It's a radical idea, in this part of the world, for a bank to offer retirement savings for these women. It is something they desperately need, as their work would never provide such things. Seeing the old people who were destitute in Bangladesh was the hardest thing to witness because they didn't have the capability to work any longer and their families often weren't willing or able to help care for them.
Around the world, women still only own 1% of land. Because of that, Yunus designed the rules for the housing loans so that the women have to get the title of the land before they can get their loan. That way, they won't be left out on the street if anything goes wrong.
JB: Although Grameen concentrates on extending loans to very poor women, the bank has been careful to get husbands involved as well, correct?
HM: It's funny, when I'd ask the husbands about the loans, they considered them their loans, too. As Anarkuli points out in the film, if you work as a team, you can have much greater success.
I also saw this in my own family. My parents started a company together and worked very hard as a team to make sure it succeeded. I am now aware of the power of teamwork and solidarity because of what I witnessed in the film.
Yunus says that women put the money to better use in feeding and clothing their kids, keeping them in school, getting their homes fixed up, etc., than the men. I've read Half The Sky [by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn] and they mention studies in which there was a notable difference in the weight and height growth of children who were cared for by grandmothers versus grandfathers.
JB: There are now around 60 social businesses under the Grameen umbrella. Which one most appealed to you?
HM: Wow, that's a really tough question. I see the importance of so many of them. From a filmmaker's point of view, the clothing company was the most beautiful to shoot, as they were dying the yarns and weaving the fabrics. And I also love how Yunus brought back an industry that was part of their history but which had been destroyed by the British. Because they wanted to sell their textiles to this region, they went so far as to cut off the thumbs of any weavers who were continuing their work.
As a person who made two films about the pharmaceutical industry, I love the healthcare company started by Grameen. Yunus partnered with GE to develop mobile ultrasound devices to check up on pregnant women in the field, which allow only the doctors to see the images, as a protection against female infanticide. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, I love their alternative energy company, which has bio-gas and solar energy options and has installed over one million solar home systems, as of October 2012.
JB: Wow! It's safe to say that Yunus has been an incredibly positive force in the country. He was in his seventies when you made the film. What will happen when he is no longer at the helm? The film mentions that Grameen already lost the 25-year lease for the fishery business. What happened to the folks involved in that?
HM: They lost the lease with the fisheries, several years ago, and when I asked around as to how it was going, I learned that the government was already not achieving the same stellar results as it had under Yunus' management. However Yunus' program still continues its work in this field, although it is now outside of the area that was under contract.
I am deeply concerned about the future of Grameen Bank without a successor as effective as Yunus. Until now, the bank has had a loan recovery rate over 97%, but now that rate is slipping.
I also am concerned that the government is currently asking all the borrowers on the board of directors to step down from their roles. And of even more concern was how these board members were harassed when they were in Dhaka in August of 2011 - one of the women who worked at Grameen for decades even had her house raided while she was out of town. Additionally, protesters who were protesting in favor of Grameen Bank had their signs taken away from them and burned, and a couple of journalists were roughed up, which deeply concerns me about the intent of the government and their takeover of the control of Grameen Bank.
On top of that, there is a huge outbreak of violence in Bangladesh and hundreds have been killed in Dhaka this year. That violence doesn't have to do with the bank, but with so much political unrest and with the party in power trying to take control of the bank, I wonder what will happen.