ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the coronavirus devastating tribal communities in New Mexico and elsewhere, local Native American women are working to get aid to where it’s needed most.
Native Women Lead, a local organization run by Native American women entrepreneurs, has partnered with Nusenda Credit Union to offer emergency loans of up to $5,000 with 0% interest to indigenous women-owned businesses in New Mexico. It’s also providing $500 grants for up to 200 Native American families struggling in the coronavirus.
The group, which works to support women-owned indigenous businesses, says channeling flexible, emergency loans to Native American women entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on tribal families, because women are the primary income earners in their communities.
“They represent two-thirds of the family breadwinners,” said Vanessa Roanhorse, a co-founder of Native Women Lead and a Navajo Nation member. “They’re economic stabilizers in their communities.”
Native Women Lead worked with Nusenda to provide emergency loans through the credit union’s Co-op Capital Program. That initiative, launched in 2014, channels microloans to minority and underserved entrepreneurs in partnership with local community organizations.
The program – boosted by grants from Kellogg, the Albuquerque Community Foundation and others – provides loans based on character and trusting relationships rather than on credit history and collateral.
To date, it’s channeled about $1 million to some 450 existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, said Nusenda Chief Community Engagement Officer Robin Brulé.
“Nusenda has offered all borrowers ability to cease payments for up to 60 days and committed to funding new loans within 24 hours” during the ongoing pandemic, Brulé said. “We also have implemented 0% interest loans with a five year repayment term capped at $5,000.”
Native Women Lead is now distributing up to $100,000 in no-interest loans to Native women entrepreneurs based on applications received before May 15. It’s raising more funds to extend the program.
“We’re working on new investments with more partners to allow more women to access capital,” said Roanhorse, who is also the CEO of Roanhorse Consulting LLC.
The group also raised $100,000 with philanthropic partners to provide $500 grants to Native American families.
Native Women Lead surveyed more than 100 indigenous entrepreneurs from 50 tribal nations in March about the coronavirus, 66% of them women. Most reported nearly 100% disruption of their business operations – the sole source of income for 71% of them – said Native Women Lead co-founder and Navajo Nation member Jaime Gloshay.
“Many are creative entrepreneurs who sell in-person at Indian markets, but they can’t do that now with social distancing,” Gloshay said. “Their family stability has been disrupted.”
Native Women Lead, which launched in 2017, hosts an annual business summit that’s helped recruit about 600 indigenous women entrepreneurs into its network since 2018, said co-founder and Sandia Pueblo member Stephine Poston, CEO of communications firm Poston & Associates LLC. This year’s summit is going virtual with weekly online workshops running from May 14-June 18.