Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A for Native American Entrepreneurs?

"Our tribal colleges and universities teach sustainability in everything they do, proving American Indians have long been ahead of the curve. This is what we call 'Thinking Indian.' As our nation grapples with its problems, American Indians are uniquely situated to lead with finding solutions."
--Rick Williams, President & CEO of the American Indian College Fund on his blog, In a Good Way.

Flipping through the Sunday New York Times earlier this month, I noticed a public service announcement (left) for the American Indian College Fund, with the slogan, "Think Indian: To think Indian is to save a plant that can save a people."

For whatever reason, it started my thinking that there needs to be a like program for American Indian, Alaskan Native and Hawaiian Native entrepreneurs. facilitates ordinary people, like you and me, making loans online to entrepreneurs in the "developing" world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2007 poverty rate of people who reported they were American Indian and Alaska Native, and no other race, was 25.3%.

As far as I know, nothing like it exists, although it could, now that Kiva has opened its API so that developers can build their own tools to fund entrepreneurs. Plus, according to a March 23rd article on, Micro-loans for Americans?, Kiva is going to be experimenting with loans to entrepreneurs living in the United States.

In April, PBS will air a new mini-series, We Shall Remain, about U.S. history from the Native American perspective. The series' site has lots of information on it, including a Native Now: Enterprise page with links and videos. One of the video clips highlights the success of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation micro-loan program. I'm sure there are similar programs out there that could use a like tool to help get more loans out to their entrepreneurs.

Whaddya think? Good idea? Bad idea? Is there someone out there already doing it? Do you know anyone who would want to build it?

You can see images from the other "Think Indian" ads on In a Good Way, the blog of Rick Williams, President & CEO of the American Indian College Fund.

Cross-posted from Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.

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  1. This is a great idea Britt! I checked out Kiva's API and it's for existing loans in their system, it seems. Perhaps we need an open-source system for communities of interest to run microfinance sites. (The accompanying legal framework would have to be in place, too). For example, I'd love to run a microfinance site for green entrepreneurs on

  2. Agree this is a terrific idea...and long overdue. Wonder if this is something foundations would support the creation of--two big local ones in Minnesota are both working intensively with Native American populations in poverty reduction and entrepreneurship. (Bush Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation). There must be other foundations elsewhere in the country doing the same thing. I really hope this idea doesn't just fade away! Thanks for the post.

  3. There is a need, no question.

    One sad reality is that on many reservations, there are no banks, period. There are only skeezy payday loan joints. So you have entire communities where almost no one has hope of building any sort of credit, let alone getting funding for starting a business. There's lots of information about this on the First Nations Development Institute website.

    I wrote about poverty on reservations for Blog Action Day last year:

  4. Britt - Great post! I had no idea was exploring using their system to make loans to entrepeneurs in 'our own' backyard.

    One thing that's interesting is looking @ the success of Lend4Health (a micro-loan community powered by a blogger blog) and (a platform to fund journalism projects, successful when it was just a wiki) - and how they both have raised thousands of dollars for projects:

    In theory, organizations like the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development could launch their own peer to peer microloan platforms using these tools.

    I wonder what else would make it easier to start your own micro loan site as well as ensure that smaller micro-loan communities will be successful.

  5. Britt, Interesting thought re:kiva native american idea. Happy to connect you to a couple of folks on Rosebud who might be interested

  6. Thanks for all of the enthusiasm for the idea (: Building online tools isn't exactly my forte . . . I'll have to keep my ears open for folks who might be interested in the idea and can run with it.

  7. Found this post because I was searching for this topic specifically. Would love to see a kiva type system set up for Native Americans. Also, just found this from the Lakota Fund that may be of interest: Lakota Funds is a community development finance organization actively promoting socio-economic sustainability of the Oglala Lakota Oyate (people) on the Pine Ridge Reservation through culturally appropriate strategies including business loans, technical assistance, and targeted community and business development.

  8. Thanks for the links, Jayne. I've found a couple other interesting organizations since I wrote the post:
    Citizen Potawatomi Community Development CorporationOweesta

  9. Hey Britt, a belated thanks for the post!. Wanted to let you and your readers know we're giving away 20 copies of the We Shall Remain DVD set through our web site; people can register at through Sept 1.


  10. Hi Jen - I'll tweet about the contest.

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