To Catch a Dollar

Release March 31, 2011 (Limited)
Genres Documentary
Studio Aerial Productions/Sundance Institute
Length 74 mins.


Professor Muhammad Yunus never wanted to be a banker and he certainly never imagined winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet his quest to help the working poor invest in themselves led to both. Known as the father of microcredit, Yunus spent years developing the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and in 1983 it became a fully licensed bank with a twist—it was owned by its borrowers—mainly poor women, and its mission is to eradiate poverty, not make a profit.

Yunus is famous for saying that in developing Grameen he deliberately did the opposite of what a conventional bank would do. Today, the success of Grameen Bank has changed the lives of 7.5 million Bangladeshi borrowers and their families. Grameen is now in 38 countries and has made over 100 million microcredit loans.

But why stop at Bangladesh and poor nations? As the global financial industry struggles with plummeting markets and job loses, Yunus holds steady with his latest banking initiative in New York. Under intense scrutiny from international press and academics, Grameen America opened for business in a nondescript office building in Jackson Heights, Queens in late 2007. As the U.S. credit market crumbled and the giant banks of Wall Street faltered one by one, Grameen put 500 potential women borrowers into groups of five, with loans of up to $3,000 dispersed for small business ideas that each group had developed. Following the Bangladeshi model, each group became its own loan committee, with the women making weekly payments and contributions to a mandatory savings account as they built their income-generating activity.

In one year, the Jackson Heights branch of Grameen America grew to loan over $1.5 million to 550 women. Just twelve months after opening, they added two more branches in Brooklyn and Manhattan, with a plan to open in other US cities. TO CATCH A DOLLAR follows the journey of two women borrowers and their Grameen group manager, tracking the enormous life changes they undergo in a year. Whether starting a catering business while maintaining a full-time job (plus wife and mother), or struggling to expand hair styling services as a single-parent, or working to adapt a model born in rural villages to the parking-restricted streets of Queens, each woman faces unforeseen challenges. They also begin to realize their own potential, fueled by the power of a model that offers support, encouragement and community.

This is the inspiring, logic-defying yet true story of one man’s idea, a strange new kind of bank, and the millions of lives it changed.

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