Sparked by his own personal experiences from extensive travel in countries and regions such as India, Bangladesh and South America, Heinemann shows viewers the potential dark side of the microcredit phenomenon. He also highlights human tragedies, such as suicides that have resulted from the pressure of personal debt or the social exclusion that can ensue when individual misfortune places a borrowing group in jeopardy.
Broadcast in more than 14 countries, the documentary has achieved truly global resonance – a fact attested to by the numerous subsequent official investigations into microcredit. The Grand Jury noted that ‘millions are affected by Heinemann’s story’ and commended the journalist for ‘challenging our way of thinking.’
The idea of providing credit to the poor – who can usually offer little or no collateral in return – was introduced and popularised by Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, in the 1970s and has been employed to great effect in Bangladesh, for example. Behind the veneer of success, however, Heinemann identifies a shocking undercurrent of debt dependency, as the financial institutions and other bodies set-up to provide microcredits hound their debtors.
The fundamental tenet of microcredit – to provide cheap finance to entrepreneurial individuals in developing countries – is questioned and Heinemann forces his viewers to consider whether the premise that anyone can be an entrepreneur is no more than a hopeful fantasy, instead often ending in an inescapable spiral of debt.