Everyone is a BANK!
NAVIGATING ACCESS TO NEW OPPORTUNITIES
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS To all the heroes who are battling to exit the harsh traps of poverty. This book is dedicated to every single one of the unhoused entrepreneurs and individuals who let me glimpse into their struggles and allowed me to be a part of their business ventures and their dreams, hopes, and aspirations. To Parkway’s Spark! Incubator; my instructor, Xanthe Meyer; Mark Cuban; small businesses in St. Louis, and countless volunteers and donors, without whom none of this would have been possible. To my teachers, mentors, friends, and family that inspired me and gave me the resources to make this happen. I am thankful for everything you have taught me and the endless generosity with which you continue to mentor me.
TESTIMONIALS “Furthering the old adage, teaching a person to fish, NANO empowers one to own a pond.” Reverend Stephen Boda, Hope Education for the Homeless. “NANO is the first light that ever came into our lives. Our first chance at opportunity.” - Greg “It feels like someone cares how I do.” - Greg “This is the first time someone saw me as a businessman and a business owner.” - Lamar “My life changed forever.” - Vonita “An unreachable dream suddenly got started.” - Marsha “Got me started on a new path.” - Eddie “The process of starting a business helped me discover my own potential.” - Emanuel “My business gave me something I can look forward to every day.” - Maverick “Although my business is not yet fully successful, the skills I learnt during my business helped me get a job. It opened my doors to more people and more opportunities.” - Jahari “The people I met doing my business, helped me get a stable job.” - Kiara “I can now create and control my own work and not depend on others.” - Bianca “The hope of owning my own business gave me the last push I needed to seek drug rehabilitation.” - Andre “NANO exemplifies the concept of one equipment being a game changer to the lives of some of our residents” - Gordan, Program Director, Gateway180 shelter for families facing homelessness “One of the few programs that gets our youth excited.” - John Cancer, Director of Career and Employment, Covenant House, shelter for youth facing homelessness.
CHAPTERS Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………...4 Chapter 1: My Journey…………………………………………………………………………………8 ● Early years ● Learning in middle school ● High school adventures and experience ● The first entrepreneur Chapter 2: The Birth of Business Incubators at Shelters………………………………………….15 ● The first conversation and incubation ● Putting NANO into full force ● NANO manual ● Entrepreneurship workshop ● The follow-up ● The three-pronged approach ● Reaching entrepreneurs beyond St. Louis ● Amidst COVID-19 Chapter 3: Our NANO Entrepreneurs………………………………………………………………34 Chapter 4: The Rise of Social Businesses…………………………………………………………102 Chapter 5: Lessons Learned……………………………………………………..………………….108 ● Unhoused, not homeless ● Poverty: A multidimensional challenge ● Homelessness can be solved ● Anyone can be affected by poverty and homelessness ● Where are the resources? ● Even a small amount can empower one economically ● Benefits go beyond the income: The $50 project ● “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community” ● Creativity, persistence, and clear goals ● The impoverished are givers too ● Money is not the complete solution ● A loan over charity ● Lessons from fundraising Chapter 6: NANO - The Movement………………………………………………………………..128 ● A radical change to lift people out of poverty ● America is the most generous nation ● Do something different - be the unlikely ally ● Everyone is a bank! ● Outnumbering the problem ● Banks can be inclusive of the poor ● Government and policy on our team ● A thriving community References…………………………………………………………………………………………….138 3
INTRODUCTION “If only I had my own power washer…..” These were the words of a fellow St. Louisian, Darris Buckner, that sparked the beginning of something unbelievable: something that changed the lives of many, including myself. Helping people off the streets and empowering them with the opportunity to access the tools and resources necessary to become successful entrepreneurs is what might come to your mind when you look at the book’s cover. That is exactly what I dared to dream. This book is for all of us who believe in positive and radical change, and unconventional and bold investments in our communities, and are eager to see everyone thrive. Equipped with a power washer, Darris was able to generate revenue within weeks, and within a year, he was able to procure contracts to regularly power wash several local restaurants. He has, in turn, also helped his mother-in-law with a laptop to help launch her home health care business. Inspired by his economic empowerment and excited to see how a single piece of equipment quickly changed not only one person’s economy but also the economy of others in the community, I developed NANO into the movement it is today. St. Louis is a beautiful city at the intersection of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, popularly known as the Gateway to the West. It's highlighted by the elegant Gateway Arch, along with being home to Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser, Boeing’s defence unit, and nine Fortune 500 companies. It's home to the Cardinals, eleven-time world series champions and Blues, Stanley Cup champions in 2019. Despite the innumerable times I have taken my cousins to experience the life-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex at the Science Center, the ten-story slide at the City Museum, the Hidden valley skiing area, Forest Park, or the brand-new St. Louis wheel, the thrill never fades. Painfully, the city I love and call home, is subject to chronic racial unrest and high crime, and is not immune to homelessness and poverty. The metro area of St. Louis is home to three million people and is the twentieth-largest metropolitan city in the United States. The population of St. Louis is just over 300,000.1 However, with the loss of 101 people to murders in 2019 - 2020 and a violent crime rate of 2,082 per 100,000 people, highest in our nation, St. Louis is considered the nation’s most dangerous city. This is in comparison to a national murder rate of 5 per 100,000 and a violent crime rate of 380 per 100,000.2 The high crime rate is attributed to the city’s geographic location, situated in the path of major drug trafficking routes. Ferguson, in North County St. Louis, is at the heart of the antiracism movement that swept our nation in 2014 and recently in 2020. Protests, riots, movie cancellations, event closures, and a declaration of a state of emergency have become a sad part of our city. 4
Yet, every single time, the community comes together with overwhelming support for cleaning-up efforts, combating racism, fighting crime, and building a resilient city. St. Louis has not only weathered and survived many tragic events but has risen stronger as a community. Undoubtedly, the true beauty of St. Louis lies in the people, their cultures, their diversity, their strengths, their energy, their shared experiences, and their tireless efforts toward a common goal of transformation, change, and betterment. I am among the many who call St. Louis home, and I love it, cherish it, learn from it, better it, and grow it. St. Louis is a community that, despite its struggles, is highly giving. I am proud of my city and my community, where NANO was born, fostered, and grown. The story of NANO exemplifies the oneness of the St. Louis community and is easily replicable by anyone in any city in our country and elsewhere in the world. NANO (Navigating Access to New Opportunities) is a social initiative that empowers the impoverished and the unhoused to start their own businesses by providing resources and equipment. Providing them with the tools and opportunity to make their own living, NANO is a movement dedicated to empowering our communities. NANO uses a three-pronged approach to helping unhoused individuals to start their own businesses and ensure maximum chances of success. First, NANO sets up business incubators at shelters, where entrepreneurship workshops are conducted for individuals that have a dream for a business. Second, NANO connects individuals to mentors from local businesses. Third, entrepreneurs are given a small nano loan in the form of their initial seed equipment or material. The goal is to provide every struggling member of our community with an opportunity to start a nano business. A nano business is defined as a business started by one to three people with a capital of under $1,000. NANO Lending is lending much smaller amounts (under $300) called “nano-loans” to people facing homelessness and poverty to fund a piece of equipment or material needed to launch a business that can potentially be a sustainable source of income. These loans are smaller than microloans, which typically start at $1000. The only criterion for securing a loan is to attend the entrepreneurship workshop and write up one’s business plan. The equipment or material will be bought at a local store or online from the store the recipient requests and delivered to the person. Loans are not given as cash but are rather in the form of equipment, materials, or merchandise. All loans are interest free and do not involve collateral or credit or background checks. Once a recipient becomes successful, loans are asked to be paid in good faith, forward into the community to help other entrepreneurs that are in similar situations. There are no strict time frames to repay, and the loans are not legally binding.
Moreover, the repayment never comes back into the program but moves forward into the community, promoting a repay-lend format. When one person is ready to repay and they know a family member, friends, or a person in their neighborhood that is in need of a small business loan, NANO Lending will facilitate the repaid loan amount being given as a new loan to the person whom they referred. This creates a NANO chain of entrepreneurs who continue to extend and branch out the lending arm further into the community. Over the course of two years, NANO has been able to empower 127 total entrepreneurs, 103 of whom are unhoused, start business incubators at six shelters, conduct over forty entrepreneurship workshops, raise over $40,000, and disburse numerous pieces of startup equipment. Such equipment has included lawnmowers, power washers, grills, catering equipment, winches, sewing machines, painting equipment, car mechanic tools, jewelry kits, nail and hair supplies, Chrome-books, laptops, and more. Amongst those with whom we have had the opportunity to follow up, the majority have paid their loans forward into the community by helping their friend, a family member, or a member of their community with their economic venture. NANO loans provide economic empowerment to those fighting poverty and homelessness, who in turn empower others by lending them the amount, thereby acting as their own bank and leading to a path of creating self-sustaining communities. The story of NANO doesn't lie in these numbers but in the hearts of the many that experienced the joy of philanthropy on the one side and the hearts of the many more that were helped and moved by that mighty gesture on the other side. For many, the opportunity was unexpected and it is more than the money. Taking the initiative and being able to start a business was what was truly unexpected. The value of the program goes far beyond one's economic success and lies in the hope, dignity, and independence it provides, and in the discovery of one’s own potential to grow, succeed, and become self-sustained. To top it off, NANO entrepreneurs eventually transform into philanthropists and banks themselves and experience the power of giving and empowering. Thereby, they create a growing NANO chain of entrepreneurs, infiltrating deep into the community and having an exponential impact. NANO is a movement of people helping each other irrespective of their social, racial and economic backgrounds for a collective upliftment of the community. NANO is an equalizing platform which brings people together through lending, borrowing, empowering, generating revenue, creating success, relending, giving back and the cycle repeats. NANO allows people, irrespective of their income level, to lend a helping hand and empower others to make a difference. There is no difference between the recipient and the lender. Everyone has a chance to grow, and everyone has a chance to give. Everyone is a bank! You borrow, you empower, and you lend. This eventually changes not only one person’s economy but the economies of others in the community. 6
At a time when our country is struggling to solve the unhoused crisis, the pandemic, and racial inequities, entrepreneurship can be a valuable tool to empower people to permanently lift themselves out of poverty. The economic fallout of COVID-19 is predicted to make poverty and homelessness worse. A faster and more effective solution can be to facilitate and enable people to start their own nano businesses to make a supplemental or sole income. Huffington Post aptly refers to nano business as little but a fierce model of entrepreneurship.3 Numerically, nano is a billionth (10-9). Small, yet powerful. The power of NANO lies in the small investment with a potential for an exponential impact; a small beginning with a power to bridge the financial gap to prosperity; a small intent that can transform a dream into a reality. Similar to nano technology (science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nano-scale,1 to 100 nanometers) which represents the future of technology, NANO businesses, NANO entrepreneurs, NANO lending, NANO banking, NANO philanthropy, and the NANO movement can pave the way to the future of poverty alleviation. Imagine a collective and exponential impact from a billionth to a billion.
My Journey ● ● ● ●
Early years Learning in middle school High school adventures and experience The first entrepreneur
Early years “Lemonade for $1.50. Buy two get the third free; every fifth customer gets one free.” My brother and I took turns shouting out and announcing the sale on a sunny midsummer day under a maple tree at the intersection at the entrance to our neighborhood. It was a busy intersection, and things moved fast. We were not organized, to say the least. I ran back and forth for napkins, the trash can, and other forgotten essentials. Even though the discussion had lasted a whole week prior to the big day, we were too excited to sell and make money that we didn't care to plan anything except the list of items to buy. As the day went on, the deals promoted became crazier and crazier. Buy two, get the third free was too attractive to our customers, so I decided to make the free lemonade a bit more difficult to attain: “Buy four get the fifth free.” But I didn’t stop there, “Buy seven, up to tenth free.” But that's not all I decided to add: “Every 5th customer gets one lemonade free,” “Every 10th customer gets two lemonades free,” and “Every 18th customer gets 3 lemonades free.” I didn’t stop to even consider how on Earth (or more importantly why) someone would buy and be able to carry around ten lemonades. Would they just chug it on the spot? I wasn’t participating in some type of real-life math problem where the teacher asks, “If Jack buys seven glasses of lemonade from Sri, how much free lemonade does he get?” Worse, this was at a time where there were serious doubts I could even count to eighteen, so the every eighteenth customer deal seemed a bit up in the air as well. I thought that with these massive marketing campaigns I was Mark Cuban on Shark Tank making Shark Tank-level deals. My brother quickly got tired of the yelling and decided we need to hire someone to do this shouting part. An hour later, one customer in his car who purchased a glass of lemonade asked, “Hey, how do I know if I am the fifth customer so I can get free lemonade?” “Um...” it was clear that I didn’t have a great answer. “We have been keeping track? You are the third customer in this order.” Even if I hadn't been skeptical of my own response, I don’t think the customer would have bought it. 8
While I was keeping track and was being quite honest about who the 5th customer was, this question made me understand the reality that there was, unfortunately, no way to check if I was actually even giving anyone the fifth customer deal unless they were the fifth customer. Once I returned to the customer’s car with the lemonade, he asked another question. “So, I am the third customer. Can I sit over there and wait on that curb and wait for another customer to purchase and then come back and get free lemonade?” Without even letting him finish I abruptly replied, “No.” My flight-or-fight response seemingly took over, as I feared this man had cracked Da Vinci’s code, unraveled the secrets of the universe, but more importantly, figured out how to get free lemonade with that singular question. I quickly tried to explain this answer, realizing that “No” sounded quite abrupt and awful. “I mean, there is a rule that you can only get lemonade one time per customer,” I said. After enduring the searing sun for four more hours, professional entrepreneur Sri Cuban called it quits for the day and totaled the money earned. Four hours later, as we counted up the earnings and split them into $42 each, neither my brother or I deducted the cost of the supplies nor returned that amount to our parents. And my parents didn’t ask for it. We failed to recognize at that time who gave us our first supplies and where they had come from. Today, I am thankful for the resources and parenting that helped the entrepreneur in me grow. The luxury of the initial investment that was never expected to be returned is inexplicable and immeasurable, be it $20 or $100K. In early 1995 Jeff Bezos parents Jackie and Mike invested in Amazon, even though Bezos warned them that there was a 70% chance they would lose all of it.1 Everyone has these stories where our parents gave us the capital and resources and never asked back for it, but trusted it as a learning and earning investment. The value of such support goes way beyond funding. It remains underappreciated until we meet those devastated as orphans, estranged by family, raised by a single parent struggling to make ends meet, or brought up by a grandparent. And people trying to start businesses for the first time with no such support or angelism feel like they are starting miles behind the start line. Learning in middle school Entering middle school, I graduated from selling and service ventures to technology ventures. 9
Access to two powerful tools exploded the entrepreneurial potential and opportunities for me: a computer and an iPhone. Even though the tech craze started with video games and social media, it eventually turned into learning and making video games and apps. For some reason, getting good grades was cool in eighth grade, and prior to any test, people wanted to know how much they needed on a test to have a certain grade in the class. Usually this was pretty simple and was just basic addition and subtraction. It was also a tad ironic when my friends who themselves were in advanced math courses would ask what they needed on a test to attain a certain grade. The only complication was the different weighted categories on various assignments and tests. Calculating such values was a pain, and there unfortunately weren’t any tools online at the time that would solve it. A product of that frustration is Grade Chaser, an app I made that summer which calculates that score you need to keep or get a certain grade. I launched the app on the App Store. The downloads didn't happen right away. The following semester, right before finals, starting from about three weeks prior until the final grades were entered, Grade Chaser was furiously downloaded not only by my friends, but also people across our country and the world. Whether it was my classmates a foot away from me or people across the globe who were downloading the app, it was evident there was a clear need. A need I didn't know I had filled. The impact of that computer on my learning and my ventures and the people my ventures eventually helped is immeasurable. An exponential impact! To this day I feel that a computer is the single most powerful tool for any entrepreneur. There are several ventures you can do from home with a laptop, as exemplified by the book: A Laptop Millionaire. It is a single tool that can help one learn, create, market, sell, and make money, all in one place. A marvellous invention. Some time later, an announcement aired on the intercom to everyone's surprise: “School will be dismissing two hours early.” It was mid-August, and the weather was quite the opposite of a snow day. It was during the time of the Ferguson unrest, a time when St. Louis and the rest of our nation was fighting for racial justice. As the majority of us were excited about the early dismissal and making plans to go to each other's homes, play basketball, or play the same video game for the millionth time, two of my classmates were unhappy about going home from school. They did not have a safe home to live in or a safe neighborhood to play in. It was shocking to know that some kids felt safer at school. It was painful. I wanted to do something but didn’t know what to do. I felt powerless. On one of our summer visits to India during middle school, I volunteered at a school for orphan kids. This school was founded by a St. Louis resident who was an orphan himself, but with support from his extended family and his community members, he was able to pursue higher education in medicine, come to the United States, become a successful surgeon, and later build a school for orphans in India.2 To say that he is my biggest hero is an understatement. I was eager to visit the school, but I was more eager to do something for them. I decided to teach them math. It was my favorite 10
