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Local need may draw microfinance bank

Could a local branch of Grameen Bank work here in Champaign-Urbana?

Grameen America, the microfinancing organization for the poor, announced it has entered into discussions with Champaign developer Peter Fox about establishing a branch of Grameen Bank in East Central Illinois.

Among the first steps would be conducting a study that would take a look at the population within a two-hour drive of Champaign-Urbana, including the area’s demographics and its recent immigrant population, said Grameen America President Vidar Jorgensen.


A team of Grameen employees, who had a hand in starting the New York City branch and most recently the Omaha, Neb., branch, will be involved, he said.

“If it works out, someone from (Grameen’s) Bangladesh office will come. It works better when you bring in someone from Grameen because they’ve been doing it for 30 years,” Jorgensen said.

To get started, a branch typically needs about $2 million in start-up funds and a total of about $6 million over a five-year period, Jorgensen said.

Grameen’s typical loan is about $1,500. Most borrowers are women, particularly immigrant women.

“All we need is people who need the money,” said Grameen’s founder Muhammad Yunus, adding that the public might be surprised at how many people might need microloans.

“You don’t see some things unless you look for them,” he said.

Yunus, who spoke at the UI on Monday night, founded Grameen Bank in 1983 in Bangladesh. In recent years, the organization has established microlending programs in the United States, first in New York City.

Earlier in the day, Yunus attended a grand opening celebration at the Omaha branch of Grameen Bank.

A branch in San Francisco is planned to open in the coming months.

The communities in which Grameen Banks operate are larger than Champaign-Urbana, said Fox, “but “there is an interest here in microfinance. We just have to figure out how to do it.”

Microfinance was something he had thought about over the last couple years, Fox said.
He also has made several microloans.

“I’m excited about the prospect,” of making the concept work locally, he said.

In addition to lending money, the organization also offers savings and credit-building programs and financial education classes.

- Christine Des Garennes/ The News-Gazette

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