Atlanta may be the first location of a publicly-funded Grameen America branch, which helps low-income entrepreneurs start or expand a business.
The “To Catch a Dollar” campaign is hosting an online contest ending April 30 where people can donate money to the next Grameen America branch and vote on what city should receive the funds.
Campaign spokesperson Ted Richane said the four potential cities, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, have a number of people who could benefit from Grameen’s model of handing out tiny loans without the requirement of collateral.
“(The cities) represent different regions of the country, yet all face the kinds of economic challenges that microfinance can help address,” Mr. Richane told GlobalAtlanta in an email.
While all Grameen America branches get funding from multiple sources, Mr. Richane added that this one will be the first bank to receive “crowd-sourced” funding.
Identical to other branches in the U.S., the new location would offer microloans and financial counseling to low-income borrowers who belong to small groups that coach each other through repayment.
In 2008, founder Muhammad Yunus brought this loan model over to the U.S. from Bangladesh where he started the Grameen Bank in 1976, lending mostly to poor women.
The campaign to have a publicly-funded branch was inspired by the film “To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America,” chronicling the organization’s first year in the U.S.
Three years ago, Grameen opened its first branch in the borough of Queens in New York, extending $350,000 in loans to 165 borrowers in the first three months. The borrowers have used the loans to start a variety of business ventures, including selling cosmetics door-to-door and opening a food cart on the streets of New York.
After launching the first branch which now has 2,875 borrowers, Grameen opened a branch in 2009 in Omaha, Neb., with 815 borrowers to date. In 2010, the bank opened two more branches in New York in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn with 1,270 and 685 members, respectively.
“Without a doubt there is definitely a huge demand for microfinancing,” said Katherine Rosenberg, vice president of strategic partnerships, adding that Grameen’s original model has been very successful in the U.S.
Mr. Yunus started the original version in Bangladesh to create self-employment opportunities for poor people that do not qualify for traditional loans. While the government owns a small percentage of the bank, over 90 percent of the shares belong to the borrowers.
In 2006, the founder and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for facilitating economic and social development.
To donate money text, “America” to 85944 and to vote, visit www.tocatchadollar.com.