Commitments to Action – Helping Small Businesses in the U.S.

By Gina Harman, CEO of the Accion U.S. Network

cgiThere is something quite special about the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America. It isn’t the star power in the room – though there is plenty of that. It is the commitment that 1,000 people bring to making change. Each year a mix of corporations, foundations, non-profits and academics come together to make a commitment with real impact on the issues of our day. That’s the cornerstone: Commitments to Action.

This year, my third, was special in many ways. Hilary Clinton stepped to the front and center of the Clinton Foundation declaring her commitments to early childhood education, women and girls, and economic development. In her words, economic development means creating the programs that allow people to live up to their potential, and that create jobs. That is a commitment we take to heart every single day at Accion. And it was empowering to hear Hilary declare it as one of her top three priorities.

This year was also special because I was joined by several members of the U.S. Accion family. Janie Barrera, President and CEO of Accion Texas Inc., was a featured speaker on investing in communities; Robin Lee Greiner, Chief Operating Officer of Accion Chicago joined me in the small business working group along with Demetria Hayden, owner of Altogether Lovely Inc., a small business owner who received a loan from Accion Chicago. An early shout out from the stage about Accion Texas’ commitment got things off to a great start.

The panels and panelists throughout the event were stellar, and much of what they shared can be accessed online. Most of my time, and certainly my energy, was spent advising the small business working group. I have been an advisor for the past two years, and a participant the year prior. I must say, each year it gets better and better. With 50 very diverse people energetically engaged in real commitments to advancing the needs and opportunities for small business in the US, 6-intense hours flew by.

Our first session was devoted to asset mapping. It’s a technique for identifying what assets exist that can be leveraged in new ways to meet challenges and create opportunities. And there certainly were lots of assets in the room—government programs to increase the number of women and minority owned businesses that secure contracts, women business training centers, funds for loans – some $250 Million or so (not counting SBA, Commerce, Goldman Sachs or Capital One; all were present), access to import export opportunities, and specialized programs that assisting minorities and veterans, and so much more. Of all of the assets, the one that was most surprising was the capital. With so much available, the conversation quickly shifted to growing outreach and distribution so those businesses in need have easy access.

I’m proud to report that over a dozen commitments were made. Some examples of those commitments include:

  • Improve Access to Capital for Small Businesses by creating a national online platform that will serve as a depository of lending products available across the U.S., thus meeting the needs of individual small businesses.
  • Improve Access to Credit Scores and Ratings by creating free business credit products to enable enterprises to secure loans, lines of credit, and other methods of financing for growth.
  • Increase Access to Receivable Advances and Mobilization Loans by creating lending products to enable small businesses to acquire short term, low-rate financing to support their temporary working capital needs as they participate in procurement projects.
  • Diversify the Supply Chain by creating forums to enable minority- and women-owned enterprises to understand corporate needs/requirements
  • Leverage State and City Procurement by expanding access to existing programs that enable small businesses to learn best practices on how to procure with state and city governments.

Each commitment made has an “owner,” and in there lies the opportunity for collaboration. CGI America has pledged to follow up on the commitment made this year. And I personally have volunteered to conduct some follow up sessions with those who want to drive programs forward.
The meeting is a great time to see old friends and to make new ones – particularly those that can help expand the work that Accion does here in the United States. I hope in years to come others will have the opportunity to join, and I look forward to hearing about progress on past commitments, as well as the innovative new ones yet to be made.

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