Microlending in rural northern Michigan, Leelanau County
In 2009, Utopia Foundation began a pilot domestic microloan program in Leelanau County, Michigan, implementing a Group Lending and Educational model, with the intentional impact of:
- Encouraging microenterprise
- Providing education
- Increasing local financial independence
- Reducing emigration from the area
- Promoting local agriculture, and agro-products
The target average microloan was approximately $1,000.00 per project and a goal of piloting 5 separate projects within one Borrowing Group.
The State of Michigan’s economy faces substantial challenges, with two of its top three industries (tourism and manufacturing) in decline. Of the top three industries in Michigan, agriculture is the only sector growing. Agro-goods is a $71 billion economic engine, and at this time is actually adding jobs.
Microloans have shown to be an effective way to improve the living standards of the population where they live.
The Utopia Foundation took a proactive approach to assisting and encouraging the young farming community to remain in this geographic area.
Modeled after the Borrowing Group model of microloans in Guatemala, the Utopia Foundation established a program for small agro-goods based projects in Leelanau County. Additionally, this program, as in the Guatemala model, proposes the following unique characteristics:
- Microlending in a rural area
- Group borrowing
- Collective repayment responsibility
- Group members approve new loans for specific projects
- Group Educational components
The Utopia Foundation continues to be interested in supporting local, regional micro enterprise. Currently, we are partnering with the Northwest MI Farm and Food 20/20 Fund to support undercapitalized local farmers with matched individual development accounts and business guidance. Contact us if you are interested in partnering on local micro enterprise initiatives in Northern MI.