You’ve spent much of your professional career in community economic development. What were some of the factors that led you to follow this career path?
I joined the Peace Corps a few years out of college (when I “threw away” my corporate career). It’s embarrassing to admit now, but I was the typical American who thought they were going into the Peace Corps as an expert. I quickly learned what many do, that you are in fact getting back much more than you are giving. While working as a small business volunteer in Guatemala, I learned about the Grameen bank and other nascent microlending models, as well as about grassroots community development. The women’s cooperatives I worked with used needs assessments at the cooperative and community level and I saw real change happen with women, their families, and their communities. I was enchanted by the work, and when I returned to the U.S. I discovered that this type of work was also happening here; that I could use my skills gained as a finance major towards social and economic justice. I never looked back.
On a personal level, and applicable to some of my work at CEI, my father and his family were immigrants from Poland as a result of World War II. His experience coming to the US and the stories he would tell about his adjustment to life here made me wonder “Isn’t there a better way?” While CEI doesn’t work on resettlement, we do play a role in helping New Americans reach economic self-sufficiency, and I am still intrigued by how we as a community welcome our newest neighbors and thinking of ways we can do better.
In your view, what is the greatest impact microlending can have here in Maine?
While the loan dollars are small, the opportunity the loan can give a borrower is big. We target our loans to “underserved borrowers in Maine.” Of those borrowers, about half are start-up businesses. The impact of new businesses is great on a community, particularly in Maine’s rural communities and small towns. Locally-owned businesses spend roughly 46 cents of every dollar in their community, compared to ‘big box stores’, which spend roughly 14 cents. So our $20,000 loan to a business has a substantial multiplier effect in its community. About 15% of our microloans go to New Americans, many of whom do not have established credit in the US but have experience running a business in their home country. These loans, coupled with targeted business counseling, have helped many business owners start and prosper in Maine.
What’s a “fun fact” you’d like to share about yourself?
I love backpacking and I’m from Vermont, so I have been section hiking The Long Trail, which is a hiking trail that runs the spine of Vermont from the Massachusetts border to Canada (and was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail). I’ve instilled a love of backpacking in my daughter, and next year when she graduates elementary school we are going to hike a section together for a week.