My Introduction to Accion, Margarita and the Moreno family

When I signed on to intern with Accion East and Online, they told me that I would get a hands-on view of the inner workings of microlending. Sure enough, just one week after setting foot in Boston, I was in the backseat of a car zipping downtown with two members of the Accion team on the way to personally meet clients. “You know Spanish right?” they asked.

 

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Margarita, owner of Amador Home Improvement

Our first stop was to visit Margarita —proud owner of Amador Home Improvement, a residential remodeling company based out of Chelsea, Massachusetts. Margarita has been working closely with Accion since 2006. She receives contracts from commercial companies and the government to refurbish residences throughout the Greater Boston area, working in all remodeling fields, including interior and exterior painting, masonry, house cleaning, carpentry and tiling. Now with 12 employees, over 60 projects, and only four days to prepare each residence to be move-in ready, Margarita is always on the run. Extremely dedicated to her work and her two children, Margarita hopes to continue to expand her business to provide for her family and her children’s education.

 

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Simeon, greeting us with his warm smile

Already in the neighborhood, we popped in for a surprise visit to Moreno’s Barber Shop in Egleston Square Commercial District in Roxbury. Co-owners Simeon—who first opened the business 20 years ago under the name Moreno’s Unisex Salon—and his grandson Jonathan have recently renovated their space, and the old school barber shop now has quite the shine. Check out their Facebook page to see the before and after photos from the transformation! Now with a new look, Jonathan is looking to continue to expand the family business to bring in more revenue and clients. Moreno’s Barber Shop claims to offer “affordable, friendly and accommodating” service; and from my brief experience it is obvious that they offer nothing less, greeting every individual who walks through the door with a smile that fills the room.

 Needless to say, the move to Boston is already proving to be exciting and it is clear that Accion is committed to maintaining lasting relationships with clients.

Brewing a New Market for Microloans.

ACCION USA Staff are brewing up a new market for our microloans. Where, you may ask, are we stirring up this new business?  Well, we like to think of ourselves as ‘loan brewristas’, taking the craft brew scene by storm in partnership with Samuel Adams on our Brewing the American Dream program.Danielle and Benajamin- Brooklyn Homebrew

As the craft brew scene in America blossoms, ACCION USA is working alongside the industry’s leader and pioneer Samuel Adams to champion small craft brewers by providing microloans to start or expand a home or contract brewing operation, storefront brewery or brewpub.

Our Craft Brewer Loan Fund is making a splash across the country, supporting unique brews like California based Mateveza , Roc Brewing Company in Rochester NY and Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough. Through a recent loan to a home brew supply shop, we feel we’re starting to make a real mark on an exciting movement.

A few years ago, I (Erica) read an article in New York magazine about a couple that had opened a homebrew shop in Brooklyn. I remember being impressed by knowing that something like this could exist, that a young couple, both former chefs could open their own hobby store in the midst of the greatest recession my generation has seen.

Danielle and Benjamin’s homebrew shop is nestled in a swampy yet very hip neighborhood called Gawanus in Brooklyn. You feel like a happy hobbit walking into their garden level brew dwelling- upon entering you see a magnificently organized candy store for the likes of hobby craft brewers.  When they responded to my direct email about the Brewing the American Dream Program, I biked over as quickly as I could to explain the awesome benefits that ACCION and Sam Adams have to offer their crafty community.

When Benjamin and Danielle opened Brooklyn homebrew they did it without the help of a bank or a credit card. They started selling from their home at first and later expanded to their store front on 3rd avenue. The issue Danielle and Benjamin were encountering was having space to keep enough inventory-they are able to sell out of their entire stock, sometimes in just one weekend!   Once Danielle and Benjamin submitted their application and a few documents, ACCION USA was able to approve them for a loan of $10,000 to buy a larger fridge and to rent a storage space nearby to keep their beer booty.

As the American craft beer renaissance continues to take off in Brooklyn, so does their business.

At ACCION, we are very excited to be contributing to an incredible movement of entrepreneurial creativity.  In addition to providing capital, mentorship, and PR support, our Craft Brewer Program has offered brewers the opportunity to apply for the Samuel Adams Experienceship.  Stay tuned for more details on how you can help us select our winner!   

-Erica and Elizabeth, ACCION USA Loan Brewistas.

It’s the Little Loans That Matter Most

By Elise Tosun, ACCION USA Loan Consultant

Have you ever had a day at work when it feels like everything falls apart, all at once? Recently, I began the day working with three potential loan applicants. Here at ACCION USA, our performance as loan consultants is partly measured by how many of these applicants get a loan. As the day progressed, I kept uncovering problems that each of these businesses had that I knew would stand in the way of them getting approved. Though I generally feel that my work at AUSA is

The author with Sarahi and her newborn baby

The author with Sarahi and her newborn baby

very meaningful, by 5 p.m., I was feeling pretty purposeless and frustrated. What did I deserve to be paid for, if my work was not translating to actual money in the hands of small business owners?

