Ever since microfinance entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, microfinance projects have played a growing role in international development.
For executives like Reliance Financial CEO Baboucarr Khan and COO Ismaila Faal, the field offers opportunities to raise people out of poverty - and to make money.
Banking the Unbanked is a verité documentary that follows Khan, Faal and other members of the Gambia-based Reliance team as they try to build the bank into a viable West African financial institution. Their target clients: those who make under five dollars a day. Taxi drivers. Small shopkeepers. Seamstresses. Fishermen.
Running the company weighs heavily on Khan. We see his frustration when construction on a new branch is not only sloppy but also behind schedule. And he is taken to task by the board of directors for an outburst against the Central Bank of Gambia - Reliance's regulator - after it issues a scathing report on some of the bank's practices. Meanwhile, members of the Reliance senior management team participate in an executive leadership program run by a Dutch university.
As Reliance falters, microfinance consultant Craig Feinberg urges a harder line on defaulting creditors - and suggests the possibility of getting out of small loans altogether, concentrating instead on wire transfers and foreign exchange.
Banking the Unbanked captures the tension and drama in the surprisingly cut-throat world of microfinance - a world where many small loans add up to a whole lot of money. Can promoting development by lending to those at the bottom of the economic ladder co-exist with the need to provide investors with attractive rates of return?
"This film will be useful in a variety of courses. It will tie in well with a class on entrepreneurship as it details the process of starting up a business and the issues faced by entrepreneurs regardless of geographic location. It will be of interest to those studying microfinance or microfinance in Africa." —Educational Media Reviews Online
2009 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
2010 Netherlands Film Festival