by Yanki Tshering
One of our favorite events each year is the annual meeting of the approximately 2 dozen US organizations that receive funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to support refugee entrepreneurship by providing access to micro-loans, group training, and one-on-one advice to refugee business owners.
This summer ritual brings together over 50 professionals from Boise, Idaho, to Columbus, Ohio, to Queens, New York, to network and share best practices for serving and supporting refugees who are coming to the US often with just the clothes they are wearing, but who are not only eager to work hard but, more often than not, coming with business experience in their former home countries.
One of the highlights of this year’s workshop was hearing BCNA client Oumar Diamanka, a refugee from Senegal, speak about starting his tax filing and translation business. He shared how the services provided by BCNA – and funded by ORR – had helped him jumpstart the business which has now grown to 11 employees.
“The IDA grant and the loan from BCNA enabled me to purchase the computers that I needed for my tax filing business. I also got invaluable help and advice from BCNA about how to start and run a business in the US,” Oumar told the group. “The grant and the loan helped me start my business but the knowledge and advice helped me to grow my business.”
The sessions presented by various organizations included a detailed discussion on Marketing and Outreach Strategies by Abnet Tessema, Marketing and Training Specialist at Economic Development Group (EDG) and an informative presentation on various examples of Integrated Services presented by Fikru Abebe, Managing Director of EDG, Nancy Carin, Executive Director of Business Outreach Center (BOC), and Jon Vosper, Technical Advisor at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Members of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the US Department of Agriculture – both important funders and key supporters of micro and small business development – made presentations and encouraged organizations that qualified for their services to become certified and benefit from the funding and advice from these two federal entities.
Douglas Caven, Director of Development and Marketing at Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), led a discussion on the persistent challenge of resource development, Lynn Cutler, Executive Director of Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (WORC), gave a presentation on special events, and I was pleased to give a presentation to the group about the success and growth of BCNA’s annual Immigrant Heritage Week Event Awards.
On the second day, the focus was on sharing best practices in lending, technical assistance, and portfolio management. Nha Ngugen, Portofolio Manager at the International Institute Community Development Corporation, made an entertaining and informative presentation that included many tips on how to keep potential clients engaged through the loan application and underwriting process. We then broke up into smaller groups to discuss the numerous models of technical assistance offered by various grantees.
The BCNA Team then led a session on Portfolio Management and Collections during which Jessica Martin, BCNA’s Portfolio and Compliance Manager; shared various reports and the process that BCNA uses to track and report on the performance of BCNA’s portfolio. Calvin Fletcher, Manager of BCNA’s Refugee Microenterprise Program for Refugees, and Zach Logan, Loan Officer for the Refugee Program, shared best practices in collections of loan repayments and anecdotal information on how they incentivize loan clients to repay their loans and not lower their credit scores and other financial opportunities.
Throughout the two days, we found time to network and share information with fellow grantees. There was a wonderful sense of comradery and pride in the accomplishments of us as a group and of course inspiration from clients’ stories of establishing a business in their new home country after years of living in a refugee camp or not knowing where they will find safety and financial security for their families.
This gathering was also an opportunity for Marvin Saccucci, ORR’s new Microenterprise Development Program Manager, to introduce himself, spend time with grantees, and get to know us. We were excited to meet him and look forward to working closely with him and benefiting from his advice and support!