For aspiring women entrepreneurs, their paths to success are often littered with roadblocks like financial barriers. This is especially true for women from underserved communities who are trying to break through cycles of poverty. Statistics have shown that Black entrepreneurs are 20% less likely to be able to fund their businesses using only bank loans. Furthermore, women only receive 4% of all small business loans sourced from mainstream financial institutions. This forces women, particularly Black women, to rely on credit cards or personal/family savings to get their businesses off the ground.
Grameen America recognizes these challenges and centers its entire organization around helping these women and offering them a hand up. Outlined below is the impressive impact the organization is making on underserved communities throughout the country, especially in Atlanta, GA.
About Grameen America
Grameen America was founded in 2008 in Queens, NY with a straightforward mission – to help low-income entrepreneurial women build businesses to enable financial mobility. This stems from the proven microfinance-based model of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the original Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Since its founding, Grameen America has become the fastest-growing non-profit microfinance organization in the U.S. What the program offers is not a handout, but rather, a hand-up, as most women just need a little capital and support to uplift themselves and the communities where they live.
Grameen America provides programs that focus on helping women network and receive industry training, establish credit, build their savings and gain access to affordable financial loans for small businesses. Since its start, Grameen America has expanded to 33 branches in the U.S.and has assisted more than 183,000 low-income women entrepreneurs, investing $3.6 billion in their small businesses. This is all supported by Grameen America’s extensive network of partners, including Regions Bank, Truist Foundation, The Studio @ Blue Meridian, Etsy, Apple, American Express and many others.
The Opening of the Atlanta, Georgia Branch
Many of the aforementioned partnerships were crucial to the success of launching Grameen America’s first physical location in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2022. Another critical partner was Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), which has a substantial presence in Atlanta. SCI, like Grameen America, recognizes the financial and racial barriers that women and other underrepresented individuals face when aspiring to be small business owners. As a catalytic program for accelerating racial equity across six Southern communities that represent more than 50% of the Black population in the U.S., one of SCI’s core priorities is growing Black-owned and other minority businesses.
These two organizations came together to expand Grameen America’s work into the state of Georgia through a new branch focusing on investing in Black women and other underserved women entrepreneurs in the region. This branch is an extension of Grameen America’s Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs (Elevate) initiative to provide women with affordable training, access to capital and entrepreneurial support. It aims to invest $1.3 billion in loans to 80,000 Black business women. This branch will continue to evolve, receiving technical and other forms of assistance from local community partners in Atlanta and from SCI.
So far, the impact of the Atlanta branch has been felt by over 150 women entrepreneurs. As of September 30, 2023, the Atlanta branch has served 475 women and distributed $1,361,750 in microloans. Out of this distribution, $401,150 was in loan capital to Black women entrepreneurs through the Elevate initiative.
Robert F. Smith and Closing the Racial Wealth Gap
The racial wealth gap continues to be seen throughout the U.S. in all aspects of life, including healthcare, the environment and homeownership. Robert F. Smith, investor, dealmaker and philanthropist, has been a longtime advocate for closing the racial wealth gap once and for all to allow underserved communities to break out of cycles of poverty.
Smith co-leads SCI alongside Dan Schulman (CEO of PayPal) and Rich Lesser (Global Chair of Boston Consulting Group) to help underserved communities and aspiring entrepreneurs gain access to capital to start their businesses. Regarding the opening of the Atlanta, GA, branch, he said the following:
“Nearly all of the issues that plague Black communities, from the gap in homeownership to gaps in education and employment, are aggravated by a lack of banking infrastructure in those communities. I am proud to partner with Grameen America to open this new Branch in Atlanta, one of the Southern Communities Initiative’s six regions. Together, we will expand economic opportunity in Atlanta and its surrounding communities to help close the dual racial and gender wealth gaps.”
Learn more about Smith’s role at SCI and other philanthropic initiatives of his that focus on closing the racial wealth gap by following him on LinkedIn.