Micro Finance in California

When you think of micro finance you’re likely to envision Kiva or the Grameen Bank making tiny loans to poor people on the other side of the world so that they can create a small business and lift themselves out of poverty. But micro finance is helping to empower entrepreneurs closer to home as well and this panel highlighted the successes of micro finance enterprises right here in California.

Claudia Veik of CAMEO (California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity) guided this intimate breakout session. With the current financial slump, many small businesses are having an even harder time qualifying for loans from traditional banks, Claudia explained, which is driving demand for alternative funding. It is estimated that 5% of the unemployed are entrepreneurial, and with the necessary loans some of those unemployed could begin to build the economy is a more sustainable manner, Claudia said. Claudia suggests that we “call on the entrepreneurial energy of the unemployed” to help revitalize our economy.

Elizabeth Makee of ACCION San Diego serves low and moderate income business owners. Instead of basing loans solely on credit scores or debit to credit, ACCION San Diego checks references from suppliers, family, neighbors and measures the experience of the applicant when making a decision. Applicants that have had past credit challenges could potentially become successful. Along with getting to know their clients well, the organization matches borrowers needs with skill workshops to help the success rates.

Faith Bautista’s work at the Mabuhay Alliance has helped ‘empower minority communities’ as well as challenge big businesses to see the value in those communities. Mabuhay is a voice for the Phillipino and PanAsian activists in the Unites States. 260 business owners have graduated from this organization’s training. Similar to ACCION’s model, Mabuhay helps to connect its borrowers with technical assistance that they need to thrive in the marketplace.

Participants also had the honor to meet Mario Lewis, a business owner who has received two loans from ACCION. His bad credit stemmed from an attempt at restaurant ownership which he felt failed due to a lack of knowledge of marketing and advertising. Mario had used those two loans to first build and then expand his barber shop. Imperial Barber Shop is a tremendous success and has grown to now employ nine people. His success is in part due to his vision of the ‘old school’ barber shop which serves as a community meeting place.

For his accomplishments, Mario has received an award for being a community resource, as well as a letter of recognition from his congressman. Mario’s future plans include opening another shop and expanding into a line of hair care products as well as raising money in the community to send a second member of the community to Barber school.

Mario’s story and the great work being done by CAMEO, ACCION San Diego, and the Mabuhay Alliance are a reminder of just how well micro enterprise can work within our country to strengthen and build communities.