(December 2019: Watch the full length film below)
For decades Microcredit has been hailed as the #1 solution to eradicate poverty. In December 2007, the Danish independent journalist and film maker, Tom Heinemann met with a woman by the name of Jahanara – living in a slum-like house two hours drive outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. Shortly before the meeting she had sold her house to pay her weekly instalments. For months, she had been intimidated, harassed and abused by the members of her loan group and by the loan officers from the various Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) – including Grameen Bank – who had given her the loans. Two years later the film crew went back to investigate if Jahanara had succeeded getting out of poverty. She wasn’t.
“Not all that glitters is gold”
The meeting with Jahanara was only the first in a long string of interviews with poor people in Bangladesh, Andhra Pardesh in India and in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. The Microcredit loan-takers told the same story over and over again: Most of them had numerous loans in various NGO’s and Micro Finance Institutions – and many must take new loans to cover the old ones. They paid annual interest rates ranging from 30-200 %, and they are under extreme social pressure from the other members of their groups not to mention how cruel and rude some of the loan officers behave when it comes to defaulting a single weekly payment. The film also brings interviews with renowned Microfinance experts such as Thomas Dichter, Milford Bateman, Alex Counts, Jonathan Morduch and David Roodman etc. And we interview local experts and NGO’s such as Khushi Kubur from Nijera Kori and Shahidur Rahman from ActionAid International.
A Nobel banker
“The Micro Debt” also takes a closer look at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Grameen Bank and Mr. Muhammad Yunus. The film reveals a number of secret documents proving how Mr. Yunus back in the mid-90’s transferred 100 mio. USD – where most was donated as grants from Norway, Sweden, Germany, USA and Canada – to a new company in the Grameen-family in order to save tax in the future.
12 years later the public is now – and for the first time – able to see what really happened to the taxpayers money.
The poor always pay back
The film crew travelled several times to Bangladesh, and visited some of the most hailed villages in the history of the Nobel laureate Grameen Bank.
In Jobra we met the daughter of the famous loan taker, Sufiya Begun and in “Hillary Village”, where the former first lady in the USA, Hillary Clinton in 1995 came and cheered both Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, the crew meets poor people who has gained nothing else but more debt due to microcredit.
Almost each and every loan taker interviewed told the same story. All had multiple loans in various Micro credit banks and organisations and all interviewed had a hard time trying to pay back their loans. Some had sold their house, others had their tin-sheets pulled of their houses to cover the weekly payments.
“The Micro Debt” was first aired in a special Norwegian version on November 30. 2010 at NRK1 and caught attention in medias all over the world. In may 2011, Muhammad Yunus was sacked from Grameen Bank. Officially due to age, but according to Mr. Yunus it was the film that led to his fall. “The Micro Debt” has – so far – been aired in more than 20 countries and has received several international festival awards.