In thrall to an agent of change
Rashidul Bari is on a journey. It is a journey with many twists and turns and the destination is not clear from the onset.
It is a journey of a person with a strong sense of his national identities and yet it is a journey of a citizen of the world. It has taken him from his native Bangladesh and away from his family to study in the United States. It has removed him from the safety and security of his native language of Bengali, in which he is extremely articulate, to a new language -- English -- where he must grapple with expressing his imagination through different words and cultural nuances. Lastly, he is moving from being an accomplished journalist and author, in only his 20s, to new careers and professional opportunities.
There is a guide for Bari in this journey. It is the man whom he calls The Saint --- Muhammad Yunus. Through Yunus' personal and professional life, Bari sees a path to follow. Yunus left Bangladesh to study in the United States, developed a universal message of possibilities that transcended local languages and, most importantly, developed creative solutions, which are constantly being re-imagined, to seemingly intractable problems
Bari is currently a student at York College, a baccalaureate-granting institution of the City University of New York where I am the Chief Operating Officer/Vice President for Administration. I have known and worked with Bari for the past two years.
I was approached initially by Bari, who was representing a group of individuals with a Bangladeshi background, to arrange for the use of the college's theatre to host a speaking engagement by Professor Yunus, the originator of the worldwide microfinance movement. In these first discussions, Bari and I discovered a commonality of interest in world affairs, the importance of global interchange and a passion for the work of Dr. Yunus and the organization that he formed, Grameen Bank.
I had lived and worked overseas in and with developing countries; and am on the Board of Trustees of Project Enterprise, a New York-based non-profit organisation modelled on the objectives and lending practices of Grameen Bank. At the first meeting with Bari, I discovered that he had written a biography of Dr. Yunus in Bengali and was a prolific author at a very young age on a range of subjects.
As a result of our encounter, Bari and I decided to work on a project to develop a scholarship fund for students from Grameen families in Bangladesh to attend York College. In addition, we also worked on a joint summer internship exchange programme where students from York College would work with Grameen Bank and Bangladeshi students would come to the US and be affiliated with a Grameen-oriented institution.
The key to the resources, viability and the success of the programme was to obtain not only the endorsement of Dr. Yunus but also to have him make a major appearance at York College. This became all the more important, and somewhat more difficult, when Dr. Yunus was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in December 2006.
Bari has become a passionate advocate for this programme and a critical connector among all the parties in Bangladesh and the US who are, and should be, involved. He has introduced me to potential supporters and advocates of the program and arranged for a crucial meeting and follow-up with Dr. Yunus' closest advisor and assistant, Muhammad Jahangir. Bari assisted in brokering a scholarship and internship program that met the needs of Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank, on the one hand, and York College, on the other.
The culmination of all these efforts was a meeting conscientiously pursued by Bari between Dr. Yunus and myself in September 2007. That encounter solidified both the concept and support of the programme.
During this entire time, Mr. Bari has demonstrated an exceptional facility in several areas. All of this is evident from this personal memoir of his encounters with Dr. Yunus and dedication to Yunus' principles. Bari strongly believes that the more one is aware and understands both Yunus the individual and Yunus the agent of change, the greater the possibilities exist for transformative change in two areas, namely, the elimination of worldwide poverty and the empowerment of women.
Bari is passionate about continuing his journey. This book is but one milepost on his travels.
Jerald Posman is Vice President, City University of New York.