Two Good News Stories – One Old, One New

Two items caught my eye in the newspaper this weekend which I feel need more publicity given their nature. One occurred fifty years ago, but bears retelling as it is a lesson in how to manage provocative change. The other is a report on a growing effort to help fund new, small business needs. The old showed how a city embraced the Civil Rights movement to more peacefully change their community. The new shows how well placed investment with those who have small needs that are sneezed at by larger banks can make good, everyday advances. Both of these stories appeared in The Charlotte Observer, so any references or quotes are from the Observer’s articles.

City’s push to integrate honored

In May, 1963, the civil rights initiatives and marches were full throttle. Unfortunately, there were many white citizens who were not only reluctant to change, they demonized the African-Americans and violence occurred and, in some places, was condoned. This was a continuation of previous mal-treatment, but it was coming to a head with the push for civil rights for everyone. Yet, the violence did not occur in Charlotte, NC. Why? Instead of tolerating violence, “during the last three days of May, 1963, white businessmen were quietly urged by Mayor Stan Brookshire and Chamber of Commerce officials to eat a meal with black leaders and professionals at city restaurants. It was a determined effort to break the back of resistance and integrate public facilities – and avoid trouble.”

These eat-in drew praise and international attention, especially from Martin Luther King. In speaking with participants from this lunches, both whites and blacks praised the effort and said they were significant in showing the community, by example, integration could occur. I would add that no city is perfect and biases continue to this day, but I applaud the forward thinking leadership of Brookshire, the Chamber and the participants in showing the path forward. Note, this was a hugely provocative time and a bold step forward. So, there was a lot of steadfastness and bravery in their deeds. Well done folks.

I would add that their efforts are a great example of how we still can do things to change perceptions and understand our similarities while appreciating our differences. Breaking bread with people usually is accompanied by dialogue and a sense of community. I believe political, religious and other differences can be understood and barriers removed for better dialogue. I also think it will show how similar we are in common beliefs and attitudes permitting us to focus more on the issues and problems and not our differences of opinion.

Nonprofit: Loans helped 300 launch businesses

An idea that got its started in India by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of Grameen Bank has now been brought into other countries, including the US. The idea is to provide micro-loans to people who want to start or improve on a business. In India, the loans were very small and had significantly higher than average repayment rate, as people were responsible and accountable to the bank who helped them when no one else would. These loans helped lift people out of poverty.

In Charlotte, Grameen America is now doing the same thing with standard loans of $1,000 and $1,500. Starting in December, 2012, the bank has now loaned out $300,000 to local 300 local recipients. What are the people using the loans for? “The money goes to buy a commercial sewing machine, for example, or to secure a chair at a hair styling salon. Food and catering businesses are also popular.” Ultimately, Grameen hopes to have up to 4,500 borrowers in its first five years. As of now, the nonprofit bank has three loan officers, but hopes to grow to ten officers with the increased volume of loans.

Even for small-business friendly banks, these loans are too small to get their attention. The cost to process the loan would exceed the loan itself. Plus, the other borrowing choices come with large interest rates – your personal credit cards or worse, pay-day lending type organizations. The high interest (and in the case of pay-day lending, usury) rates would eat up any profits that might be generated by the loans, making it harder to make a go of it. The Grameen Bank is a terrific idea and is one that should spread to many places.

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These two stories made me smile and give me hope which I want to share with you. One shows how leadership can make a huge difference when focused on doing the right thing. The other shows that we need not have big organizations to make substantive change. Rather, this is a big idea, that is meritorious in how it can be executed in such small increments and make a huge difference. They both should be applauded and appreciated (and replicated).

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