Shortly after my mini-breakdown, my client Sarahi came in to the office to get her loan for $1,500. This is one of the smallest loan sizes we give, and Sarahi was using it to start her own Green Cart business. Green Carts were developed by the City of New York to sell fresh fruits and vegetables in areas of the city where access to these kinds of foods is very limited. Sarahi’s loan would give her the initial investment she needed to buy a cart for her fruit so she could start selling in the Bronx.

As a loan consultant it is easy to put emphasis on the bigger loans (AUSA’s average is around $7,000) that help us reach our monthly lending goals. But the smaller loans are just as important. As my supervisor Wanda has repeated to me many times: every penny counts. That is exactly the right mentality that microfinance loan consultants need to have.

When Sarahi came to our office at 5 p.m. on Thursday with her husband and her newborn baby girl, I was reminded that their loan really counted, even though it was smaller than the other ones I had been working on all day. Sarahi, while pregnant, had trekked from her home in Queens to Manhattan to attend evening workshops on managing her food business and to work with me on her application. She was one of the most hard-working, ambitious clients I’ve lent to yet. Spending the end of the day with her last week reminded me why I do what I do. Sometimes I need my clients’ help as much as they need mine!

Why We Do This: Greg’s Microfinance Success Story

ACCION USA client Juan Altamirano outside of his Miami cafe

Elements of financial education appear throughout the lending process. From teaching individuals about the high costs of payday loans to showing business owners how to separate their personal and business finances, ACCION USA equips and empowers entrepreneurs with the education to achieve their financial goals.

Every so often, one of those days comes along that brings you back to the roots of what you do. It’s that client, that partner, that sale or proposal – that something that stands out and reinforces your daily work. It’s what causes you to go home with a smile on your face.

I’m fortunate to work in a place where these days come frequently – weekly, not quarterly. At ACCION USA, our success comes from our clients, and you’ve probably seen our many client success stories. Read one, and you’ll see the power of matching a microloan with the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s exciting, and it’s inspiring.

What you might not see, though, is the added value of financial education – an element of ACCION USA’s service portfolio that makes us unique among microfinance organizations. Elements of our financial education program are weaved into each and every client success story. Whether the client attended a legal counseling workshop, used our online budgeting worksheet, or received a half-hour of technical assistance from a loan consultant, financial education is ever-present in our work.

One of our most recent success stories is a true testament to this service.

Greg’s journey with ACCION USA began in February 2009. He owns an answering service business and needed a loan to keep up with his growing list of clientele. When a damaged credit history and low credit score meant that he didn’t qualify for a loan, Greg demonstrated two characteristics that entrepreneurs tend to possess: persistence and a desire to learn. He contacted our Boston office, determined to understand how he could improve his credit history.

That call was the first of many. Throughout the next year, my colleague Melissa led Greg through the process of improving his score. With her guidance, Greg took control of his debt, improved his credit score over 60 points, and regularly called to check in with Melissa. And his hard work paid off: last month, Greg was approved for a loan.

Greg is proof that financial education can give hard-working, determined individuals the boost they need to realize their entrepreneurial dreams. And all I’m left to say is congratulations. Congratulations to Greg on his persistence and drive to grow his business. Congratulations to Melissa for her dedication.

And congratulations to all of ACCION USA’s supporters for helping connect them.  You make this all possible.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, I Really Need This Microloan

No one usually likes to get “no” for an answer. However, a recent Wall Street Journal article regarding irresponsible lending practices in India demonstrates why it’s important for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to put their foot down with debt-ridden borrowers. Mission-driven MFIs (the most popular kind here in the U.S.) must be wise enough to acknowledge that a microloan brings nothing but further hardship to a borrower that is already indebted beyond his or her capacity to repay.

Here at ACCION USA, this realization has meant an increase in the number of loan declines as the economy has worsened. It’s a necessary evil in remaining true to our mission of empowering, not burdening, individuals with access to credit.  But it’s not an easy message to deliver to financially strained borrowers, especially when they feel like a microloan is their “Hail Mary” – their one, last minute attempt at business survival.

I’m acquainted with one ACCION USA borrower, who has benefited greatly from this tough love policy. Originally seeking capital to pay debts to vendors for her printing business, her loan consultant realized that taking on more debt wasn’t the answer to boosting sales and income to get out of the red. Instead, ACCION USA staff worked with her on low-cost marketing, and her business is  getting back on track.

As the recession continues to strain local small businesses, U.S. MFI’s face a complex challenge. There is an unprecedented opportunity to support struggling small businesses, but the duty to do so responsibly remains. Saying “no” to a financially strained small business owners and instead focusing on providing them with the financial education resources needed to get their debt in check actually provides their best chance at staying afloat. Nobody ever said that small business ownership was an easy road.