Bonsai people, social business

On Oct. 7, Bellevue College’s social business club publically screened “Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus.” Guest speaker Narima Amin, founder and president of RISE-UP from Poverty, helped
guide the event from beginning to end. The film and the event surrounding it were designed to
promote social business, which, according to Amin, “mixes the objectives of a charity organization with the operating model and skills of a for-profit organization; it runs like
any traditional profit-making business with the goal of solving social problems.”

Banker and economist Muhammad Yunus is one
of the only people in history to be the recipient of a
Nobel Peace Prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. He began his multi-decade journey by giving microcredit loans to Bangladeshi women in extreme poverty, working closely with them to ensure that the loans were put to
use starting businesses. From a small project that he started  in 1976 as a professor at the university of Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank came into existence in 1985 as a borrower-owned bank.

Yunus started with less than 50 women, giving out loans of less than $30 that he paid out of
pocket. The program has become so successful that Yunus began a community-funded bank that is now one of the most widely used banks in Bangladesh. Since its humble beginnings,
over six million individuals have taken out microcredit loans, over 90 percent of which are women in extreme poverty. These microcredit loans have been used for everything from starting yogurt distributing businesses to sustainable energy manufacturers.

“That’s one in every thousand people in the world,” said Holly Mosher, director of the film, who answered questions after the movie was over.

This is social business at work, a catchphrase for Yunus, and the source of the film’s title, has continually been that, “poor people are bonsai people” in a “seed-society never allowed them the space to grow.”

Beyond business, the Grameen bank has independently kick started health clinics and disaster preparedness centers without profit.

As Yunus puts it, “Since we are working with the poor, one of the first things that came to our attention, was that they are also poor of health.” He goes on to explain that the best way to empower these people is, in many cases, to improve their basic health and sanitary conditions, especially during natural disasters.

As an economist, Yunus said that during his studies and many years as a professional, he had examined what he called the “bird’s eye view” of economy, the way that money moved through the big picture. Going into social business, he felt it was the earthy approach, the “worm’s eye view,” that showed him how to best help the individual communities.

BC’s social business forum is holding a competition for student-driven social business ideas. For information, contact Salma Abdelbadie at (425)268-0003, or