Alma sits proudly behind a folding table showing off a line of Jafra Cosmetics.
“We sell perfumes, makeup, lipsticks,” she said. Alma and four other women started the door-to-door cosmetics sales company with a $1,500 loan from Grameen America, an offshoot of Grameen Bank, the nonprofit, low-income lender started by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus.
Before this, Alma worked odd jobs in stores and bakeries but never made enough to cross to the other side of the poverty line.
“This brings back the hope that I can take care of myself,” she said at the ribbon-cutting for a Grameen branch in the South Bronx.
Grameen America operates branches in New York, Nebraska and Indiana. Most of the borrowers are single mothers looking to become entrepreneurs. Micro-financing is frequent in the Third World, and Yunus told ABC News there was, especailly in these economic times, a need for it in the U.S.
“This works for people, particularly people who are unemployed,” Yunus said. “It’s always needed but now it’s needed most. Those who are losing jobs, this is what brings them in.”
Yunus is looking to expand to San Francisco and, perhaps, Detroit, as more Americans slip into poverty.
To help navigate American banking regulations, Grameen America has partnered with CitiBank.
“Grameen clients proved to be very strong,” said Bob Annibale, head of micro-finance at Citi. ”They’re not just good borrowers with enterprising businesses. They’re good savers.”
Loans are offered with no collateral required to low-income borrowers who agree to deposit a minimum of $2 week in savings. Borrowers must partner with four others. Each group must agree to meet weekly and start or expand a business or otherwise generate income.
“There’s a 99 percent repayment rate. It’s amazing,” Yunus said.
Alma and her group are on their third loan through Grameen America.
“It’s scary at the beginning,” she said. “But we’re growing. Hopefully, one day we’ll get our own place and be stable.”