by Alejandro Solis
Agora’s newest partner, Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people through the support of microenterprises, women’s empowerment, and mobility solutions for the disabled. Its flagship grant program is the Social Microenterprise Initiative (SMI), a truly innovative, ‘pay-it-forward’ small business loan program. Through it’s partnership with the Schultz Foundation, Agora will pilot their SMI program in Central America.
To date, SMI has been successfully implemented in five challenging locations around the world: Russia, Vietnam, Palestine, Tibet, and Kenya.
SMI is a unique program that makes interest-free small business loans strictly for machinery and equipment. Businesses repay the SMI loans not in cash, but by donating in-kind products, services, and vocational training to the poor in their communities. Agora Partnerships will pilot this program in Nicaragua in the fall of 2010.
I recently attended an SMI Conference in Berkeley, CA. The purpose of the SMI Conference was to evaluate the up-to-date results, as well as to analyze the program´s ability to expand further in the near future, both from a sustainability and impact-growth perspective.
For me and Agora Partnerships, the conference was a great opportunity to learn more about the structure of the SMI program and better understand the effects of implementing such a program in Nicaragua. The aim for Agora and the Schultz Foundation was to identify how both institutions can work as partners to bring the SMI program to Latin America. The Schultz Foundation’s board recently approved a pilot SMI project in Nicaragua to begin in the second half of 2010. Both institutions will begin to work diligently in the fall to make this endeavor a reality.