Small Loans, Significant Impact
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
NEW YORK — “Se?oras!” calls the banker, summoning her borrowers to attention at their first loan-repayment meeting.
The small-business borrowers — day-care providers, clothing sellers, jewelry makers — crowd into the living room where their children are napping, eating cereal and watching TV.
They are part of a nascent lending program created by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for developing the Grameen Bank, which uses micro-loans to help eradicate poverty in developing nations.
But these women are not in Bangladesh, they are in Queens. They are among the first 100 borrowers of Grameen America, which began disbursing loans in January. This is the first time Grameen has run its program in a developed country.
“I just want to live a little better, and one day own a little house or something,” said Socorro Diaz, 54, a borrower who sells women’s lingerie and jewelry. “I’m trying to change my life. Bit by bit.”
Grameen America, which offers loans from $500 to $3,000, hopes to reach people like her, part of the large segment of poor Americans without access to credit, said Ritu Chattree, the vice president for finance and development.
They are bakers who can only buy enough eggs and milk for a day’s work because they cannot afford a restaurant refrigerator to store ingredients. They are vendors who borrow money daily to rent a cart. They are hair salon owners who take out loans every time they need to buy shampoo.