Small Business
June 13, 2014

Microloans help low-income women start small, then keep growing

One “microloan” can have a ripple effect, which is the idea behind Grameen America — a nonprofit that helps low-income women build small businesses.

Small is Huge

Betty, a mother of three, took out her first microloan of $1,000 to expand her clothing sales business in Charlotte, N.C.

“I am so pleased to have found Grameen America,” she says. “I’m happy to get help for my business and my future.”

Grameen America is a nonprofit microfinance organization that helps low-income women build small businesses by providing microloans, training and support. The maximum first-time loan amount is $1,500, and once a member repays that, she can apply for a larger loan amount.

Because many of the businesses Grameen America supports are home-based, they often require other assistance to reach the next level of growth. So in addition to making loans, the organization conducts weekly meetings that include financial training on owning a small business, building credit, and more.

Sheila Saints, a Wells Fargo video producer who sits on the advisory board of Grameen America Charlotte, explains: “Each woman selects a group of four people she trusts to form a group to support and encourage her.” The group meets weekly to repay the loan and make sure each business owner is on track with her small business.

Sheila says, “Helping even one woman out of poverty helps the whole community. It’s a ripple effect.”

After getting her loan, Betty opened a no-fee no-minimum-balance savings account with Wells Fargo, which is a core component of Grameen America’s program. Wells Fargo is Grameen’s savings affiliate in Charlotte, and business owners make regular deposits alongside their small loan repayments at weekly meetings, which help them achieve financial independence. This is often the first link that the women have with the formal financial system.

Wells Fargo has provided $2 million in equity equivalent investments since 2010 to help Grameen America expand its operations in California, North Carolina, Texas, and Nebraska — funding more than 2,000 microloans to date.

Sheila says, “With each small loan, we are supporting families and transforming communities.”

Editor’s note: The accompanying photo is representative of Grameen America members; the small business owner featured in this story is not pictured above.