Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jobra Centre

About the organization:

The Jobra Centre Solidarite is a poverty relief centre located in the diverse neighborhood of Parc Extention. It’s mission is to promote social entrepreneurship, self-employment, and to empower unemployed immigrant communities. Furthermore, the Jobra Centre strives to relieve poverty through micro-credit tools that facilitate participation in income generating activities.

Jobra Centre is a migrant-run anti-poverty organization based in the Parc-X neighborhood of Montreal. The are working on starting up a cooperative laundry mat on Birnam Street under the principles of Community Economic Development (CED) with the goal empowering migrants, especially women, living in Parc-X.

419 Rue Saint-Roch (SS-17)

Montreal, QC H3N 1K2


Other Useful Links

The Power of Microcredits

The Power of Microcredits

December 11, 2006 by admin
Filed under Entrepreneurship

I mentioned microcredits yesterday. The idea is to extend very small loans (microloans) to people who would have no capacity whatsoever to get loans through traditional means. Microcredits are targeted to the unemployed and poor, primarily focused on developing or under-developed nations where so many entrepreneurs can’t get their businesses started.

In November I read an article in the Montreal GazetteThinking small: Rooted in South Asia, Microcredit movement’s branches have spread to Quebec. The article was about Mohammad Hassan who started Jobra Centre, Inc. in Montreal, an organization that helps with the microcredit process (which they call “community loans” locally.)

In a developing country, a microcredit might be as small as a couple hundred dollars. In Canada, anything under $20,000-$25,000 is considered a microloan. $20-$25k is still a good chunk of change, but with the right government programs and corporate involvement, it wouldn’t be hard to give out a lot of good loans to people.

It’s already happening too. The article references one success story in Montreal, a diaper company called Bummies. It got off the ground with a loan of less than $25,000 from l’Association Communautaire d’Empreunt de Montreal (ACEM). Bummies now does over a million dollars in business, and supports 30 stable jobs. That’s amazing.

The more I think about microcredits the more excited I get. I wonder if my donations to developing nations would be more effective in the form of microloans versus hand-outs. What if I banded together with a few other entrepreneurs and we started finding ways of loaning small amounts of money to entrepreneurs all over the world? I’m not talking about $25,000 loans, I’m talking $500 loans. I can’t get this idea out of my head…

I love the idea of microcredit – both locally and internationally. Sure, an entrepreneur in Canada or the US is unlikely to get far on $500, and I don’t have $20,000 to give, but there’s absolutely no reason I can’t be an advocate to government (and wealthier friends/contacts) about supporting this idea. And internationally it seems obvious that microcredit can be successful.

Entrepreneurs are always your most passionate, aggressive and success-focused people. Entrepreneurs exist in all colors, shapes and nationalities. Point anywhere on the map and there’s bound to be an entrepreneur there itching to get started. They create jobs. They create wealth. Entrepreneurs can pick themselves up by the bootstraps and make something happen, and in doing so, they pick up everyone else around them.

Thinking small: Rooted in South Asia, Microcredit movement's branches have spread to Quebec

It's said time heals all wounds, but Mohammad Hassan's head still reels when he thinks about something he witnessed more than 30 years ago in Bangladesh.

It's said time heals all wounds, but Mohammad Hassan's head still reels when he thinks about something he witnessed more than 30 years ago in Bangladesh.

It was 1974 - a time of famine after a war of independence. The streets of his hometown of Chittagong were teeming with hordes of starving people, many displaced from the surrounding countryside.

"I witnessed people dying in the streets," the 49-year-old father of three recalls. "Charitable and religious organizations were picking up the bodies. There was no food. There were big lineups at the soup kitchens."

Having grown up in a comfortable, middle-class household, nothing had prepared him for such a sight. But it marked the beginning of the road for him as a microcredit activist.

That memory revisited him a decade ago when Hassan - by this time living in Montreal and working at three menial jobs to support his family - picked up a copy of the book that would change his life: Banker to the Poor, by fellow Bangladeshi Dr. Muhammad Yunus.

"The preface of the book talks about the famine," Hassan said. "He was talking about my experience."

Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank in 1983, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his pioneering work in microcredit lending in the developing world.

Microcredit loans can be as small as $10 to $20 and are granted to people with no collateral. Recipients of microcredit loans use the money to sustain self-employment or to start up very small businesses that can lift them from poverty.

Hassan understood how microcredit could help people that banks don't generally lend to in the developed world, such as the poor and women. And Hassan, for one, knew a lot about poverty since immigrating to Canada. He had juggled simultaneous jobs and still his family remained below the poverty line.

"I started asking myself why we must experience the hardship of poverty in the U.S. and Canada - two of the richest countries in the world," he said.

After going to the 2000 World Microcredit Summit in New York City as a volunteer, Hassan organized some volunteers to help underprivileged immigrants - especially women and the South-Asian immigrant population - establish their own entrepreneurial opportunities.

By February 2004, Hassan founded his own non-profit centre, Jobra Centre Inc. Its objectives include promoting social entrepreneurship, encouraging the underprivileged to become self-employed, developing social and economic initiatives and creating an investment vehicle for disadvantaged people.

While it is currently on the receiving end of financial and technical support, Jobra was

established with the goal of providing microcredit to underprivileged borrowers. And learning how to offer microcredit is one of the reasons Jobra will be attending the Halifax conference.

Jobra, which has 20 members, is working with CDEC

Centre-Nord to establish a co-

operative laundry business in Park Extension next year. CEDEC is the Community Economic Development Corp.

In the developing world, microcredit loans are frequently for amounts less than $100. In Canada, a loan equal to or less than $20,000 is commonly considered to be a microcredit sum.

Jobra has qualified for such funding from CDEC for its laundry co-op.

This weekend, Hassan and another member of Jobra Centre will be flying to the Sixth World Microcredit Summit in Halifax. More than 2,000 delegates from 100 countries will attend.

This year's summit is the first to be held since the Nobel Committee helped make microcredit a household word. But, in fact, it has been present in Quebec for quite some time.

"One of the impacts of the Nobel Peace Prize has been that it piqued the interest of the federal government," said Anne Kettenbeil, executive director of l'Association Communautaire d'Empreunt de Montreal (ACEM), which has been making community loans since 1987. "Some high-level politicians are starting to ask questions where they weren't asking before. I think that helped get the present government interested."

ACEM, which started out in the Plateau when it was still a mostly working-class and poor neighbourhood, is considered to be the first substantial microcredit agency in Quebec, a province that leads the community credit sector in the country.

"In Quebec, microcredit is called community credit," Kettenbeil explained. "It works within the vision of people who are poor and who don't have access to credit, just like the Grameen Bank."

Today, ACEM works with a $500,000 loan fund that comes from such backers as individuals, trade unions, faith-based institutions, not-for-profit groups and private enterprises.

One of its first successes was Bummies, a diaper company that got off the ground thanks to loans of less than $25,000 extended by ACEM.

"They're doing over a million dollars worth of business now," Kettenbeil said. "They export to Europe and the U.S. They have 30 stable jobs and they've always remained on Mount Royal Ave."

"ACEM has put out $1,800,000 worth of loans and leveraged $12,000,000 through these loans," she said. "It comes to about $3,000 per job that was created or maintained."

Borrowers pay a 10-per-cent interest rate, and interest goes back into the lending fund.

Locally, there are more than a dozen microcredit institutions, including CEDEC, the Circle d'Emploi and the Aurora Business project. Meanwhile, Hassan thinks that bigger players will eventually change the way they do business and extend credit to poor people with good ideas.

"People outside the Third World countries know what microcredit is now," Hassan said. "Things are changing."