Nov 27, 2013 KV Kiva HQ
By Sarah Tait
How Philadelphia helps immigrant entrepreneurs start businesses

This blog post was written with the help of Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Director of Outreach and Program Evaluation at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians provides practical, nuts-and-bolts business guidance to entrepreneurs from around the world – as well as those who grew up just around the corner.

“In the simplest terms, we help ambitious business owners to tap into the resources they can’t access on their own,” explains the Center’s Herman Nyamunga. “It could be that they are new in town, or just new to entrepreneurship. Either way, we are the connectors that help them capitalize on financial and other resources available to them.”

Herman Nyamunga, Small Business Development Coordinator at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

Kiva, with its can-do emphasis and community focus, was a clear fit, says Nyamunga. And he had just the right entrepreneur in mind for the Welcoming Center’s first endorsement as a Kiva Zip Trustee.

Carl Lewis (no relation to the famous sprinter) is an experienced chef with a lifelong dream: Opening his own restaurant to share his love for Jamaican cuisine with a wider audience.

But Lewis, who already runs a small catering businesses, isn’t just interested in his own success. “He really wants to help the next generation of young chefs,” says Nyamunga. “That was what really impressed me when I met him. He has a plan, and he has the skills to carry it out.”

Carl, Owner of 48th Street Grille

Helping Lewis also fits into the Welcoming Center’s mission of building shared prosperity for immigrant newcomers and longtime neighborhood residents alike.

This commitment stretches back nearly a decade to the agency’s first publication, a simple guide that was intended to help immigrant entrepreneurs find their footing in the United States. But community response to the agency’s How to Start a Business guide quickly showed that American-born business owners were clamoring for similar guidance.

“Our founder Anne O’Callaghan grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1960s,” says Nyamunga. “She always says that the magic of America is that people from every background can come together to build their future. Because the alternative [of fracturing communities along ethnic or religious lines] is ‘The road to no town.’”

Anne O'Callaghan, President Emeritus of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

The Welcoming Center's philosophy aligns well with Kiva Zip's mission to provide funding to entrepreneurs who lack access to traditional sources of capital. New immigrants to the United States often face difficulty starting a business because of their [understandably] short credit history. The model of social-underwriting is significant in overcoming the low credit score/short credit history barrier.

It is also a philosophy that fits in well with Lewis’s goals. His new restaurant will be located in the traditionally African-American neighborhood of West Philadelphia – and the young chefs he’s mentoring reflect both the community’s new arrivals and its longer-term residents. 
“Carl has the angels on his side,” says Nyamunga, only half joking. “People are lining up to ask how they can help. That’s the power of his vision.”

It’s a vision that the Welcoming Center shares – and hopes that many Kiva donors do as well. If you would like to support an entrepreneur, click here to make a loan!

Founded in 2003, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians to date has served more than 10,000 people from 140 countries. The agency’s employment, small business, adult education, and cultural competency programs reach more than 1,400 people each year. For more information, contact Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Director of Outreach, at (215) 557-2626 or amanda@welcomingcenter.org.

Learn more about the Welcoming Center’s work with entrepreneurs: http://www.welcomingcenter.org/immigrants/start-business

Learn more about the Welcoming Center’s engagement with American-born community members: 
http://www.welcomingcenter.org/impact/receiving-communities

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