TUBA CITY, Arizona – Indigenous business center, Change Labs, offers interest-free loans of up to $ 5,000 without a credit check to Indigenous entrepreneurs and small business owners, including artists, facing challenges in due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Heather Fleming, managing director, points out that these loans, which are part of a kinship loan program, are open to any recognized business owner, artist or vendor selling on the roadside or at the flea market.
“Regardless of your official status as a registered business owner, whether it’s with the Navajo Nation or with the State of Arizona, we’re not really interested in that,” Fleming said. “As long as you are a person who trades, you are eligible for this loan.”
Fleming said it was a departure from traditional and federal loan programs and one designed specifically for the people Change Labs is trying to help – native-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. There is no charge to apply.
“It was part of our strategy to ensure that anyone running a ‘business’ could access the funds they needed to support their operations,” said Fleming.
There is also another differentiator – these are character-based or relationship-based loans.
“All this means is that we don’t look at a person’s credit history or their credit score to determine if they are a good loan seeker,” Fleming said. “We don’t ask them for collateral (loans are 100% guaranteed by philanthropy). All we want to know is if you have a couple of friends who can give you a glowing review and tell us that you are a reliable and trustworthy person. Is there someone in the community who can vouch for you and your business? “
Fleming said Change Labs knows that some of the people who need loans right now may not have a credit history or have a bad credit rating and that securing a loan is difficult for many small businesses. of the nation, especially in tribal areas. communities where people do not own their own land.
“We wanted to create a process that relied on someone’s community, clan, and character, more than on the data that defines them as an individual from the United States,” Fleming said.
The current program has been in place since the first week of April. It has over 30 approved applicants, 19 borrowers who received the money and loaned nearly $ 100,000. The program still has $ 196,000 to lend.
“We’re always looking for more applicants,” Fleming said.
Artists are one group Fleming tries to reach out to, saying that among people who enter Change Labs are artists who are reluctant to label themselves as business owners or entrepreneurs.
“They identify as an artist,” Fleming said. “For that reason, it was really important to us that this loan didn’t just end with people saying, ‘I run a business or am an entrepreneur or have a business registered in the state of Arizona. We would basically block so many people who need money, who run a business, but maybe don’t always recognize it. “
How and what is money used for by small businesses
From the start, Fleming said, people needed this money for personal use, which the loan allows.
“It’s technically a loan for their business, but there’s no limit on how the money can be used for purposes other than what they can’t use. [the money] to pay off an existing loan, ”she said.
But the money can be used to buy supplies, equipment, food on the table.
“I don’t mean to say they used everything for it,” Fleming said. “But I know for a fact that this was an immediate thing that a lot of people had to figure out, just to cover some immediate expenses. Many of our borrowers tell us that money allows them to breathe and think about the future. “
Some borrowers are using the money to make the transition online, like Alphonso John, the owner of JJJ’s Beaded Jewelry, based in Gallup, New Mexico.
Normally, during the summer, John would travel across the country to festivals and art markets, like the Santa Fe Indian Market.
“I mean over 90% of my business comes from new business and traveling to new places,” John said. “The pandemic has struck and I can’t really travel. I can’t really talk to people in person rather than on the phone or typing email. “
John said he used the loan, which he received in mid-April, for various things: immediately it was food, rent and bills.
“Once these were taken care of, I had some relief for those few weeks there and then wanted to get back into the business,” John said.
He found himself with the time to take care of some things that he really wanted to do but never had the time before, like marketing, building a website, building a business. ‘an LLC.
“I discovered different aspects of business and went to school for corporate finance,” John said. “A lot of downtime allowed me to sit down and learn what I needed to learn. I skipped many chapters learning from mentors.
John’s work can be found on Instagram @jjjs_beaded_jewelry, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jjjsbeadedjewelry and by email at [email protected]
Where does the money come from?
Approximately $ 90,000 of this money comes from the Kellogg Foundation as part of an investment related to the program. Almost $ 90,000 comes from Change Labs donors and grants. The remaining portion comes from the Nusenda Federal Credit Union Co-Op Capital program, which lends to Native American entrepreneurs and change makers across the Colorado Plateau.
Applications will be reviewed and loans granted on a first come, first served basis. More information and how to apply is available by visiting https://nativestartup.org/kinshiplending.