Microfinancing making big impact across communities

May 20, 2010 7:18:23 AM PDT
In the face of tight credit and stubborn unemployment -- so called microlenders are proving that small loans are making a big impact on communities across America. Thursday in San Francisco, California First Lady Maria Shriver will speak at the kickoff of a first-ever national conference on microfinancing.

You can just hear and see Zonia Torres's passion for children. There is energy she shares everyday at her San Francisco Ingleside home. A home that she's lovingly turned into the Shining Star Family Child Care.

"I really love to help the community, especially those parents from low-income," said Torres.

Torres specializes in providing a caring place for low-income and even homeless parents, to bring their children. Her small business success is a testament to financial help she was able to secure.

"Since I got the loan, I expanded," said Torres.

Since 2007, Torres has received two loans of $10,000 each from Opportunity Fund, a San Francisco-based, non-profit lender. For the past 15-years, it's been practicing micro-financing -- providing small business loans for low-income people -- the everyday worker striving to get ahead.

"We're making loans in the flea market. We're making loans to food vendors," said Opportunity Fund CEO Eric Weaver.

Weaver says loans range from $500 to $10,000. Since 1995, it's provided more than 900 loans to Bay Area entrepreneurs, who could not qualify for financing through a bank. The success rate surpasses that of traditional lenders.

"We have a 90 percent repayment rate and about 85 percent business survival rate, and the data really shows that it's the small businesses that create the lion's share of net new jobs in the economy, so it's a very worthwhile endeavor," said Weaver.

A new case study highlights the positive economic ripple effects of microlending in the Bay Area -- data shows that for every dollar lent, opportunity fund loans are generating a 2-to-1 financial return, as it flows through the regional economy. Creating new wages, new spending and new tax revenues. Loans to Shining Star daycare went into updating the kitchen with new appliances, to help provide meals for the children. Funds also went to improve the home's siding and backyard play space.

"I think it's wonderful because it gives an opportunity to a small business to grow," said Torres.

The economic results -- Torres now has three employees on payroll and a waiting list of children.


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