subject and I wanted to make it intellectually challenging and fun, so I created puzzles involving mathematical principles in a quiz format. I never saw kids so excited when a teacher entered the class. It was an experience I will never forget. I am not sure if the initial excitement was because I came from the US, because I was teaching math, because they were happy to escape their regular classes, or maybe they were amused at my tiny self attempting to reach the bottom tenth of their board standing up on my tippy-toes. Whatever the case may be, the excitement was contagious, and every class had the same enthusiasm. Their fascination doubled as the questions came out of my mouth. Now it was my turn to be amazed. No matter how difficult I thought the question was, there would be at least one or two students in every class that would get the answer correct. I was pleasantly surprised by their intellectual ability, which seemed no different from that of any other student you would see. Despite the fact that some of the students had been living on the streets,had no prior education before they came to the school, and some were being treated for HIV infection, if no one told you they were orphans, you would never have guessed. Except for the fact that the students were sitting on the ground with their books on their laps, and I was writing on a board with chalk markers, there was absolutely no difference in the academic and intellectual ability compared to any classes elsewhere in the world. It was evident that the students had the ability and capacity but lacked the resources. It makes one stop and wonder, if only someone gave them those resources…. and if everyone had the opportunity to reach their potential, we would have many more Mark Cubans and Elon Musks, and poverty could be a thing of our past. High school adventures and experience Have you ever scrambled for a parking spot? Have you ever made several circles around a downtown stadium parking lot, where not a soul seems to be leaving, and started feeling frustrated when all you want to do was to get to the game and not miss the first pitch, snap, or tip-off? Well your life is just about to get better. Quickie Spot is an app just for that purpose: to find not only the closest parking lot but also the closest open parking space. There is another cool fact about Quickie Spot. It was founded by four high school students at Spark!, and I am one of them. Every morning while hundreds of high school students were getting off school buses and walking into school hallways to go to classes, twenty of those high school students chose to go to the mall and work at their district’s business incubator, Spark!.
The fun of learning took on a different dimension. Schooling was finally what we craved: experiential learning. Spark! gave the process of business incubation a structure, making it more achievable, followable, and instructable. Spark! not only provided students with three hours of dedicated time every morning to work on their businesses but also gave them access to valuable resources and business mentors. At Spark!, it was a different world. The first month was all brainstorming, a lot of discussions about everyone’s big ideas, start-up costs, projected business revenue, and time needed to generate the revenue. By the second month, all of us had started our own individual or collaborative business. It was amazing how students started their businesses with little to no investment, and very few resources eventually generated revenue. Businesses ranged from restoring online reputation, cybersecurity consultation, creating logo designs, detailing cars, and trading stocks to making and selling jewelry and beauty products. The first entrepreneur It was during that time I came across the statement, “If only I had a power washer….- I could start my own power wash business.” Darris was facing a job lay off from a power wash company and was struggling to support two young daughters and an elderly mother. The three words “my own business” caught my ear. This prompted me to Google the price of a power wash machine and the price to power wash an average home. It was a no-brainer. The lowest cost of a commercial power washing machine: $500 The price to powerwash an average home: $250 The potential return on investment was high, and at little to no risk. He could start earning right away. In fact, the numbers made me wonder “Why isn't everyone into the power washing business, and why aren’t power washers out of stock?” If someone loaned him the money to buy a power washer machine, he could potentially return the money after two jobs and then the machine could be his forever and could be a source of regular income. He would then own his own business. It felt like this piece of equipment could be a game changer, could transform a struggling, impoverished, and unemployed individual into an entrepreneur. He had the skill, the experience, the dream, and the intention. I decided to fund the equipment for him. Eye Level Math Olympiad was one of the many math contests I competed in, and enjoyed the adrenaline rush year after year, starting from first grade. Unlike several other math contests, it 12
awarded cash prizes. The first prize nationally received the largest amount; a whopping $300. I accumulated a good chunk of my bank account from my winnings. Supplemented by my earnings in several other entrepreneurial ventures, I had a total of about $3,000 in bank savings. It was a bank account that only deposits and no withdrawals until then. I asked my parents if I could use my money. My parents were shocked to hear that from me, a kid that never spent and loved saving. They were, however, happy about what I was trying to accomplish and agreed. NANO Lending was born! I called Darris, and explained what I had in mind. He was surprised and excited. I asked him to look up the inventory of power washers at all the local stores and search for one that would help launch his business. Two weeks later he called back with the details. It was 5 p.m, and the Home Depot on Halls Ferry Road was busy. We met at the outdoor equipment aisle. Darris looked like he had done his research before, but there were more questions. A Home Depot sales associate, Robert, came over to help. Darris went back and forth with Robert regarding the power washer specifications and then back and forth with me to check if it was within the budget. It was the first time either of us had done anything like this, and it felt unstructured for both of us. Robert, who couldn't hold in his curiosity, asked what was going on between the two of us. Darris explained that I was a student of an entrepreneurship program and that I was helping him start his power washing business. The conversation furthered, and Robert advised that power washing was a lucrative business and that he had in the past thought about it for himself, and that he would be happy to give customer referrals to Darris. Robert, was an energetic young black man, who was not only working at Home Depot but told us that he also owned a small landscaping business and a non-profit organization called Save My Sons (SMS), an apprentice program for teen sons of single mothers in the black community. He would train these teenagers in landscaping skills in order to give them better opportunities to succeed. His next few words fell on deaf ears, as I imagined the absence of a dad in one’s life - all the places my dad drove me to, all the lessons he taught me, all the discussions we had on economy and politics, and all the difficult times he was there for me. It wasn't clear if Robert had finished what he had to say when I uttered, “I can help.” As those words came out, I wasn't completely sure what I had in mind. Robert looked confused. I asked Robert if the people he apprenticed wanted to start a business - I could teach them what my entrepreneurship program at school taught me and try to help them with their initial equipment.
Robert was previously a resident of Ferguson and was raised by his mom, who unfortunately lost her life and their home to a fire. Robert was a strong member of the Ferguson movement and played a big role in the clean up and restoration efforts during the aftermath of the 2014 riots. Robert felt a sense of need and responsibility, talking about the struggles of the black community, kids that grew up not knowing who their dad was, moms working hard to bring food to the table, unable to be there for their sons, as their sons either picked up the responsibility of assisting in home affairs or potentially fell prey to gangs and drugs. His vision for the community was loud and clear: a bright future for the youth. Working an hourly wage at Home Depot and running a small business trying to make ends meet for his family, along with helping youth in his community, was beyond inspirational. My outlook on philanthropy broadened from Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and a hand surgeon to a sales assistant at Home Depot. Despite his own struggles, Robert’s giving back to not one but many in the community was beyond philanthropy. Robert is a superhero. Two months later, I got a call from Robert that two individuals who he trained would like to start a lawn mowing and tree cutting business if they could be educated on the logistics of starting a business and had access to a lawn mower and a tree cutter. At the end, he mentioned that they were both homeless. The word homeless piqued my attention, and I decided to visit the shelter they were at and meet with them.
