Friday, May 17, 2013

At grand opening, Grameen America in Charlotte touts 300 borrowers

In just its first five months in Charlotte, microfinance nonprofit Grameen America says it has helped 300 people launch businesses that could lift them out of poverty.

In December, Grameen America gave out the first five loans from its new Charlotte branch, in Grameen's signature increments of $1,000 to $1,500.

Through this week, nonprofit leaders say it's lent more than $300,000. The money goes to buy a commercial sewing machine, for example, or to secure a chair at a hair styling salon. Food and catering businesses are also popular.

The nonprofit's staff at the International House on Central Avenue has also added three loan officers, with plans to grow to 10. Ultimately, Grameen hopes to have up to 4,500 borrowers in its first five years.

The organization celebrated its early success and formally launched its Charlotte office at a grand opening ceremony Thursday evening at Packard Place. The nonprofit's CEO, Stephen Vogel, was in town.

"With 300 borrowers in less than six months, Grameen America has demonstrated that there is unprecedented demand in Charlotte for microloans," he said in a statement. "Over the next few years we hope to reach every low-income woman in Charlotte with an entrepreneurial dream."

Grameen America is an expansion of the nonprofit started by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh in the mid 1980s. The project eventually won the Nobel Prize.

Wells Fargo is the primary sponsor of the Charlotte location, with a $500,000 donation. Grameen borrowers also get a no-fee, no minimum balance checking account with the bank.

Here's an interview the Charlotte Chamber did with Grameen America CEO Stephen Vogel: