Grameen America, a non-profit organization providing microloans and financial opportunities to low-income women entrepreneurs, recently announced its new Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative. By 2030, Grameen America plans to lend $1.3 billion to 80,000 Black women entrepreneurs with this new initiative.
Based on their track record of over $1.9 billion provided to over 136,000 low-income women already, they’ll reach this new goal and continue leading the way in shifting the racially charged financial situation in the US today. Basically, Grameen America’s Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative saw the estimated 1.4 million Black women entrepreneurs experiencing “systemic lack of access to affordable credit and capital” and are doing something about it.
Their main start-up funding for this division comes from The Studio @ Blue Meridian and is led by Alethia Mendez, Division President for the Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative and Senior Leadership Team member at Grameen America. Through a new main initiative network in Memphis, TN, and moving outwards from their original Grameen America bases in Harlem, NY and Newark, NJ, they’re digging deeper into NYC and the surrounding Newark areas, strengthening their entire national network to reach the previously unreached.
Reworking women’s financial mobility
Spread across 17 US cities, Grameen America’s 24 branches provide holistic financial opportunities, training, and backing by actually giving the tools to the women themselves. Founded in 2008 by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Grameen America is an offshoot of a global movement thriving in over 100 countries as the Grameen Bank.
Yunus started it all in the 70s when he began providing marginalized and impoverished basket weavers with microloans. “His revolutionary but simple idea that all people can lift themselves out of poverty through their own entrepreneurial spirit has dramatically altered how the world views poverty.” Through this social capital and group lending model, Grameen Bank and Grameen America have sparked a global shift in the availability of financial mobility and independence.
The context surrounding Black women entrepreneurs
The systemic inequity many Black women experience is no secret, but until recently has not been addressed on such a wide scale. Even when outlying factors like creditworthiness are controlled for, interest rates, capital provided, and approval rates vary between white and Black financial applicants. Mendez elaborates on how the fuel behind now focusing on the financial needs of Black women entrepreneurs specifically rests within breaking down the systemic racial inequities that exist in the US banking models of today.
According to Forbes, 42% of all recently started women-owned businesses are founded and run by Black women. This disproportionate amount, when integrated into the wider female population, demonstrates just how vital focusing on Black women entrepreneurs’ needs is. Andrea Jung, President and CEO of Grameen America, explains how women only receive 4% of the loan capital provided nationally.
Put those statistics together and a very specific circumstance directly affecting Black women is shockingly evident. The main foundation of entrepreneurs in this country is Black women with little to no financial backing or access. This is neither sustainable nor just.
The basis of Grameen America’s success
By providing training and networking opportunities, microloans of $2000 or less to start, asset building tools, and available financing, Grameen America is removing the financial access barrier many low-income, minority women experience regularly. Their holistic approach tackles credit scores, provides free savings accounts, and encourages a social network of strong women entrepreneurs to rise together.
With an overall 99% loan repayment rate and 105,000 new jobs made, their seemingly simple model is quite effective, to say the least. It’s clear that the stigma around poverty is completely unfounded. It’s not inherent characteristics or lack of will that it’s so unfairly deemed as. It’s not a lack of innovation or education as it’s also been unjustly classified. It’s opportunity-the simple, singular factor of equal access.
This is just the start
As more and more women of color are able to lift themselves out of poverty through their own volition and equal access to financial opportunities, the deeply ingrained societal structures that prevent this will hopefully begin to equalize. Progress can be sparked with small shifts in resource availability and mindset. Grameen America and their new Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative are providing undeniable proof of this every single day.