One night last week, my husband read the book One Hen to our kids at bedtime. It’s a children’s book about a very grown-up topic: the power of banking. More specifically, the power of microfinance loans to provide opportunity for the poorest people in the world to build a business and improve their lives.
One Hen tells the story of a child in Ghana named Kojo whose community pools their money to allow each member in turn to buy something to improve their tiny businesses. The people use their purchase to increase their income and pay the funds back so the next person can borrow and the cycle continues. Kojo’s mother gets her turn with the funds, and in turn she lets him use enough to buy a hen.
With this one hen, Kojo sells enough eggs to pay his mother back and then buy more hens. He eventually pays for his own school fees, then builds a large and successful business. When he’s older, he goes to the city and asks for a loan from the bank to buy an entire farm. Of course, the first banker turns him down, because by traditional banking standards he doesn’t look very creditworthy. But when another banker hears how Kojo has grown his business from that first little hen, he decides to take a chance and Kojo gets his farm. Now he’s supplying not just eggs, but jobs and stability to his community. People that he pays in turn buy goods and services from other community members and so begins a virtuous cycle of economic prosperity for them all.
One Hen is the story of microfinance: How loans that are too small to be worth the time of a commercial bank can be the ones that have the greatest impact on increasing the wealth of poor communities. How people that aren’t “credit-worthy” by traditional standards can still be worthy borrowers. It is in many ways the story of Opportunity International, a pioneer in microfinance that has been championing this work for almost forty years, and which is the nonprofit partner of One Hen. (The real-life inspiration for Kojo sat on the board of Opportunity International for many years and continues to be engaged with the work today.)
Grown-ups talk about rates of return, recycling capital and other fancy terms. But kids relate to other kids, and they especially relate to narrative. So what better way to draw them into the power of microfinance than by telling the stories of other kids?
“Show Me the Money”
Now one woman who was inspired by the book One Hen is creating a documentary to do just that. Show Me the Money will follow kids in the United States, themselves budding entrepreneurs, as they earn money through lemonade stands, bake sales or other micro-businesses and lend it to an entrepreneur in another country.
Then the film will follow the borrower—perhaps a woman in China buying a donkey to transport her goods to market, or a seamstress in Peru who buys a sewing machine to be able to make larger and more expensive items for sale—to show the joys and struggles as they try to build their business.
What a fantastic way to show kids the power they have to positively impact someone else’s life! No lectures, no guilt trips, and no powerless recipients of their handouts. Just the excitement of earning their own money and then putting it to good use, helping another human being halfway around the world move beyond poverty to a life rich with possibility.
Behind the Scenes
Producer Kathleen Ermitage is passionately pursuing the vision for Show Me the Money. As her partner in crime, she has recruited Emmy and Grammy nominee John Scheinfeld, best known as the writer, director and producer of The US vs. John Lennon and the critically-acclaimed Who Is Harry Nilsson?
They have imagined an inspiring and engaging film that humanizes the concept of microfinance to empower young people and show them that they can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Once young people get drawn in by the film, Kathleen and her team will provide educational resources to teach them financial skills so that they can earn, save, spend and give in their own lives.
Kathleen says, “We aim to celebrate the American spirit of entrepreneurialism and the great power of micro-finance. And we’ve got the perfect director for it—to bring just the right tone to the material. What a great ride! We’ve met fascinating young people. And we will respectfully give them room … watch them make decisions that are very important to them. We’ve already witnessed their wheels turning in terms of how they develop financial skills—and true business savvy. It is an education that occurs inside the classroom … and outside, too.”
Although he is best known for documentaries about the lives of well-known individuals, John Scheinfeld says, “Kathleen’s passion for this project was so infectious and the kids’ stories are so inspiring there was no question—I had to be involved in making this movie.”
Show Me the Money will make the festival circuit, followed by a theatrical run and DVD and TV, but Kathleen will also draw on her background in creating educational media to develop web sites, videos, social media outreach and other tools. Kathleen plans to work closely with financial institutions and individual advisors to distribute the educational content so that kids, once inspired, can have outlet and direction for their energy and enthusiasm.
Kathleen says, “We can generate a great deal of content with a wide range of curriculum applications. The great fun and challenge for us will be to take full advantage of all of the media, distribution channels. Content is flourishing—and we will wrestle it to the ground and into the right formats for our end-users. We’ll have curriculum content flowing concurrently with filming in some cases, nearly real-time.”
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the film’s nonprofit partners, including One Hen, Inc., the nonprofit that converts Kojo’s story into interactive and classroom resources and Opportunity International, a global microfinance agency that partners with One Hen. Investors will also have the opportunity to go along with the production to visit the entrepreneurs around the world.
If you are interested in getting involved with Show Me the Money, we’ll be sure to share details as they become available. Kathleen is in the process of pulling together the final financing for the film venture, which includes the educational products. If you are interested in this regard, please contact Kathleen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, this holiday season consider the gift of the book One Hen and a $10 or $25 Opportunity International gift card for a special young person in your life, maybe a niece or nephew or God child. Read them the story about Kojo and show them how they have the power to give the gift of opportunity to others by going online together to find and fund an entrepreneur through OptInNow.org