The Grameen Bank [Village Bank], which shared the Nobel peace prize this year with Yunus, has been helping to better lives even in distant Egypt.

Hanem Shaban, an Egyptian working in Cairo's popular Imbaba market explained how it made a difference to her life. "I got my first loan of 250 Egyptian pounds ($43) six years ago, and it meant I could expand my vegetable stall and earn more money."

She now earns enough to be able to afford schooling for her four sons.

Sixteen thousand Egyptian women are currently receiving micro-credits totalling 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.7 million) from the 'Solidarity Programme', which was launched in 1996.

Maha Antar, a spokesperson for the programme said: "All of our credit go to women, because in Egypt it is generally women who work to put bread on the table. In very poor levels of society we couldn't guarantee that this money would go to the family if it was given to the man."

Empowering women

The solidarity programme is small, with just 100 employees staffing six offices in Cairo's poorer neighbourhoods. It provides micro-credits to groups of women who are linked by friendship or because they are relatives or neighbours and can therefore help each other.

"As the women repay their loans, they become eligible for even larger micro-credits," Antar said.

To apply for micro-credit, the potential borrower has to be 18 years old, and prove that she is serious about what the loan entails.

Hisham al-Said, who also represents the Solidarity Programme, said: "If a woman given a micro-credit doesn't demonstrate that her project has developed, then we stop helping her."

The small businesses created by the women given micro-credits range from dressmaking and embroidery to small grocery shops.

The Grameen Bank, which provides loans to the poor in Bangladesh - mostly to landless rural families - has been a partner with the Egyptian organisation since 2003.

Last year, Grameen advanced a credit of 2.3 million pounds ($400,000) to the solidarity programme.

The Egyptian organisation obtains the rest of its funding from wealthy private donors, as well as from the government's social security coffers.