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This blogger does not aspire to be the microfinance industry's gossip columnist. Still, one recent development seems at least as worthy of reporting as a Presidential Medal of Freedom or a knighting: Dipal Barua, who had worked for Muhammad Yunus for 34 years, was forced in December to resign from his posts as Deputy Managing Director of the Grameen Bank and Managing Director of Grameen Shakti, the solar power unit. The split was acrimonious. The event received almost no coverage in English.

Probably like you, I know less about Barua than I should. He was born in the same village as the Grameen Bank, and assisted Yunus from the earliest days in building the now-famous credit model. He was instrumental in Grameen's internal revolution a decade ago, called Grameen II, and coauthored a book about it with Asif Dowla. I suspect that much of Grameen's success owes to the partnership between Yunus and Barua. Yunus was the philosopher, pitchman, and indefatigable visionary. Barua was more the mechanic, experimenter, and hands-on manager. His loss creates, or at least points to, challenges for the Grameen Bank going forward.

Apparently one source of contention was Barua's receipt of the first Zayed Future Energy Prize one year ago, which earned him $1.5 million (well more than Yunus's half of a Nobel Prize). I don't know if Yunus kept his prize money; Barua apparently did keep his. [Update: Yunus invested his money in social ventures. HT Alex Counts.] Some inside the Bank saw this as improper, arguing that Barua did not deserve the money since he was not the true founder of Grameen Shakti. And there are other accusations of impropriety, which the Bank may feel would be inappropriate to state publicly.

I don't doubt that founder's syndrome was another factor:

I once worked for an organization with a somewhat Messianic founding leader and remember well a firing of a long-time employee. A wise coworker cautioned that the incident was like a divorce. Two people with an old and complicated relationship had split. It was hard for us, outsiders to the relationship, to fully understand the rupture. So we should be slow to judge.

 

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.

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