Business Incubators at Shelters ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ●
The first conversation and incubation Putting NANO into full force NANO manual Entrepreneurship workshop The follow-up The three-pronged approach Reaching entrepreneurs beyond St. Louis The effects of COVID-19
Destiny Family Church and Shelter is a daytime-only shelter. At that time, I was not sure where members of the shelter spent their nights. I called the director of the shelter and explained what I had in mind: to discuss and gauge people's interest and thoughts on entrepreneurship and on starting their own small businesses. He felt that would be a great opportunity for the members and was forthcoming and made an appointment. By then, Darris was no longer unemployed, but self employed and a business owner. He was able to obtain his first customer within two weeks of getting his equipment and two additional customers within the month. The speed with which he was able to generate revenue was incredible and motivating. Entrepreneurship and business ownership seemed to be one of the fastest solutions to unemployment and to exiting one’s state of poverty. Driving down Kingshighway past Barnes Jewish Hospital, the neighborhoods showed a transition: a mosaic of energetic healthy houses amidst distressed homes. Members of Destiny Shelter were finishing their lunch of chili, bread rolls, and salad as I walked through the brick building’s entrance which had a mural painting of the Arch, a tree and the shelter’s name. “Saturdays are particularly busy with volunteers”, the director of the shelter explained. He took me on a tour, starting from the chapel and ino the kitchen, the dining area, and the lounge. They had access to showers, where a volunteer was distributing toiletries and hygiene products. The shelter also had a clothing and shoe area, which looked like a store, but with donated clothing and shoes which were neatly ordered by sizes for members to take. Interestingly, they also had an equipment room with tools one could borrow for a day to do small jobs, such as gardening gloves and tools, cleaning equipment, hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, spades, rakes, shovels, and more. Our final stop was the computer room, which ended up becoming my favorite room.This was the room where several businesses would be launched. This was NANO’s first business incubator. 15
The first conversation and incubation “You will be having your meeting in here,” the director said as he let me in and left to announce the meeting. An intercom announcement aired shortly after - “Anyone interested in starting any kind of business, we have a program that can help. They will be meeting in the computer room in five minutes.” Even though the shelter at that time had about forty people between all their areas, only six people came in one after the other and sat around the table with their backpacks and belongings.
A seventh member walked in as I started off by introducing myself, “I am Sri, and I am a student at Parkway West High School.” He couldn't hold in excitement and interjected with great surprise, “Really? That is where I go to school.” I quickly tried to scan my memory through my school's lobbies, cafeteria, and classes, frantically trying to remember if I had seen him at school. As someone who knew almost everyone at school, why could I not recollect this student,
and why was someone from my school at this shelter? Was he under the age of eighteen and how is he living by himself? Several questions raced through my mind as I tried to figure out how I should respond when he chuckled and said he was just kidding. As everyone laughed at the joke, he apologized for joining late because he had just completed his shift at Canes, a fast food restaurant popular for their chicken. “If you had $50, how would you multiply it in a day?” This was a conversation starter I had planned based on a Stanford class on entrepreneurship where the professor gave students five dollars and the goal was to make as much money as possible in two hours. The question provoked instantaneous enthusiasm and a lot of discussion, from flipping and selling water bottles, sodas, candy, and shirts to collecting metal scraps. One individual said he would make and sell hotdogs and burgers. A backpack was something one person wanted to get so he could carry his sale items. Another member strategized he would buy bus passes, which could help him get around to places where he could seek a better job or a better sale. One member aptly put it, “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community.” It was evident that they had already experimented with several ventures, if not at least one, in order to make some money. Why not grow those skills and help people make a sustainable source of income? The discussion deepened into some of their daily hurdles to work, such as lack of transportation, appropriate clothing, child care, peddlers' fees, and licensing fees. The discussion opened my eyes to many harsh realities of poverty and homelessness. And then the questions came at me: “What do they teach you at your entrepreneurship school? What resources do they provide you with?” When I asked what they needed the most to succeed at a business, It was very humbling that people actually did not ask for money or equipment, but instead for knowledge, training, and resources. People were very friendly, communicative, smart, and attentive,and had a great sense of humor. The discussions were rich, and everyone was completely involved. Unlike any of our high school classroom discussions, no one wanted to be left out. My favorite part of NANO is having these first conversations, where people talk about their dreams, reflect on their hurdles, and make plans to overcome them. Even though delivering their equipment and seeing them experience the joy of their dream coming true holds a dear place in my heart, the conversations take the favorite spot. Finally, and most importantly, members of Destiny spoke of their aspirations and their dreams if they had an opportunity to start a business, leading to the birth of business incubators at Destiny and other shelters in St. Louis.
NANO Manual The next few months at Spark!, with the help of my instructor, I put together a list of business incubator resources for NANO startups, ranging from an entrepreneurship workshop and a business summary worksheet to funds needed for their equipment or material and everything that an entrepreneur may need to start their own NANO business. I had a second round of convincing to do with my parents. This time it was harder because they didn't know what to expect; neither did I. One thing, however, was clear: I had no intention to stop but to grow the business incubation to help everyone battling poverty or homelessness who had a dream and the initiative to start a business. The potential of the program to enable one to lift themselves out of poverty is immense. It is a solution to a big problem that is too evident to be denied or ignored. The following steps that I created, improvised, and followed can serve as a manual to anyone that wants to help a struggling member of their community start a business. The model is replicable by anyone anywhere in the country or in the world. The first step is finding a person at each shelter whose role can be aligned with the goals of helping its residents start their businesses. In some shelters it was their career services manager, director of education, activities coordinator, or volunteer coordinator. In others it was simply the director of the shelter. Following this, one should set up a date and put up flyers at the shelters for the first business incubator meeting.
We hung up fliers a week prior to the workshop. The shelter professionals helped the program not only by setting up the time and space but also by talking to the members of the shelters they thought would be a good fit to avail themselves of the opportunity and making direct referrals. Most of the non-congregate shelters had a resource room or a computer room that we used and that turned into our business incubator space. However at some of the emergency shelters and congregate shelters, the shelter space lended itself to becoming the business incubator space.
Entrepreneurship workshops Entrepreneurship workshops are open to anyone in the shelter who is interested in exploring the idea of starting a business or has an existing idea to start a venture. The workshop serves two major purposes: (1) coming up with the best business idea and (2) formulating a business plan. This is accomplished by working on an entrepreneurship worksheet and writing out a business executive summary. Similar to the first conversation, the entrepreneurship workshop is a rich discussion among the aspiring entrepreneurs about their past ventures, sharing their past successes with the group, and reflecting on what worked and what could be different. I facilitate and supplement their discussion with a presentation involving stories of previous successes and provide examples of several offline and online businesses that one can start with few to no resources. I additionally go over business basics such as setting up a fixed schedule, maintaining discipline and regularity with work, planning and sticking to deadlines, reinforcing elements of long-term success such as abiding by the law, applying and renewing business licenses and permits for peddlers and food services, maintaining records, and tax filing. Last but not least, I address taking care of one’s own health and any existing problems, along with steering clear of alcohol and drug addictions. A typical NANO entrepreneurship workshop takes about two to three hours depending on the number of attendees. It involves several aspects. ● ● ● ●
A discussion of everyone's past successes and dreams Working on the entrepreneurship worksheet to help each participant come up with their best business idea Crafting a business executive summary and writing up their business plan Preparing the inventory needed for the start up
A good problem that is commonly faced by people that have tried several ventures in the past and have done different kinds of jobs is that they can see themselves in different businesses. The entrepreneurship worksheet helps them to narrow it down to one business that will be the best fit for them. The worksheet includes writing down their past successes deciding where their passion lies, and reflecting on their strongest skills. It also asks one to create a list of all the resources they have access to, such as a car or transportation, a computer, WiFi, a family member, a phone, a contact list, or anything else. An amalgam of all those factors enables them to pick the business for which they have the best skillset and the most resources, and in which they have experienced past success.
One of the most difficult moments is when people express that their current situation is because of their past failures and voice concerns that failure might hit them again in this new venture. Words of encouragement such as “you can do it” are needed and do help. However, they
sometimes serve only as a temporary fix. To help entrepreneurs start with a light at the beginning of the tunnel, I incorporate planning for possible obstacles and appreciative inquiry, a tool that helps one reflect on processes that resulted in past successes into the workshop. Appreciative inquiry is a concept founded by Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.1 It is a strengths-based, positive approach to leadership development and organizational change. Contrary to problem-solving, this tool involves recognizing past success and one's strengths and focuses on growing them. By the time people complete the entrepreneurship worksheet, their business idea is usually clear. They then work on crafting and writing the business summary.
