I've read that two U.S. networks are launching TV shows based on entrepreneurs competing for money for their business ideas. "NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant features aspiring restaurateurs trying to impress a panel of judges to win financing for a new chain. And ABC has reintroduced Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs try to get backing from a panel of venture capitalists who bet with their own money -- in exchange for a piece of the action," the New York Times reported March 27th.
America seems to really like reality shows. Such programs were popular before the financial meltdown; perhaps the networks are betting they'll win high ratings as the country emerges from the current recession.
But throughout the world, another "reality show" is playing out in actual communities on a huge scale, a truly authentic show whose message remains consistent, no matter the economic tides. This international show is even more exciting because there are so many more participants, and almost every participant can make some progress if they follow the rules.
It's the daily story of poor but industrious people, mostly women, who are bettering their lives and those of their families with the help of tiny, collateral-free loans. Rather than opening some great new restaurant, these small-scale entrepreneurs are funding self-employment and very small businesses. Though their enterprises are small, these industrious women are feeding and educating their families and gaining financial self-sufficiency. Microcredit loans are the foundation of these reality stories in America, in Bangladesh, and in more than 100 other countries around the globe.
According to the State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, more than 128 million of the world's poorest families received a microloan in 2009 -- an all-time high.
In January 2008, during the largest financial crisis in history, Grameen America opened its doors in Queens, NY. The bank disbursed more than $350,000 in micro-loans to more than 165 borrowers in the first three months alone. Since then, it's opened branches in Nebraska and in two other New York boroughs, with additional branches under development in five other states. As of March, Grameen America had lent more than $15 million and had about 5,000 active borrowers.
You can see the compelling story of Grameen in the USA Thursday, March 31, when 227 theaters across the country for the first time will screen a new documentary on microcredit in America. To Catch a Dollar, by filmmaker Gayle Ferraro, follows two Queens bank members and shows how mircrocredit has improved their lives.
The premiere includes a taped panel discussion on economic issues, hosted by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, financial powerhouse Suze Orman, and others, with an introduction by Robert De Niro. Find a theater where you can view the film and get more information on microcredit at www.tocatchadollar.com.
It is more than just a show. It real life on a large scale.
Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank that he founded shared the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Follow Muhammad Yunus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Yunus_Centre