Whole Planet Foundation and Donors Visit Harlem Entrepreneurs Supported by Grameen America

Joy StoddardMicrofinance Partners, Supplier Partnerships, The United States

Whole Planet Foundation has funded microfinance partner Grameen America since 2007, contributing $4.7 million to date to alleviate poverty in the United States in 14 cities including New York. Grameen America is dedicated to helping entrepreneurial women who live in poverty build businesses to generate income for themselves and their families.

Our impact visit focus in New York was centered on Harlem as this microlending branch is successfully moving from a research branch to establishing a methodology and center leadership model for African American women born in the United States. In February 2017, WPF authorized $250,000 to Grameen America grant to support 639 new loans in Harlem over the course of three years. The first tranche of $100,000 was disbursed in March 2017.  The average loan size at the time of our visit is $1,500 to 100% women clients with a repayment rate of 88% as of last quarter.  The Grameen America Harlem branch’s success in serving the African American community will strongly affect how the Newark branch proceeds, and potential opportunities for expansion into other cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Whole Foods Market Harlem Store Team Leader Damon Young, welcoming our group and educating us about Harlem history and the store’s community engagement.

On June 2nd, Whole Planet Foundation hosted our 2018 Annual Domestic Impact Visit in Harlem, with thirty participants including Papyrus-Recycled Greetings (David Sugerik and Renee Sturek), Chobani (Juliet Moran, Rob Igarguen and Tina Mehta), Naked Juice & IZZE (Philip Coughlin and Hope Furst), Seventh Generation (Gayle Grindley and John Fitzgerald), Wallaby (Nicole Duffy), Global CommUnity (Christie Holmes), Teysha (Ashley Ludkowski) and advocates Kristin Meekof and Michael Silvio.  Grameen America staff included Mindee Barham, Jill Monum, Rajitha Swaminathan, Tanzila Salahuddin, Latonia Green and Whole Planet Foundation staff included Daniel Zoltani, J.P. Kloninger, Ellen Bettis and me.

Our day started at the Whole Foods Market Harlem store with Regional Vice President Paula DiMiglio and Regional President Nicole Wesco who appreciated the group for their commitment to our local and global communities.  We were also joined by Regional Associate Store Support Coordinator Mujadila Muhammad, Regional Marketing Associate Carole Lotito, Regional Marketing Associate Lucia Albero, Regional PR Tina Clabbers and Global PR Rachel Alkon.

Because our group was so large, we divided into three smaller groups for visiting local microcredit clients at their places of business.  As we meet microcredit clients around the globe, several things are important to create a successful experience for the microcredit client, our first priority, such as

  • Client comfort – the microfinance partners connects with clients who desire visitors and are comfortable sharing their personal story or struggle along with their success and dreams for the future
  • Client privacy – always getting permission first to take photos, share business details
  • Creating opportunities – the optimal experience is when an authentic interaction like business transactions take place, for example when a client can make a sales to donors who want to make purchases – a win, win! Some of these are detailed below – purchases were made at several of the businesses, including lunch for our very vast group. Another example is when the realities of life help us all relate to each other; every client and advocate wants to have self-value, create income to pay for rent and food, send their kids to school, lift up themselves and their family members.

Of course, we want Whole Planet Foundation advocates to learn first-hand from the client about her experience with the Grameen America approach:

  • Step 1: A woman with a dream finds four people she trusts to form a group.
  • Step 2: Groups learn about loans, savings and credit building.
  • Step 3: She receives a microloan to start or build a small business, allowing her to increase her income.
  • Step 4: Groups meet weekly to make repayments, continue their education and build support networks.
  • Step 5: With these tools in hand, women increase their income, build their credit scores, and create jobs in their communities.
  • Step 6: Women continue in the program and receive larger loans to invest in their small businesses.

Pictured here are some of the clients we met.

Microcredit clients Lanise and Janine run a clothing boutique together.

Chobani Juliet Moran, IZZE/Naked Juice Hope Furst, microcredit clients Lanise and Janine who co-run their clothing shop, Teysha Ashley Ludkowski, Chobani Tina Mehta, WPF JP Kloninger, and Grameen America Rajitha Swaminathan (right).

Microcredit clients at the Little Shop of Harlem showing their wares. There are five businesses currently featured in the Shop, and three are microcredit clients who share in the rent in order to have a space to sell.  Microcredit client Terry (center) sells local and Tibetan jewelry at The Little Shop of Harlem. Terry proudly let us know she is in her 70s and very happy to run this jewelry business with the support of Grameen America and her fellow microcredit clients like Cynthia who runs a healthy beverage business out of the same space.

A second group with clients at the Little Shop of Harlem, like microcredit client Rene (center, yellow shirt) who sells her recycled denim apparel, hats and purses there.

Microcredit client Heather in front of her hair neighborhood salon in Harlem.

Microcredit client Carolyn catered our soul food lunch of pasta, fried chicken, string beans, and macaroni and cheese. She wants to use her next loan to run a food truck so she can serve more customers and make more profit.

Microcredit client Regina’s business is Shadeesha’s Sweets, the featured dessert for our lunch meeting.  Regina made navy bean cookies with dots of blueberry jam, raspberry jam and ginger, and some were dipped in milk chocolate and white chocolate.  Regina’s product tagline is “The Best Cookies on Earth Made From the Earth”. Regina is teaching us about her product and sharing how she knew her business would flourish because of her natural ingredients.

After learning more from the Grameen America Harlem team, we then transited to the Grameen America Jackson Heights branch to witness loan disbursements in action.  This visit was an inspiring way to see businesswomen making income and taking charge of their economic future.

The powerhouse Grameen America team: VP of Development Mindee Barham, Harlem branch staff member, Harlem Branch Manager Latonia Green, Senior Director Tanzila Salahuddin, Director of Corporate Partnerships Jill Monum, Grameen America staff member, Rajitha Swaminathan and Harlem branch staff member. Photo courtesy of Grameen America.

All photos courtesy of Whole Planet Foundation and Grameen America.