For many, writing a business summary is a great exercise. It allows them to think deeper about several aspects of business: how their business can be different or provide something more than existing ones; predicting possible obstacles and planning ahead; making goals that are specific, measurable, action, realistic, and time-oriented; looking at finances; and finally making a list of equipment or material totaling under $300 ($500 under special circumstances) that will launch their business. Details of the equipment, brand, and specifications and the store where they created that inventory are also part of the worksheet. Once an inventory is created, their equipment is bought at the local store or online store that they specified and delivered to them.
Cash is never disbursed except under special circumstances such as paying for a license fee or a permit. The excitement is taken to the next level when the equipment is delivered. It is beyond words to describe the feeling when people thanked me, hugged me, and shed tears of joy at the sight of their long-dreamt of power washer, snowcone maker, or sewing machine. It is a dream come true. A new beginning. The follow-up My Saturday schedule for the last two years has been booked from 1 to 5 p.m. with appointments at one or more shelters, conducting the workshops, delivering the equipment, and hosting sessions with mentors. A big portion of my time at Spark! Incubator every morning involved phone calls to shelters, ordering equipment, planning for the weekend visit, matching entrepreneurs with mentors, and following up with the entrepreneurs. Two weeks after their equipment is delivered, a marketing and branding session is held to help entrepreneurs set up their website; create e-business cards, which they can text to all their contacts and post on social media; make fliers; and advertise on online-platforms such as Angie’s list or Yelp. Access to technology, the web, and the gig economy is the single most powerful tool every entrepreneur is provided with and is taught to take advantage of. Irrespective of the nature of their businesses, a laptop or a Chromebook is the entrepreneurs’ most frequently requested piece of equipment. It is a magical tool for many if not all. Even if people do not get a laptop, they are provided access to computers at shelters to launch a website and leverage social media for marketing and learning. Not only does it open their world to a wide pool of customers, but it also gives the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with their customers. The internet gives entrepreneurs access to a huge array of resources such as price matching and finding the cheapest merchandise, learning via free courses, selling their products or services online, or even starting an online venture. Although word of mouth is still the most powerful way to get customers, the use of e-cards, texting, and posting on social media makes NANO entrepreneurs more accessible to their customers. Youth facing homelessness in particular are extremely comfortable with technology and are able to leverage social media, learning websites, and DIY tools to their advantage. The next biggest step at that point is to provide NANO entrepreneurs access to mentors from local businesses. This is accomplished by hosting periodic resource meetings either at Spark! or at their shelters with mentors from the community and local businesses.
Eventually, a full six weeks of follow-up sessions involving branding, marketing, setting up a business license, accounting, tax filing banking, saving and credit building are offered. With the onset of COVID-19 many of these sessions are now virtual. NANO Incubator currently includes six total sessions online via Zoom or pre-recorded videos, with one session every two weeks; equipment is delivered after the second session. Session 3 6 includes a follow-up in every session and pairing with personalized mentoring in addition to focusing on a topic. ● Session 1 - What are your dreams? Entrepreneurship worksheet and business executive summary. ● Session 2 - What are your goals with business? Inventory of seed equipment ● Session 3 - Branding: Creating your own brand, website and LLC setup ● Session 4 - Marketing: Working for your dedicated customers and plan to grow them ● Session 5 - Accounting, record keeping and tax filing ● Session 6 - Saving and Building Credit: Expanding the business Every entrepreneur is educated on the value of saving from day one, which many of them need in order to replenish their merchandise and to further grow their business or for a rainy day. NANO partners with shelters to amplify their existing programs with volunteers from local banks or a certified accountant to educate participants on banking, saving, credit building, and accounting. Other incubator resources are also offered depending on participant’s progress, including access to pitch contests and community grants. Even though many businesses are able to launch relatively soon after they get their equipment and are on their path to generating revenue, following up on their progress has posed challenges. These challenges stem from two main reasons: lack of a phone or phone service and the temporary nature of many shelter services. Shelters for the homeless are either emergency or temporary. Emergency shelters are where people spend the night only. Temporary shelters are either sixty or ninety day programs. The biggest problem then is that if one cannot solve their issues with housing within the sixty or ninety days they are back on the streets again. As a result, a good number of people are unable to be followed up with to see their progress. Moreover, there is a significant turnover at the shelters. There have been some instances, in fact, where I would meet a past NANO entrepreneur at a different shelter a few months later. Some shelters continue to offer their residents daytime services even after their ninety day period is over. At these locations, people can avail themselves of the incubator resources even after they are out of their shelter. This entire situation creates the urgency for solutions to help people start making a sustainable income within that ninety-day period. 25
The three-pronged approach
To say that I learn every day in this endeavor would be an understatement. With every bit I learn, and with every bit of feedback given, I change, improvise, and continue to perfect the program to ensure maximum chances of success for the entrepreneurs. The three-pronged approach supports the entrepreneur not only through funding the seed equipment, but also through the business incubator resources at shelters and mentoring from local businesses. The value of shelters as business incubators is worth embracing and growing. The role of shelters and a dedicated person at each shelter is paramount. Even though the workshops are voluntary, not many people discover the program through fliers or intercom announcements. Rather, the majority of the NANO entrepreneurs are directly referred to the program by the shelter staff. The collaborating staff member at each shelter identifies people who have aspirations to start a business, or those struggling to make those extra dollars, who need to make ends meet, and those that can use the opportunity to their best ability. The staff at the shelter are true champions for the residents in terms of providing them with novel opportunities to help improve their situation and eventually become housed. At this time, the main beneficiaries of the program are the temporary homeless population, whose situation of homelessness is a predicament of their economic hardships, as opposed to
the chronically unhoused, who are facing underlying mental illness or substance abuse issues. Case managers and shelters prescreen people appropriate for the program. Eventually the hope is that everyone, including the chronically unhoused, find value in starting a NANO business as a way to create their own work and overcome mental illness and drug dependencies and eventually find economic success and become housed. The role of a NANO advocate and supporter at each shelter goes beyond recommending appropriate residents for the program and setting up the incubator sessions. They play a big role in overseeing the delivery of the equipment, providing NANO entrepreneurs the space to store their equipment if it is bulky, periodically following up to check for progress, identifying the specific needs of each entrepreneur, being their mentor and cheerleader in terms of providing encouragement when needed, and requesting specific incubator resources when needed. Lack of a car and ready access to transportation is a big challenge many entrepreneurs face in terms of delivering their product or service. Some shelters are able to assist their entrepreneurs by giving them access to their transportation or directing them to organizations providing bus passes and other means of transportation. After working with us for over a year, Covenant House of Missouri (a shelter for youth aged eighteen to twenty-four) applied for dedicated case manager hours to assist their residents with starting NANO businesses. They are eager to see the program expand in all their shelters in thirty-one cities across the US and internationally. Opportunities for entrepreneurship and startup of NANO businesses should be offered routinely at all shelters as a tool for rapid economic empowerment. Mentoring and cheerleading provide a unique value to the growth of the entrepreneur. Homelessness is mainly a state of lack of income enough to sustain a rent or a home but is also coupled with a major challenge of lack of strong family support. The benefits of a supportive family go far beyond providing living space: emotional and mental support. Although the emotional and social support provided by a strong family cannot be replaced, the role that plays in the confidence, growth of their venture, their well being, and success cannot be ignored. Cheerleaders are people who are not business mentors but are everyday people who can provide some support. People who face adversity sometimes just need three words of encouragement: “You can do it.” These words of encouragement can be strengthened by a specific recognition and validation of the person’s strengths or simply by being a positive presence. The role of cheerleaders, named and unnamed, in everyone's life is vital. Cheerleaders are all around us, from friends, coworkers, and co-members at a shelter to sometimes even a stranger. If we consider our entrepreneurs to be sportsmen trying to win in their business, anyone can be their cheerleader. NANO cheerleaders are usually case managers, staff at the shelters, and friends. However, there is a role for a dedicated cheerleader in highlighting the entrepreneurs as champions in their own sport of business. 27
Covenant House is piloting using student volunteers from local universities to do just this. Each entrepreneur is paired with a cheerleader who checks in on the progress of the youth entrepreneur twice a week, focusing on what has worked and what hasn’t, helping to recognize their strengths, and providing encouragement and meaningful feedback. They also play a role beyond cheerleading by helping them with finding a local business mentor, connecting them with customers, providing online help, and more. Mentoring is an important pillar for the growth of the entrepreneur. Resource meetings are a place to meet and network with mentors. An attempt is made to pair individual entrepreneurs to mentors from the local business community, preferably in the same field. Mentors are local businesses that are also donors to the program. Successful entrepreneurs who have graduated from the program also volunteer as mentors. One-on-one mentoring assistance comes in the form of advice, strategy, and marketing help, which can be provided during the resource meetings or on the phone. Local small businesses assist in mentoring the entrepreneurs in their journey until they become successful. Our country is home to 30.2 million small businesses. Imagine if every business were to mentor one unhoused entrepreneur. We could potentially end homelessness in our country. NANO beyond St. Louis and internationally Since the establishment of NANO, every time we go on vacation, exploring the community extends beyond restaurants and shopping and into the success and struggles of the community, the vendors, and the encampments that share the streets with the tourists. Visiting the shelters and resource centers has been a way for me to expand my knowledge of solutions. Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in the world, is also Ground Zero for America’s homelessness crisis. Home to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles is also home to streets flooded with encampments and courtyards of shelters crowded with the unhoused population seeking admission. It’s a striking dichotomy. Visiting Los Angeles and Orange County in winter of 2019, I met a tour guide who was a musician struggling to launch his EP who had to work extra jobs, including as a tour guide, to pay the high rent that plagues the city. High rental prices in our metropolitan cities is one of the major reasons hard-working Americans still face homelessness and struggle to escape homelessness. Micah’s Way in Santa Anna is a veteran home turned into a resource center for the homeless. Hundreds of unhoused in the community come in through the day and within five minutes may pick up daily necessities such as food, water, clothing, footwear, bus passes, and other essentials. On special days they can seek assistance with job applications, licenses, etc.. During the evening, volunteers at Micah’s Way provide transportation and resources to women
that have just been released from jails. They provide safe transportation to their destinations or access to local shelters. The beauty of the city lies in the people and the community creating stunning solutions to their struggles and working to level the living field for all.
