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At the 2014 Catalyst Awards Conference, Sam’s Club CEO and President Rosalind Brewer revealed that the warehouse club retailer had awarded three nonprofit organizations a $2.5 million grant to grow U.S. women-owned businesses and stimulate job creation. The result is WE Lend Initiative, a two-year investment in bolstering U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)-recognized Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), with the goal of increasing access to affordable loans and effective training to hundreds of female entrepreneurs.
“Lack of access to capital and financing continues to be a leading deterrent to success for U.S. women-owned businesses,” noted Brewer. “The WE Lend Initiative seeks to bridge this financing gap and empower women entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.”
The initiative will leverage the extensive networks and expertise of Accion, the largest nationwide micro- and small business lending network in the United States; National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), an association of more than 600 community-based organizations that promote access to basic banking services; and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), a nonpartisan organization that educates and advocates on behalf of its coalition of 4.7 million businesswomen, to attain three key objectives:
- Train select WBCs to become microlenders and provide capital for loans to women business owners
- Strengthen the WBCs’ referral process, motivating them to more effectively connect women with microlenders and financing to grow their businesses
- Boost the ability of WBCs to provide women with solid financial literacy and loan readiness skills
Key Growth Sector
“Women entrepreneurs are the foundation of the middle class and continue to power and grow our economy,” said Erin Andrew, assistant administrator for SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. “As a result [of the WE Lend Initiative], women visiting our WBCs will receive more training, information on access to markets and capital, and increased opportunities to grow.”
According to recent data from the Sam’s Club Gallup Microbusiness Tracker, women remain a key growth sector in the area of microbusiness, or firms with fewer than five employees. Women are more likely to be owners of the newest small businesses, and 67 percent still depend on personal savings to finance their business. Fifty-eight percent of women business owners say having healthy cash reserves is a major business concern.
WBCs can now apply to receive WE Lend Initiative training, capital and support online. Considerations for acceptance will include need and capacity, influenced by grant research identifying and ranking U.S. lending desert communities -- counties where small businesses receive a percentage of loans far below the national median. Qualifying WBCs will be chosen and notified by June 2014 and enrolled in the initiative’s Microloan Institute training program on a rolling calendar through 2015.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the nation’s eighth-largest retailer, provides services to millions of members in 635 U.S. club locations and at SamsClub.com. The Sam’s Club Giving Program, established by the Walmart Foundation in 2008, is dedicated to micro- and small business prosperity.