Our First Year
At the end of May 2017, Ascent Microfinance officially became a 501c3 certified nonprofit. In October 2017, our first 12 fellows started, all of which are unpaid students. Since then, these passionate people have gone above and beyond to achieve our goals.
In about a year’s time, we’ve held over 15 free educational sessions for 104 neighbors in disenfranchised areas. We cover topics such as credit development, debt management, budgeting, banking basics, and predatory lending with groups who you can read more about here (hyperlink to Blog post 2 that lists them). One organization, Sisters of Empowerment, has become especially important to us. We hold all the financial education sessions for the My Home Program, which assists moderate to low income families and individuals succeed in the home purchasing process. It is remarkable to see so many people achieve their dream of owning a home. We had moved from simply reading about gentrification in school to directly helping to combat it.
"Over the past year, we are blessed to be involved with Ascent Microfinance in numerous community events. Ascent Microfinance cares about the community and they have a positive effect on our neighborhood."
– Alice’, Lois, and Margaret: The Sisters of Empowerment
To live up to the second part of our mission, small-business services, we’ve connected with a large number of business owners in low income areas near Columbus. We launched our business advisory services to assist small business owners with three-month-long projects involving branding and outreach, which will hopefully be a pipeline to its lending services. This spring, Ascent recruited Ohio State students to become business advisors. We match the advisors with clients that fit their project interests, and just kicked off three business advisory projects this spring for Torlitas LLC, Sheila Marie LLC, and GrindKing Enterprises. Our first official loan is expected to be made this fall, after combatting many regulations and legal hassles. Our unique underwriting process allows clients with low credit scores to account for their trustworthiness in other ways, such as payment of a personal utility bill. Clients can receive between a $500 to $4000 loan paid over a year’s time with minimal interest (around 8%, adjusted based on circumstance. In the future, we will report on credit so that our clients can eventually receive loans from stricter institutions.
As people who teach budgeting, we have gotten good at it within our own organization. We pride ourselves on having very low costs, which we achieve through a combination of volunteer effort and forgoing formal office space. 95% of our spending this year went directly to our clients via educational materials and business services. The money we raise comes from two sources: personal and corporate donations, which can be made here. The best part is that any dollar donated can be used for a loan and therefore re-used when the loan is returned to us.
Too Good Eats is a great example of what your donation is going toward. This company’s importance became especially apparent to me at one of the GLBN meetings. Members discussed the closing of a nearby Kroger, which made many neighbors’ nearest grocery store 3 miles away with no public transportation route. Many of these residents will be forced to shop at gas stations for twice the price and half the nutrients. This is the definition of a food desert, which is what the owners of Too Good Eats want to combat. The family running this company develops vegan, organic, affordable snacks for vendors in Linden. We awarded them a small grant which allowed them to pay over half of their farmers market fees for the 2018 season. This year, Too Good Eats will be participating in the Clintonville Farmers Market, Worthington market, and the Newark Farmers Market, and hopefully others down the road. Cutting costs on farmer’s market fees has encouraged Too Good Eats to invest in blenders and other equipment needed for scaled production.
There are many stories like this of people who inspire us with their passion. I think my peers would agree that although we strive to help others, we are also benefiting. We’re gaining a once in a lifetime learning experience. We connect on a personal level with people whom we would never have the chance to otherwise. Although there is a large cultural difference, we work with our nonprofit partners to understand our clients’ way of life better. Sometimes this means meeting them at their home for lunch or attending church with them.
We have three Board Members: Tom Katzenmeyer, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Hayden Young, Fisher MBA student, and myself, Alisa Noll, BCG associate. We are led by Zack Abraham, the CEO. Grant Buehrer served as last year’s COO and Ian Hayes as CFO. We have 4 project directors: Outreach (Audrey Dearing), Marketing (Daniel Krajnak), Lending (Connor Mandalla), and Education (Andrew Miller). The first-year fellows, who were incredibly influential this year, were Michael Solomon, Kaitlin Hoeh, Astha Rastogi, Andrew Benisek, Colin Caniglia, Mary Conway, Alexa Fillingim, and Heidi Jinn. If you are interested in solving real problems in your time at Ohio State, please apply! We hire new fellows of any age every semester.
Ascent Microfinance has proven the impact that a small group of students who care about their community can have. We are granting access to those who otherwise would not be given a chance. By educating this generation, we are creating a domino effect for the ones to come. As people change their habits and teach them to their children, they come closer to the equal economic opportunity that every person deserves. When everyone can receive a financial education, Columbus will truly be a Smart City.
If you know of a small business or nonprofit within the Columbus community that may benefit from our services, comment to let us know! Businesses can apply for a loan here.