Pakistani microfinance pioneer receives Asia’s ‘Nobel Prize’

MANILA: Pakistani microfinance pioneer, who developed an interest- and collateral-free microfinance programme, a Bangladeshi scientist, and a Filipino fisherman were among Tuesday’s winners of what is Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award was established in 1957 to honour people and groups tackling development problems.

It was held virtually this year after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Muhammad Amjad Saqib, 64, was one of five recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award — named after a Filipino president killed in a plane crash — for her “life-long devotion to the scientific profession” and “untiring contributions to vaccine development”.

Pakistani development worker Saqib developed the “first-of-its-kind” interest- and collateral-free microfinance programme, Akhuwat, which has helped millions of poor families.

Nearly two decades after its launch, Akhuwat has grown into the nation’s largest microfinance institution, distributing the equivalent of $900 million and boasting an almost 100% loan repayment rate, the award foundation said.

Saqib, who uses places of worship to hand out money, was cited for “his inspiring belief that human goodness and solidarity will find ways to eradicate poverty.”

Bangladesh’s Firdausi Qadri, 70, who helped develop a cheap oral vaccine against cholera, was also a winner for the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2021.

Another winner was Filipino fisherman Roberto Ballon, 53, who was recognised for helping “revive a dying fishing industry” on the southern island of Mindanao where abandoned fishponds had destroyed mangrove forests. – AFP