Poor People Don’t Have To Be Bonsai People


This post is by Holly Mosher Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus – from microcredit to social business

When I read that Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were helping 6.5 million women with microcredit, I realized that was 1 out of every 1,000 people on earth.  So I had to go and see for myself. 
I spent more than a year following women getting new loans to see how their lives changed over the course of a year.  What I witnessed was truly wonderful – Yunus’ microcredit program is a truly scalable, flexible model that most people have very little problem with.  Solidarity is a key component achieved through group formation, yet there is no pressure as people are only responsible for their individual loans.  And the biggest difficulty they face is a healthcare problem, just like here in the US, where over 60% of personal bankruptcies are from health issues. 

One woman’s story, Shahnaj, moved me the most.  When I arrived, Shahnaj had just lost her son to tetanus.  He had stepped on a chicken bone and died from the infection. I was also deeply saddened when I visited her home during a storm and saw her floor was literally a mud pit.  Her straw roof was completely falling apart.  And sadly, this is not unusual for people beginning their microcredit journey.  Their lives are not easy as they struggle daily just to put food on the table.  I’m happy to report that in the end, they were building a new house with a solid tin roof – the stress was visibly gone from their faces.

The first year, what you see first is that they finally have enough to eat and they’ve built a sanitary latrine.  Then they improve the house and make sure kids stay in school. From there they continue to grow.  It takes an average of 5-6 years for Grameen borrowers to rise above the poverty line.  And it is heart-warming to witness as they learn how to use microcredit, add small sums to their savings accounts each week, and actually become a productive part of society.

I was also excited to witness the women gaining confidence in themselves and finding their voices.  As an example of how far they can go, I followed Aroti who had been with the bank for over 15 years and is now a part of her village council.  I filmed as she sat in a room full of men fighting for the other women’s rights.  And even her progress, as I came back after a couple of years shocked me.  She had used one of her savings accounts to build a very modern concrete house that would easily stand up to the torrential rains and floods that are common in this low-lying country and river delta and to my astonishment had indoor plumbing.

That is why I called the film Bonsai People because I witnessed Yunus’ saying in action: “Poor people are bonsai people – there is nothing wrong with their seed – society never allowed them the space to grow.  If you provide that space, they will be as tall as everybody else.”  So all in all, his work is that of giving people tools to empower themselves and lift themselves out of poverty.  It is not going to help everyone, but for most people, it is a very important option.