Outside of St. Louis, people from Alton and East St. Louis, Illinois, are entrepreneurs with NANO. NANO also has just begun to work with New Life Evangelical Center in Springfield, Missouri, and with veterans facing homelessness in Chicago. Internationally, the principle of NANO has enormous potential, especially in underdeveloped and developing countries, where even a few dollars can empower people. Traditional microfinance institutions and peer-to-peer lending models such as Kiva and Grameen America are popular around the globe, including i countries such as Kenya. However, their limitations such as interest on loans, difficulty of access, and terms on loan repayment can stress the already stressed. The NANO model brings the very needed novelty of simplicity, transparency, no interest, no terms on the loan, and a pay-it-forward-when-successful paradigm. Progressive Destiny is a group of members of the Destiny congregation and Destiny Family Church and Shelter who traveled to Kenya and started Destiny Bible College, a vocational
school for youth. Thirty miles from Nairobi, in the village of Wangigie, Brian, a young man aspiring to start a convenience store, was able to work and save enough for a deposit to lease the store space but was short on money for everything else. Brian’s entrepreneurial aspiration was felt by the donors of NANO, who came forward quickly to help. He is the first recipient of NANO in Kenya and was given a loan to help with shelving units and initial merchandise.
The principle of NANO can be replicated by any person or institution, anywhere in the world. Tackling COVID-19 and its effects To say that adversity hits from many directions and hits hard is an understatement. Hurdles big and small have become a part of the lives of the impoverished. COVID-19 was one of them. The pandemic was unexpected and unprecedented and posed multiple problems within problems. Social distancing, working from home, and lockdowns are simply not practical for people who are searching for food and shelter every day. Prioritizing protecting oneself from a rapidly spreading pandemic amidst getting food on the table, finding safe shelter, maintaining a job, or continuing one’s NANO business is overwhelming. Some people lost their jobs, and many others had decreased hours. For the entrepreneurs, their businesses came to a standstill.
However, within months, people adapted, trying to make their way with a mask and hand soap. Although social distancing is not practical in either congregate or non-congregate shelters, many shelters decreased their capacity to accommodate social distancing restrictions as much as possible. Masks became essential life-saving gear in addition to hand soap and hand wash stations. This prompted COVID-19 Relief for the Unhoused, a project to help the unhoused with the tools to protect themselves from the pandemic. Funds raised through GoFundMe were able to provide five sewing machines in total to three shelters. People together made 1,600 cloth masks for residents at their own shelters and in encampments as well as health care workers and other essential workforce. COVID-19 health awareness sessions were hosted online for shelters.
In a mobile world such as ours, strict adherence to a lockdown is not possible, and exposure to the coronavirus is a real possibility. One entrepreneur who had launched a home health agency and is doing well had to completely halt services due to limited availability of protective gear. Additionally, she works at a hospital and was infected with COVID-19, jeopardizing her life. She was hospitalized, required oxygen, and, thankfully, eventually recovered. Four months later, her business is, unfortunately, still not up and running. Existing businesses attempted to pivot to meet the needs of their customers during the pandemic. Vonita suffered losses in her catering businesses since her first ever catering job for a wedding was cancelled and there were no parties. She pivoted smartly to delivering “Royal
meals,” which are bagged lunches including a variety of sandwiches, chips, and soda for delivery or pick-up. Despite COVID-19, new businesses continued to emerge, a majority of them involving products and services needed to fight the pandemic or using online ventures such as making and selling face masks, hand sanitizers, DIY clothing, recycling and redesigning existing clothes, printing on facemasks, etc. COVID-19 accelerated moving NANO virtual. The workshop went online via Zoom, particularly in shelters with TV and computers. Equipment was shipped directly to the shelter or the recipient or dropped off. COVID-19 also accelerated the entrepreneurs’ use of the online tools for their work and businesses.
Our Entrepreneurs In the span of two years, 127 entrepreneurs, 103 of them facing homelessness, in St. Louis and beyond have launched their businesses with the help of NANO incubator resources and startup equipment. Of the 103 unhoused individuals that started their businesses, thirty-nine were male and sixty-four were female; six were caucasian and ninety-seven were African American. Thirty-nine were unhoused youth aged eighteen to twenty-four, and twenty-six were in families facing homelessness: single parents with kids. Looking at the age distributions of the rest of the people, twenty-seven were in the age group 24 - 40; twenty-five were in the age group of 40 60 and four were over 60 years old; eight individuals did not provide their age. In terms of education, thirty-one of them had a high school diploma or a GED, sixteen had some college, twenty-two had some schooling. Only two had an associates degree (associate of science and accounting). The remaining people did not answer the question on education. At the time of participating in the entrepreneurship workshop and filling out the basic data, twentywere employed, thirty-eight were unemployed, and the remaining individuals did not provide the data. Calculating percentages based on the number of people that answered each specific question, 62% of our entrepreneurs are female and 38% male. A majority, 94%, are African American. 35% were employed at the time of getting the seed equipment to start their business. Only 38% had a high school diploma, and no one had a four year college degree. These demographics are not a representation of the homeless population in St. Louis but more specifically, a representation of those in shelters for the homeless that aspire to become entrepreneurs. Looking at the type of businesses and equipment requested and received reveals that the most common seed equipment is Chromebooks and laptops, requested by a total of thirty-four entrepreneurs. This is followed by lawn care equipment for men, hair and nail equipment for women, then cooking and cleaning equipment. After two years, we were able to consistently follow up on fourteen entrepreneurs. One hundred percent of these entrepreneurs have paid their loans forward to the community by doing one or more of the following: 1. Helping another entrepreneur in the community to start their business by funding their initial equipment on their own and reporting it to NANO. 2. Helping another entrepreneur in the community to start their business by funding their initial equipment through NANO. 3. Providing free services to shelters through their business 4. Providing free services to donors of NANO and to NANO through their business.
Many of the following names have been initialled to protect individuals’ information and safety.
Darris Buckner, 54, Power Washing Business Darris is our first entrepreneur. He was working at a power washing company and was laid off. Prior to that he was working as a fire suppression tech. He holds a GED and had a hard time, as a single father, getting a decent-paying job to meet the needs of his family--two daughters and his elderly mother.
A power washer fulfilled Darris’s dream to start his own business, and within weeks he was able to power wash homes and make an income. Once he had a handle on things, he turned his focus to getting customers with recurring needs for power washing. By the end of one year, he had secured contracts from five local restaurants and businesses to power wash their facilities regularly. Darris has since repaid his loan forward by helping his mother-in-law with a Chromebook to launch her home health care business.
