The GOOD 100: Microfinance Comes to America
America is waking up to the power of "micro." Twitter introduced us to microblogs. President Obama's campaign demonstrated the collective force of microdonors. And then there's microlending-using loans as small as $20 to lift would-be entrepreneurs out of poverty. It has been around in the United States for decades, but never really taken off. Now might be the time. After the rousing overseas success of microlenders like the Grameen Bank and Kiva, several giants of international microfinance are bringing their tested business models and global brands to help the 37 million Americans impoverished in the land of opportunity. Here are some of the key players using this staple of the international fight against poverty to build the American promise.
The biggest and most established network of antipoverty microlenders in the USA, Accion USA affiliates are responsible for more than two-thirds of the $300 million in domestic microlending done in the past 20 years.
The first of the Grameen-style microlenders in the United States, Project Enterprise proved that Grameen's group-lending model could work with the urban poor of New York City, and with clientele of mostly women and people of color.
The American division of the Grameen Bank is shooting for scale, already reaching 1,000 borrowers with more than $2 million in loans. It also lends its Nobel Prize–winning brand to the industry, garnering new press and interest from funders.
Its elegant online platform lets you lend to the exact project you want, connecting microentrepreneurs with a new funding source: the general public. Kiva doesn't make the loans itself, but funnels the money to two U.S. partners, including Accion USA.
Not quite microlending, this creative twist on Kiva lets web surfers donate as little as a dollar to creative ventures. Projects tend toward the quirky rather than the profitable (building a 16-foot theremin; sailing around the world). Expect a postcard, not repayment, with this one.