Little by little, the microloans given out by Grameen Americas new branch in Charlotte have turned into a big business.
The nonprofit organization that aims to help lift low-income women out of poverty through entrepreneurship has now disbursed more than $1.8 million in its first year in the city. More than 1,000 people have taken part, and some women have paid off their loans and come back for another round.
That performance has made Grameen Americas Charlotte branch the fastest growing in the country.
Thats unbelievable growth for us, said Katherine Rosenberg, Grameen America senior vice president. Its a testament to the demand for microloans in the community. There are a lot of entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area who just needed the capital. They had the ideas; they had the ambition. They just need a little money to get off the ground.
Grameen was founded by economics professor Muhammad Yunus and based on his experience in Bangladesh in the 1970s. Yunus gave $27 to a group of women who made furniture and baskets out of bamboo. They used the money to buy more supplies and expand, and all paid him back.
The system eventually became an international nonprofit and earned Yunus a Nobel Prize in 2006. Grameen came to the U.S. in 2008.
Its branch in Charlotte opened last winter after a yearslong campaign from local business leaders and city officials. Organizers raised $2.5 million, spurred by a donation from Wells Fargo.
A year ago, the nonprofit gave out its first four loans to low-income female entrepreneurs in the city. They immediately set to work building their businesses, from Honduran food to clothing to nutritional products.
Each week, they paid back part of their loan until enough of the money was returned in full. And another female entrepreneur was brought into the fold.
By May, Grameen had reached 300 women in Charlotte and lent more than $300,000. The branch added three new loan officers and set grand ambitions.
Over the next few years we hope to reach every low-income woman in Charlotte with an entrepreneurial dream, Grameen America CEO Stephen Vogel said on a celebratory trip to the city.
The branchs growth has only become more rapid since then. To celebrate, Grameen America hosted a borrowers market at Packard Place earlier this month, where entrepreneurs working with the organization could market their products.
For us locally, its been more successful than we ever throught it would be, said Joe Mynatt, advisory board chairman. Its just been really rewarding.
Dunn: 704-358-5235; Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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