Vonita Jimmerson, (Chef Kiwi), 41
Grilled shrimp pineapple medley is just one of Vonita’s popular catered dishes. If you spend a few minutes with Vonita,you can tell she loves cooking. Her passion reverberates around not just cooking but experimenting with different flavors and giving them new names. A unique strength of hers is blending tropical fruit into her signature dishes, which goes back to her roots. Her father is from Jamaica, and her mother is from Hawaii. Her love for cooking started as a child when she helped both her parents, who were chefs. Unfortunately, Vonita was unable to complete high school education, and things fell apart when she lost her husband. She works at a local warehouse but was unable to support the rental needs of her family, consisting of three daughters and herself. With a grill and a chromebook, Vonita launched her catering business, “Queen Flavors,” and a hire-a-chef service called the “Knockout Chef.” She previously volunteered to cook at the shelter, and word quickly spread among the staff and among her colleagues at the warehouse. NANO also helped her to create a website and social media pages, where she posts pictures of her dishes. This helped grow her customer pool. Over a period of six months, she has been able to cater to seventy-two customers and make decent income. She became housed and more recently was able to send her oldest daughter to college. Early this year, she was hired for her first ever wedding job, along with a contract to help with wedding decoration. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the wedding had to be held off. During the pandemic, Vonita pivoted her business to “Royal lunches,” making individually packed lunches and sandwiches for pick up and delivery. Vonita paid her loan forward helping her friend start her jewelry business by funding her initial supply of beads and helping Tyrica with her hair equipment. She now mentors new entrepreneurs with NANO, where her message is about bringing unique and unexpected experiences to the customer, persistence, and aiming high. Vonita aspires to start her own restaurant one day.
Alvin Goode, 48, Pelleting and Delivery Business
Alvin is well known at the Destiny family church and shelter as someone who is alway willing to help out. Alvin is a single father raising three kids. He was working as the community parent support liaison specialist for the two south city schools his kids were attending. He lost that job when his position was scrapped. Things were never the same. Luckily for him, the school district gifted him one of their used vans because they were getting a new fleet of vehicles. The van became Alvin's savior. Alvin attended the entrepreneurship workshop with a dream to start a pelletting and delivery business, FKB For Kingdom Building LLC. NANO helped Alvin apply for his LLC and provided funds for the business license fee, magnetic signs and wraps for the van, appliance moving straps, and moving blankets to get started. Alvin has since procured several customers, including NANO donors. This has now become a family business, where his three children help him move items, boxes, and furniture. He has paid his loan forward by helping Eddie with his lawn mowing service in addition to helping City Hope Shelter with their deliveries.
Kiara Clayborne, 29, Mommy & Me Boutique and Party Consulting
Mommy & Me Boutique was Kiara's dream business when she met NANO. She had a great taste in fashion and clothes, and people at the shelter loved her picks. Kiara went through the entrepreneurship workshop and requested initial merchandise of matching clothes for new mother, and newborn babies. As a single mom herself, Kiara knew how difficult it is to shop with a newborn and try to get clothes of the same design to wear for their first portraits and when they make their first trip to church. Kiara had no trouble selling her merchandise. With the profits she made from Mommy & Me Boutique, Kiara started her second venture. She reinvested her profit to buy a throne chair to rent out for baby showers and other parties. She launched a party rental and consulting business. Kiara has strong communication and marketing skills, which are easily noticeable by all, particularly managers looking for good staff. She was offered a job as an intake person at the shelter and eventually became housed.
E.S., 21, Car Repair Services
E.S. loves cars and loves fixing cars. He has been fixing cars ever since he can remember. However, he lacked the proper equipment and got by with what few tools he had. He has a high school diploma and previously worked in lawn care. He currently works at Imo’s Pizza but had always wished to pursue his dream of owning a car repair, tuning, and customizing business, provided he had the right equipment. E.S is known at the shelter for helping staff fix their cars and had no problem getting started. His next dream is to get a car for himself. 45
M.T., 22, Margarita Mobile Nail Salon M.T. is popular for her manicures and pedicures. She was doing nails and making a good income when unfortunately her equipment was stolen. She has a high school diploma, works at McDonald’s, and has been working hard to put aside money to go to college for a cosmetology degree.
M.T.’s Mobile Nail Salon got back on track with the help of NANO. She got her equipment along with a suitcase and a key. She not only does nails, manicure and pedicure, but also teaches nail hygiene. Margaret became housed in four months after she resumed her business. She paid her loan forward by helping Stephanie with her DIY clothing business and mentors her as well.
Gregory Churn (Seven), 43, Designs by 7 Greg is an enthusiastic entrepreneur with a dream to start a marketing platform for struggling and new entrepreneurs. Raised by his mother and grandmother, Greg has immense respect for the strong women in his life and their upbringing. He lost his step-dad to a fire, which put the family in financial hardships. His world fell apart when he lost his mother to cancer. Greg was working a permanent job at Paulo Products where he was paid $22 an hour and was “living a good life.” He was about to join their union, when he injured his back resulting in discitis, chronic back pain, and difficulty walking. This led to him losing his job and rendered him homeless.
Greg loves numbers and is popular among his friends as Seven. He has excellent math knowledge and is very well spoken. He has 2 years of college education and had previously worked as a chef and a forklift operator, as well as working at a printing company. Greg attended the NANO workshop and got a Chromebook to start his marketing platform. He launched his website: “Designs by 7.” Unfortunately his computer was stolen just a few weeks into the program, putting Greg back to square one. Greg was lost to follow-up due to inconsistent phone service. Greg was reintroduced to the program a year later. Greg wanted a fresh start and got a heat compress machine to start his new business of Black Lives Matter printing on T-shirts, caps, and mugs. His creativity earned him several contracts right off the bat. Greg continues to invest time in his printing business with a laser focus on securing a home. His dream is to have a family.
Trevonica W., Home Hair Service Trevonica knew she wanted to start a business involving beauty and fashion. Trevonica is a hard worker and has a genuine intention to make others feel beautiful. Soon after the workshop and receiving her equipment, her client list grew. Months into her business, Trevonica became housed. She continues to provide hair services at her home and is aspiring to start a hair salon in the near future.
Dustin P., Selling Cut-off-Hoodies Dustin was frequently seen skateboarding on the sidewalk near the shelter. He has some college education and was working for a sales company where he had problems with his manager, resulting in termination of his job. Dustin had several ideas to buy cut-off hoodies directly from a manufacturer in bulk and to sell them at his gym. He attended the NANO workshop and received his first merchandise. Dustin sold them for three times the price and has plans to continue selling and to help his girlfriend with a camera for her photography business. 51
Regina Smith, 62, Home Health Agency Regina, a foster mom of three who recently lost her husband to cancer, had to take up the financial responsibility of the family. Even though she works at a hospital, she was in need of a supplemental income. Regina always wanted to start a home health agency, one that serves the medical needs of veterans in their homes. With the resources from NANO and a Chromebook, she started her agency and in six months hired three nurses and two home aide to make home visits and provide home care. She also serves as a mentor to other entrepreneurs with the program.
Jack Butler (Uncle Jack), 74, Selling Candy, Water, and Soda Jack, who prefers to be called Uncle Jack, holds a GED and had worked as a chef and a sales person before hard times hit him. He says he moves frequently for safety. He spends his nights at shelters and his days moving around town. He attended the NANO workshop and got merchandise including candy, water bottles, and soda to sell. Uncle Jack is very disciplined, maintains notes, and takes good care of his health. He gets on the bus or the train in the afternoons to get some air conditioning and to take a nap. He rents a small storage place where he keeps his wheelchair and his cooler, which he uses to push around his belongings as well as to sell cold drinks.
B.H., Beaded Jewelry Business B.H. writes books and makes jewelry. During the NANO workshop, was obvious that B.H. had a lot of experience making jewelry but had not really had a systematic way of buying, making, and selling for income. She is quite knowledgeable about her beads and is very specific about the types of beads, their color and size, and the strings she needs for her business.
