Grameen America may not be a household name in Georgia, but it soon will be
with the recent opening of its Atlanta office.
Grameen America is the fastest growing nonprofit microfinance organization in the United States. Atlanta is the 25th U.S. city where the fund has set up operations. The office is being funded through partnerships with The Studio@Blue Meridian, Truist Foundation, Investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith and Regions Bank which donated $1million.
Widely known as the richest African American, billionaire investor Smith gave the welcoming remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony which was held at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in southwest Atlanta. The fund is still searching for office space.
“This program is so important. While 11.6% of the US. Population lives in poverty, that rate jumps to 18.8% for black women,” Smith said. “ And we all know that owning a business is one of the most efficient ways to produce generational wealth and escape the cyclical nature of poverty.”
Although black women in America continue to outpace black males when it comes to starting businesses, Smith adds: “But only one and a half percent of black women own a business. This is due partly to the barriers they must overcome to launch their ventures, including the fact that they are 20% less likely to be able to fund their business with bank loans, and typically, they receive less than 1% of annual venture capital invested.”
Smith is no stranger to Atlanta. When he started his remarks he joked it was “good to be back in the city of my graduation.” In 2019, Smith was the commencement speaker at Morehouse College and paid off the tuition debt of the 135th graduating class.
The founder, chairman and CEO of VISTA Equity Partners Smith has established a Student Freedom Initiative to enable thousands of young people to graduate from historically black colleges and universities free from the “shackles of debt.”
“Some of you may know black women owe 22% more on average than white women in student loan debt,” Smith said.
Atlanta is known for its strong women entrepreneur base, so it was a natural that the organization would eventually set up shop here. The fund started making inroads into the metro area in June 2022.
In a release, Grameen America stated it has “disbursed over $420,000 in affordable capital through 210 microloans to 169 financially underserved women of color living in the metro Atlanta area and surrounding communities. Thanks to this partnership, Grameen America will be able to expand its reach into the local community to support a greater number of under-resourced entrepreneurial women.
The new branch will also receive technical and other forms of assistance from local community partners, including The City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, Startup Atlanta, Cathedral of Faith, and On the Rise Financial Center.”
“Atlanta has long been a leading hub for entrepreneurship and growth, and a city with a clear need for access to affordable capital and financial services among women and especially Black women,” said Andrea Jung, President and CEO of Grameen America. “We’re proud to bring a variety of funding and technical assistance partners together to help connect women of color with financial services while positively impacting and sustaining their local communities.’
Several of the funded Black and Hispanic women business owners attended the ceremony.
Grameen America provides low-income women business owners with loan capital, financial education, asset- and credit-building, and peer support. Since 2008, Grameen America has reached more than 170,000 women living in underserved communities across the United States and recently achieved a record milestone of investing over $3 billion in capital to emerging entrepreneurs. The organization’s repayment rate is over 99% and its members have achieved an average credit score of 653 through participation in the program.
Jung pointed out in her remarks that the Atlanta area is a leading metro in the Southeast with significant growth over time. However, data shows that growth has not always been inclusive or equitable in reaching all members of the region. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.5% of people in Atlanta live in poverty, compared to just 12.8% of all Americans. The city, which is nearly 50% Black, also has the highest rate of income inequality of all large cities in the country. While Atlanta has one of the highest percentages of Black-owned businesses in the U.S., many entrepreneurs rely on personal wealth to start or build their businesses and have limited access to affordable capital.
(For more information on Grameen America and how to apply for a loan go to: www.grameenamerica.org)