Microfinance in Boyle Heights: Lifting Women out of Poverty
September 18, 2013
By Eva Brune
Martha, Clementina, Irene, Delia and Elsa meet weekly in a tiny storefront in Boyle Heights. Each is holding a green booklet with neatly stacked dollars and coins tucked inside. The chatter moves from children getting ready for school to a community get-together scheduled for the next Sunday: “vamos a bailar, no?” The ensuing laughter is set aside momentarily for the business at hand. This is a weekly Center Meeting of Grameen America’s Boyle Heights members.
Grameen America is a nonprofit microfinance organization with locations around the country. Founded, in 2008, by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Grameen America is dedicated to helping women who live in poverty build small businesses to create better lives for their families. The organization provides microloans, savings programs, financial education and credit establishment to women who live in poverty in the United States. Grameen America partnered with California Community Foundation (CCF) and CCF donors to bring Grameen America to Los Angeles. The first branch opened in Boyle Heights in January of this year.
Center Manager Natalie is talking to members and recording their repayments in each of the women’s booklets. The women are recipients of microloans, which are between $500 to $1,500, and are to build their small businesses. Clementina sells handbags; Elsa is a leading Herbalife representative while Delia sells cosmetics in her community. “I have small children and if I had to go to work every day, who would watch them? With my business I can be with my children and make some money to help the family,” shared Clementina. For Martha, a popular neighborhood cook specializing in Salvadorian food, her sights are set on opening a storefront. Already on her second loan after fully repaying her first, she is using the capital to buy much needed equipment and raw materials, “I want to open a shop where people can come and buy my prepared food. Nobody has time to cook anymore but everyone loves food from home.”
The Grameen America model is simple: provide microloans and financial services to low-income women to start or expand their business so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Borrowers are recruited in the community and form groups of five; the strong bonds that exist among the women ensure full participation and create a unique support system that every aspiring entrepreneur needs. The women repay the loan over a six-month period and build savings in a partner commercial bank. Grameen America’s loan repayment rate is a staggering 98%. With established credit and the confidence that comes from managing a small business and earning income, these women are nothing short of ebullient.
Center Manager Natalie, a native of Boyle Heights, encourages the group to bring their children, friends and favorite dishes to the
upcoming party. “It was slow to start, I had to convince the women that we weren’t like the neighborhood money lenders, we were only here for their benefit . Now it is getting easier because the women see their friends are happy and successful so they want to be a part of that. Grameen America is changing these women and the community,” said Natalie.
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