was an award giving ceremony for outstanding performance on the part of companies in green banking efforts, at which the central bank governor was the chief guest. But the function soon veered around to a discussion on Dr. Rahman when someone announced that the central bank governor was leaving Dhaka for Manila to receive Asia's most prestigious award, the Gusi Peace Prize.
In recognizing the most brilliant examples of those working toward the attainment of peace and respect for human life and dignity, the Gusi Peace Prize brings out the best of human achievements, ideals and values.
Dr. Atiur has authored numerous books and articles in reputed national and international journals, including 16 books in English, on topics relating to inclusive financing and sustainable poor development.
He is globally popular as the green governor and has been selected as a member of the UN environment body. The Gusi Peace Prize is a recognition of the contributions he has made in his field of activity.
Development economics is not just about academic theory, and Dr. Atiur Rahman, Bangladesh's central bank governor, is proof that it is possible to put theory into practice, according to The Banker, the global financial intelligence since 1926.
"With an established reputation as a pro-poor economist - with a Ph.D. thesis on 'peasants and classes' - the former university professor is now practicing what he has been preaching, and previously teaching, at the University of Dhaka", Jane Cooper, the top writer of The Banker said in a report.
Bangladesh Bank, under Atiur Rahman, is now promoting targeted financial inclusion in such areas as agriculture, SMEs, and exports facilitation, while at the same time upholding domestic demand with six plus per cent stable annual average real economic growth over more than a decade.
"There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit", Dr. Rahman said.
Bangladesh Bank said his struggle to alleviate poverty was a reflection of the aspirations enunciated by the Liberation War and was one that would continue till his death. Financial inclusion is "the right tool" to combating poverty and green banking is an "effective strategy" to increase the living standard of the poor people.
Leading speakers and guests at the ceremony, including Mr. Alamgir Kabir, FCA, chairman of South East Bank Limited, AHM Moazzem Hossain, Editor of The Financial Express, and Mr. Zaidi Sattar, World Bank economist and also a director Southeast bank, in their speeches dwelt on the exemplary role played by Dr. Rahman. In their view, the award was not just a recognition of achievements but a spur for one to go ahead even more to save the world and shield its inhabitants from the malady of poverty.
Earlier, Dr. Farash Uddin, Chairman of the Public Service Pay Commission and a former governor of Bangladesh Bank, congratulated Dr. Rahman on winning the award. He pointed to Atiur Rahman's relentless efforts to reduce poverty through such successful policy actions as financial inclusion and green banking in the banking sector.
Many international financial intelligence bodies see Bangladesh's central bank governor, Atiur Rahman, as an individual championing the cause of the country's poor. He is now engaged in efforts to ensure the implementation of a number of socially responsible economic policies through putting his theories into practice, and has certainly met with some success in this regard.
The Gusi Peace Prize is the 10th award bestowed on the central bank governor so far. Among other prestigious awards he has received are the Indira Gandhi Gold Plaque, 'Regulator with Human Face' award from Dhaka University and World No?Tobacco Day Award 2012 from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr. Rahman has also been awarded a certificate of world record by Hong Kong based World Record association as the central bank governor undertaking the highest number of pro-poor and financial inclusive programs in the world.
He made significant contribution in the 3GF conferences, Rio+20, COP18 and MDG Global Compact international negotiations linking sustainability and socio?economic development goals as a member/panelist of Bangladesh delegation.
But things have not always been so rosy for the governor. He was born in a remote village of Jamalpur district in 1951. He went to school but had to quit after grade-III because of poverty. He had to sit for the class IV final examinations without attending any class. But when the results came out, his name topped the list.
His unwavering determination and visionary attitude were to help him conquer all hurdles. Immediately after he assumed office as Governor of Bangladesh Bank in 2009, Dr. Rahman initiated a vigorous drive to make banking services available to deprived sections of the population through strengthening financial inclusion programmes across the country.
Financial inclusion of the poorest - particularly their access to small-sized credit for income-generating self-employment activities - is a major tool in Bangladesh for combating poverty.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the rate of extreme poverty has continued to decline and stood at 31.5pc in 2012, while extreme poverty dropped to 43pc in 2010 from 58 pc in 2000.
A new study on Bangladesh's social and economic development shows that the poverty level will come down to near zero by 2030 even if economic growth rate remains similar to the level recorded since 2000.
'Assuming there are no major shocks, continued economic growth at rates similar to those recorded since 2000 could allow Bangladesh to reduce the prevalence of extreme poverty to 2.4 per cent by 2030,' notes the Inclusive Growth Diagnostic - a study conducted by the UK government and USAID.