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Bangladesh: The Poverty Busters
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Bangladesh: The Poverty Busters
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Small Change = Big Idea

Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations on the planet: half of its population lives on less than a dollar a day. But in the tiny semi-rural village of Dholla, microfinance loans from the Grameen Bank are empowering locals to create thriving small businesses.

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Segment 1

TITLE
The Poverty Busters
VOICEOVER
It is the morning rush hour here in Dhaka, a clangorous place of 11 million. Like most subcontinental Asian cities, Dhaka bustles but today it's deceptively peaceful, given what's been going on in these very streets of late. Back in August, thousands rioted here in Dhaka, angry at what they saw as the unelected government's reluctance to reintroduce democracy in Bangladesh. As a result, all political activity was banned and the major cities placed under strict curfew. Over the past year, not one but two former prime ministers, both of them women, have been jailed. And since the military-backed takeover in January, the government has detained more than a quarter of a million Bangladeshis, with reports of torture and killing rife. Apart from the political upheaval that's gripped the place for a year now, Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations on the planet. Half its population lives on less than a dollar a day. To say the least, economically, geographically, and now politically, it's a tricky place to carry on the normal stuff of life. But if there is such a thing as a good news story to be found here these days, you might find it a short journey out of town in places like this, the tiny semi-rural village of Dholla. Dholla's a classic example of Mohammed Yunus's now world-renowned poverty busting microcredit projects in local action. We made it to Dholla, appropriately enough, by boat. We were, after all, in Bangladesh's notorious flood-ridden Ganges Delta where most of this densely populated country's people are crammed. The Grameen Bank was already open for business. The word "grameen," by the way, actually means "village." Our guide from the bank was the general manager, Nurjahan Begum.
NURJAHAN BEGUM [General Manager, Grameen Bank]
So he'll put down their number and money, how much he's collecting.
REPORTER
So they bring their cash each week and pay their loan money back.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
Yes. So he will write down in this passbook. There's the money.
VOICEOVER
Dholla's microbusinesswomen were gathered in this simple tin shed to pay the regular weekly installments on their loans. They don't go to the bank, the bank comes to them. They're all far too busy making money. Hardly a fortune, it has to be said, but more than Bangladesh's dirt-poor villagers normally live on. The annual per capita income in the country is just over AUD$500 [USD$450], with millions on much less.
WOMAN
Yes, we had a very hard time. We had just a small meal every three of four days. Now we have no hardship at all.
VOICEOVER
You would have noticed the almost complete predominance of women here. That's because something like 97 percent of the close enough to $3 billion Grameen has loaned over the last 30 years has been to women.
REPORTER
And no collateral? They don't have to bring anything in?
NURJAHAN BEGUM
No collateral. You can ask them. Did any of you need to offer collateral to get a loan?
WOMEN
No.
VOICEOVER
The reality is these modest village enterprises give a whole new definition to small business. In fact, they're the smallest of the small, all of them built up over a few years starting with a no-collateral microloan equivalent in takas, the Bangladeshi currency, of a lousy couple of hundred Australian dollars. Grameen-inspired, they're many and varied, be it sewing the country's traditionally colorful saris, selling them locally at affordable prices, or handmade mats from bamboo husks. No formal education or training, as such, is required. Point being, these women and 6 million others just like them throughout Bangladesh, have neither of these things. But, thanks to their microbusinesses, they told us, now their kids will.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
So now she has a house. What else have you achieved for your family?
WOMAN
I have proper housing now. I have three daughters, no son.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
She has three daughters.
WOMAN
I arranged marriages for two, one is at school.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
What class is she in?
WOMAN
Class 7.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
She's reading in class 7.
VOICEOVER
Precariously, if that's the word for being careful not to put a foot wrong, we rounded off our visit to Dholla with a quick visit to a business the locals are especially proud of: a cow-fattening farm.
NURJAHAN BEGUM
He can earn per cow [BDT]10,000 to 15,000.
REPORTER
So the men work on the farm with the cows, and the women still handle the loan money? And were they very poor before?
NURJAHAN BEGUM
She doesn't have anything.
REPORTER
Just a very, very basic life. Now they have a business, a thriving business. Well, I guess you could say this has been a tantalizing glimpse, a crash course, if you like, into how this way of financing incredibly modest small businesses, small village businesses like this one, and how it least has some sort of impact on what the rest of us have always felt as being a futile attempt to reduce the amount of poverty in the world.
TITLE
[end credits]