A Visit to the Queens Branch

Thu, 2011-01-27 01:00

The Grameen America team recently took a trip to Jackson Heights, Queens. If there was one word to sum up the experience at the center meeting and Marisella’s house, it was community. The way that the members provide services and goods for each other and look forward to interacting every week showed that Grameen America’s services have extended beyond basic capital. The program has grown to facilitate relationships in the community between emerging entrepreneurs, which might have otherwise been driven apart by poverty.

 Left to Right: Shah Newaz and Alethia Mendez

While much has been written on the potential impact of microfinance, this was a unique opportunity to talk to the borrowers to see the success of our program in action.

Shah Newaz, CEO of Operations, is a former student of Professor Yunus and worked closely with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh for over 30 years. Even as a veteran in microfinance, he had to overcome many obstacles in order to kick the program off and lead it to its recent successes. After being cheated by rogue lenders in the past, potential entrepreneurs in Jackson Heights must have doubted the trust-based system of Grameen America, which does not require collateral, guarantors or credit. With hard work and a great deal of patience, Mr. Shah gained the trust of the community which today accounts for more than half our entire program with 2,500 program members to date.

Center meetings, which Shah often oversees, are composed of three to four groups of five women and take place once a week per center. To make this demanding schedule possible, a dedicated team of  center managers must each meet with up to five centers per day, with a select few meetings starting as early as 5:30am to accommodate members work schedule.

On this particular day, Mr. Shah arranged for us to attend a center meeting in the heart of Jackson Heights, hosted at the house of a Grameen America member who works as a seamstress. This particular member is one of the most dedicated, as she is already on her fourth loan. The center was comprised of 15 borrowers who had brought their children with them to the meeting.

The group sat in a circle and conversed openly with each other in Spanish. The smiles and laughter shared between the members were clear signs that they were all glad to be with each other. One by one, the borrowers would go up and hand the center manager a small weekly deposit of loan money along with at least $2 towards a savings account. Each member was eager to have a few minutes to talk to the center manager and seemed genuinely excited to have fulfilled her weekly goal. One member in the back of the room proudly shouted that she was ready for a new loan.

When asked how many of the women had a job before their loans with Grameen America, only three responded that they previously had another source of income. Our hostess, a seamstress, was a great example of how even single mothers can have the opportunity to have an income while staying at home with their family.

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