Progress Towards a More Inclusive Chicago: How Entrepreneurship is Revitalizing the City’s African American Neighborhoods
By Erica King, VP of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group November 06, 2017 02:30 PM
From reading the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking the economy is booming for everyone. National unemployment is at record lows and the stock market at record highs. But in neighborhoods like Pullman on the Southside of Chicago, and in many other cities around the country, those heady headlines make for cold comfort. The unemployment rate in the Windy City among African American residents is a staggering 25 percent - more than 5 times the national rate.
For the city of Chicago to thrive, all of its residents need to be able to participate more fully in a strong and resilient local economy. And for many Chicago citizens, starting or growing a small business provides that opportunity. In fact, 40 percent of new jobs created in the past twenty years in Chicago are the result of hiring by new businesses.
That’s why in 2012, the City of Chicago and Accion Chicago, in collaboration with Citi Community Development, launched the Chicago Microlending Institute, a groundbreaking initiative that tripled the number of micro-lenders in the city and greatly expanded access to the small amounts of capital that entrepreneurs needed to make a difference in the communities they did business in. The community development organization I work for, the Chicago Neighborhood Initiative (CNI), gained the tools and resources from this program to form the CNI Micro Finance Group (CNIMFG), a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) dedicated to helping women, minority-owned and otherwise underserved businesses throughout the metropolitan Chicago area.
Using flexible and common sense underwriting criteria that allow borrowers to start up and expand their businesses, The CNI Micro Finance Group offers affordable microfinance solutions to small business owners who lack access to traditional sources of financing. Take Chef T for example, who after he and his wife opened Majani Catering in 2013 secured a series of three loans from CNIMFG that provided them with safe and affordable capital they couldn’t find elsewhere. Since then they’ve invested in building out a new brick and mortar vegan restaurant, hired local employees and advanced their efforts to make healthy food available to residents of the South Side, all while building a stable livelihood for themselves and their family.
Since 2013, CNIMFG has provided over $1.7 million to businesses like Majani, creating or preserving more than nearly 440 local jobs. Nearly 90 percent of those loans have gone to minority entrepreneurs in communities that have historically seen below- average lending activity. The capital combined with the business development services that CNIMFG offers to its borrowers supports business creation and promotes sustainability. To date, we’ve worked with more than 100 entrepreneurs who simply needed a small infusion of capital, a little guidance and a lot of encouragement along the way. CNIMFG sees making microloans to underserved businesses as an opportunity to promote economic development and empower minority communities to be self-sufficient.
Now, Citi is stepping up again and leading investment in expanding CNIMFG’s reach with a new loan program called the Pathway to Enterprise for Returning Citizens (PERC) program, designed to assist formerly incarcerated individuals, the majority of which are African-American and minority individuals, who are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.
Together, we’re doing so much more than just making loans. We’re finally realizing the untapped economic and entrepreneurial potential of low-income African American communities that have historically been overlooked and underserved. The result is a Pullman community, a Southside, and a Chicago that is more inclusive. That’s progress we can all believe in.
About the Inclusive Cities Series
Citi Community Development collaborates with America’s most prominent local public officials, civil rights leaders and community organizations to expand financial access and build more inclusive cities. Through these innovative collaborations, we harness Citi’s expertise, products, services and investments to ensure all residents and families have access to opportunity. Inclusive Cities is a new guest blog series where Citi’s leading community partners bring to life, through stories of leadership and ingenuity, how their partnership with Citi is driving real urban progress in communities around the U.S.
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