JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
Marianah Hidayat is the sole proprietor of Marianah’s Authentic Cuisine, the newest business to occupy the yellow food truck beside 6th Street Liquor, but she’s the first to say she never could have started the venture alone.
Hidayat, an immigrant from Indonesia who also is a single mother, got help from a wide array of organizations that are standard resources for small-business startups, including the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, the Women’s Resource Center and the Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center.
But she also got assistance from a source that doesn’t usually play a role in business incubation or local economic development – a Unitarian Fellowship. Hidayat received a $265 loan from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango after Maureen Maliszewski, chairwoman of the fellowship’s social-justice group, heard about Hidayat and decided she could find a way to help her. Maliszewski said she thought Hidayat’s situation aligned with several of the church’s focuses including economic justice, economic development in the community and immigration issues.
The church used money from its community fund, which is comprised of member donations, to finance the loan that Hidayat used to pay for a business license. Hidayat has since paid back the amount in full, Maliszweski said.
“She is a remarkable woman,” Maliszweski wrote in an email explaining the situation.
The church hasn’t developed a formal loan program, but it is looking to start one after this experience, she said.
While the idea of churches becoming lenders hasn’t yet caught on in Southwest Colorado, the concept could have legs, said Joe Keck, director of the Small Business Development Center.
“I would think it does have some potential for providing capital that might be hard to come by for small microenterprises,” he said, suggesting a church-lending program could help its members become more self-sustaining.
Churches could help “fill a niche in the community,” Keck said.
Elsewhere in the nation, churches have started to catch on to the idea of microfinancing as a way to fight poverty and promote economic sustainability in developing nations.
The Unitarian Congregation in Salem, Ore., funded a microfinance operation in Laos in 2009, said Carol Doolittle, who helped organize the operation. The church’s revolving loan fund now has about $13,700 and helps Laotians earn an income through activities such as silk and bamboo weaving, Doolittle said.
Hope International is one of a handful of faith-based organizations working on microenterprise development projects. Peter Greer, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania-based organization said an increasing number of churches are seeing microfinance as a more effective way to solve poverty in the developing world.
The potential for churches to expand as lenders is large, Greer said.
“People in the faith community are extraordinarily generous. If you think of all the money that is used to address the causes of poverty and if some increased amount could go toward more prevention (of poverty’s causes), I get very excited about the potential impact,” Greer said. “We have been doing a disservice when we don’t recognize that some of the principles of business are some of the best ways to help the poor.”