Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A bank unlike any Charlotte has seen

Is there room in Banktown for a lender willing to finance the dreams of entrepreneurs living below the poverty line?

A civic-minded group of local business executives remains $1 million short of its goal to establish a Charlotte version of the world-renowned Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.

The sooner they get that money, the sooner they can bring to Charlotte the micro-credit concept that won Grameen founder Muhammad Yunus worldwide admiration and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize:

You can make a small business loan to people who are poor and expect it to be paid back, with interest.

The public had the opportunity to see this idea explained in a documentary, “To Catch a Dollar,” which was shown Thursday in uptown Charlotte’s Epicentre Theater. The film features Yunus and personal finance expert and TV personality Suze Orman.

Yunus, a professor, established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983. He got the idea after loaning small amounts of money to poor basket-weavers in the mid-1970s. Replicas of the bank now operate in more than 100 countries.

In 2008, supporters brought this idea to the United States, opening Grameen America in Queens, NY. That organization now operates branches in Brooklyn, Upper Manhattan and Omaha, Neb. It is preparing to open two more in Indianapolis and San Francisco.

Charlotte’s organizers have $1.5 million of the $2.5 million they need to open Grameen Charlotte, which will operate as a nonprofit. They expect to assist 3,500 borrowers in the first four years.

Borrowers targeted are below the household poverty line of $22,050 a year. In 2009, that amounted to 14,500 households in Charlotte. Applicants undergo a financial training program before being approved for a loan of up to $1,500. Loans are repaid over six to 12 months.Grameen America reports a repayment rate of 99 percent.

“The nice thing is, this is ready to go,” said John Lassiter, a former city council member, mayoral candidate and businessman who co-chairs the Charlotte effort and helped lead an informational session at Whitehead Manor this week. “Once we have the cash in hand, they have a branch manager who is ready” to come to Charlotte.

Their biggest gift to date has been $500,000 from Wells Fargo, followed by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation ($450,000), the City of Charlotte ($230,000), the Leon Levine Foundation ($100,000) and the Ginter Foundation ($100,000). Gifts from individuals total $71,500.

People can also choose to invest in Grameen, in $1,000 increments. Those investments are repaid in five years at an annual interest rate of 1%.

For more about the Grameen Charlotte campaign, contact co-chair Sara Garces at or campaign committee member Joe Mynatt at

Reach Rick Thames at or 704-358-5001.


Anonymous said...

What a great idea! And a hearty thanks to all of the donors!!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful idea. My only question is: how this is different from the Self-Help Credit Union?

Anonymous said...

That's great! Non tax payer funded as well!

Well, except for the quarter million of city tax payer dollars.

Keep us updated on what kind of business get started with this, if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

If it is in anyway connected with tripe-purveyor "Suze" Orman, RUN

Anonymous said...

Has whether the NAACP has approved of this new bank in Charlotte? The NAACP seems to believe they have the experpts in educating children. I was just wondering whether they were now excerpts in the banking industry!