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‘Accidental’ advocate helped bring ‘Bonsai People’ film to Seattle

Holly Mosher fliming for 'Bonsai People.'

Holly Mosher filming for 'Bonsai People.'

By Jaclyn Schiff, special correspondent

When Seattle resident Fortunato Vega walked into Starbucks one Saturday about three years ago, he didn’t expect to leave with anything more than his morning coffee.

Instead he walked out with a free ticket for an event with Muhammad Yunus, the well-known Bangladeshi economist. A friend had an extra spot at the event and called to see if Vega was interested.

The serendipity didn’t end there. Vega hung around after the event and nabbed about a half-hour of face time with Yunus whose ride was running late.

The experience made quite an impression on Vega, a financial advisor to tech entrepreneurs who says he had “no background” in microfinancing.

“It has to do with the type of people who need money to make money,” he says when describing why he’s become a passionate supporter of microcredit. “I’m a big fan of that versus donating to the United Way and leave it at that. I’d rather give money to someone to make sure they have a shot.”

‘Bonsai People’

Since meeting Yunus, he’s helped organize several events for the microfinance community in Seattle.

His latest event – the Seattle debut screening of “Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus” – takes place tonight on the University of Washington campus. The organizations Lumana and Washington Micro are co-hosting the reception, which will feature a keynote presentation from David Stephens, founding member of the Grameen Foundation’s Technology Advisory Board.

The documentary follows women who have received microcredit loans from the Grameen Bank.

Thorny issues

Participants in a Grameen Microfinance meeting.

Though film goers can expect a “well-shot” presentation, reviewers have criticized the films’ avoidance of controversial questions.

“But while the border between business and philanthropy is a rocky platform that invites as much negative scrutiny as praise, [filmmaker Holly]Mosher prefers not to go down that particular hole,” a New York Times review noted.

But for those wondering about the thorny issues, Yunus, at least, seems to be at peace with how he handled the situation that led to his departure from Grameen.

In a February interview, he said: “Grameen Bank has done the right thing. The thing is with hindsight you can always say I could have done this a little better, or that, but in general what we have done I think we did the right thing. The only thing probably I would say, is if we could help the second generation to all become job givers faster.”

As for how this has affected the ongoing perception of Grameen’s work, one can’t help but notice that most of the attendees on the Eventbrite page who designated a nonprofit to receive a portion of the ticket cost – did not select Grameen.

“It looked like he pissed somebody off that didn’t want him there anymore,” event co-organizer Vega said when asked about Yunus’ battles with Grameen. “It hasn’t turned me off per se, however it did get me think about what other views might be.”

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