The concept of microenterprise and microfinance has the power to empower people and transform their lives. The concept was pioneered in 1976 by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank (Bank of the Poor), in Bangladesh. The bank was established for the purpose of making small loans to the poor − predominantly women – to help them obtain economic self-sufficiency. It’s the concept that informed the conception of the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project of the Center for Rural Affairs.
The fundamental principle behind the Grameen Bank is that credit is a human right. This strategy was highly effective as the bank grew exponentially from fewer than 15,000 borrowers in 1980 to 2.34 million members by 1998 to 7.67 million at the end of 2008. An astounding 97% of the 9.4 million Grameen Bank members today are women.
In general, a microenterprise is considered a small business employing 10 people or less and typically requires less than $50,000 to start. Commonly, microenterprises struggle to qualify for traditional lending services. Microenterprise Development Organizations in America, like the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, have created jobs, helped people generate income, build assets and enhance their talents and skills. Microenterprise development has been successful in helping people overcome discrimination based on race, gender, and ethnicity, and to rise above the common barriers of income and job market fluctuations through small business development.
Microenterprise in America recognizes the fundamental ability of people to apply their individual talents, creativity and hard work to better their lives. Microenterprise programs build on the unique ideas and skills of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs by providing business assistance and small amounts of credit to support the continued development of existing or start-up of a small business. Programs seek to help microenterprise businesses through micro-credit, one-on-one small business counseling, and specialized training.
A Center for Rural Affairs’ study in the late 1980s demonstrated a high rate of self-employment in rural areas, but no economic development strategies to help in this area. The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project of the Center for Rural Affairs was created in 1990 fulfilled this need. It used aspects of the Grameen Model and required a strong visionary and working Board of Directors, a committed and talented staff and receptive participants and partners. The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project filled a critical niche in 1990s and continues to do so for Nebraska’s startup and existing entrepreneurs in 2015. We look forward to the next twenty-five years and continuing our mission of strengthening rural communities through small, self-employed business development.
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