I.V., 44, Selling Antique Box Purses 55
I.V. has a high school diploma and is employed. She had learned to make purses from antique boxes from her grandmother. She wanted to create a website that can showcase her work as well as sell it online. I.V. also wanted to use her website to connect people in shelters who finally move into a home, with people that want to give away any furniture or sell furniture for less: something everyone needs soon after they move into a home from the streets or the shelter.
B.P., 22 Online Beauty Product Distribution Service
V.M., 24, Making Baby Clothes V.M. learned to sew from her grandmother and has been sewing clothes since childhood. She has a high school diploma and is a single mom raising two little kids. V.M. felt empowered to start her business of making and selling clothes for babies with NANO resources and a sewing machine.
Robert Flemming, 52, Making and Selling Cloth Face Masks After the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Robert, who has been intermittently sewing all his life, decided to sew face masks through the COVID-19 Relief for the Unhoused project. Once he had made enough masks for the residents of City Hope, he made additional masks, which were sold at local stores in the community. Robert plans to continue sewing and selling face masks during the pandemic.
A.N., 21, Daycare for Kids of Homeless Single Moms. A.N. is a single mother with a newborn. She holds a high school diploma and aspires to start a daycare for kids of homeless single moms.
E.K., 63 Lawn Mowing Service E.K. is a native of St. Louis who moved to Nebraska and just returned to St. Louis. He lost his job and car as a result of drug dependency issues. However, E.K. was in long-term rehabilitation and has been healthy and clean for almost an year and wanted to get back on his feet. With a lawn mower and business resources, E.K. started mowing lawns at people’s houses, the shelter he resides at, and local churches. E.K. was supposed to be married this summer, which was postponed due to the pandemic. He is eager to start a family and have a home.
T.H., 29 Making and Selling Homemade Beauty Products.
S.L, 38, Online Writing Consultancy Business. S.L. holds an associate’s degree in science and was working as an English teacher when she lost her job. As a single mom, finding another job became a difficult task. S.L. came to the NANO workshop with novel ideas of using the internet for business. Empowered with tools of entrepreneurship including a Chromebook, she launched her online writing consultancy business.
Keith Freidman, 58, Selling Hand Sanitizer and Face Masks; Shirts That Tell Stories Keith holds a high school diploma and works for a landscaping company. He attended a NANO workshop and wanted to start with the $50 project, where he sold $50 worth of hand sanitizers and face masks and made triple the amount. Keith then reinvested the amount to get a heat compress machine that enabled him to launch his “Shirts That Tell Stories” business. He is excited that his long-time dream of printing personalized T-shirts for individuals has come true.
G.H., 37 Pallet Furniture Designing Business G.H. has a couple years of college education and was working at a senior care facility before she lost her job. One of her hobbies is taking used pallets and designing them into pieces of furniture. At the NANO workshop, G.H. decided to turn her passion into a business. She started with a Chromebook to take 3D animation design classes to improve her skills, along with reaching out to furniture designers and stores.
K.B., 21 Art and Music Production Studio K.B. holds a high school diploma and is currently working at Krispy Kreme.
T.H, 18, Music Recording Business T.H. was unable to finish high school. She works at Checkers and Rally’s. She attended a NANO workshop and planned to get her music recording to a professional level with a mike set and headphones.
Joe Robinson, 22 Online Marketing Consultant Business to Help New Entrepreneurs. Joe has a high school diploma and was recently accepted to Launch Code, a program that teaches coding and assists with job placements.
R.W., 56 Bookstore and Publishing R.W. had some college education, previously worked as a hair stylist at a salon, and is currently unemployed. R.W. has been writing a book meant to help people access their dormant skills and use them. Her dream has been to publish it. She has a collection of books which she stores at her daughter’s place, and she plans to rent and share the book's with others by eventually starting a bookstore for books on self-development.
Robert Brettenaugh Releasing Music EPs on Spotify and Other Platforms. He paid it forward by helping his friend launch her movie business by funding her proof of concept for her movie.
S.A., 54, Mental Health Counselling bBusiness. S.A. has a few years of college and previously worked with a mental health counselling company helping children and teenagers. Her experience and skills in the field helped her start a mental health counselling service and a tutoring service for homeless children.
H.L., 22 ESA (Emotional Support Animal) Services Business and a Grant Writing Business. After H.L. completed his high school diploma, he worked for an organization, helping them with grant searching and writing. However, he loves pets and always dreamed of using pets to help patients in hospitals and nursing homes overcome emotional trauma. H.L. has also been accepted to Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis.
M.R. Buying and Selling Clothes
T.C. Home Cleaning Services
S.S. Photography Business
M.H., 21, Liaison Services between People and Law Firms. M.H. graduated from high school and works part time at the Subway fast food restaurant. She is an advocate for civil rights and wants to launch a service that helps minorities with their legal needs by being a liaison between people, law firms, and the justice system.
Z.J., 18, Sells Baked Items Online Z.J. loves to bake and aspired to start a baking business. Z.J. had a lot of struggles with her mom leading to her becoming unhoused and unable to complete her schooling. She is now back in school and aspires to go to divinity college.
M.C. Mural Painting and Sketching Business. M.C. is disabled and loves to paint. She attended a NANO workshop and got assistance with painting equipment needed to get her started in her business. M.C. in turn helped another entrepreneur who is making baby clothes with her sketches.
M.G., 37 Website that Connects People That Are Homeless with the Resources They Need. M.G. holds a high school diploma and is currently employed.
I.L., Hair Braiding Service
A.S. Crochet Business
G.W. Selling Cookies, Brownies, and Other Baked Delicacies Online.
Troy B., Lawn Mowing Service.
Ernest W., 35, Landscaping Business Ernest was working as a cook at Mattingly’s when he was introduced to NANO,and he launched his lawn care business. 74
B.W., 33, Making and Selling Fur Sandals Online
M.F., 52 Selling Moms and Kids Clothes M.F. has some college education and is employed as a security guard.
R.W., Hauling Business
R.W. is well known at the shelter as a hard worker and is capable of moving anything from appliances to heavy boxes but never thought of it as a business that he could grow. He attended a NANO workshop, leveraged resources, and got a winch to get started.
T.H., 29, Selling Hair Products Online
C.G., 55 C.G. graduated from his gardening internship with Hope Education and started growing vegetables with soil and wood for beds in the area around the shelter.
S.S., 30 Hair Care Services
T.H. Day care Business
K.H., 32, Power washing Business He had previously worked as a carpenter and has some college education.
A.J., 40 Business Selling Glam eyelashes Online
B.G., 24, Making Scented Candles and Selling them Online B.G. has a high school diploma, is a single mom of one child, and is currently unemployed. She previously worked for a home health care agency.
C.F., 39, Home Cleaning Services C.F. holds a high school diploma and previously worked at Krystal's restaurant. She is currently unemployed and aspires to start a home cleaning service business and employ others.
P.H., 34, Selling Snow Cones Downtown. P.H. has a high school diploma and works at U-Haul. At a NANO workshop, P.H. requested an ice shaver-snow cone maker to make and sell snow cones at stadiums and fairs.
D.R., 20 Nail Care Services
D.P., 21, Website Design Services D.P. worked at Nature’s Bakery and attended the workshop with a vision to start a website design company. D.P. completed his high school diploma and self taught himself website design. A year later, D.P. was accepted to college, and he just started his college education.
K.H.,19, Hair Care Services
B.S., 34, Home HealthCare Business B.S. is a certified nurse assistant and previously worked as a medical assistant.
Maverick B. Jr., 35, Landscaping Business
T.D. Hair Care Services
C.B., 22 Lawn Care and Trash Pick-up Services C.B. was already providing lawn services and trash services to a few people he was working with. However, he lacked the complete equipment to launch his own business. C.B. attended the NANO workshop and got the equipment and resources required to start a business.
C.S. Sr., 43 C.S., who previously worked at Busch Stadium and is currently unemployed, started a tree cutting business with a chainsaw and a trimmer. He worked along with his lawn care apprentice program to use their truck for removing the cut-down trees.
G.L., 18 Nail Care Business
B.S., 30 Printing Business B.S. is an author and a painter. He has a high school diploma and has been looking for employment.
J.S. Food Truck Business She attended a NANO workshop and, with help of a Chromebook, initiated the process of licensing permits and connecting to vendors and customers online.
A.W., 20 Gaming Website and Platform A.W. completed high school and works at Bailey’s Range.
S.G., 20, Hair Styling Business. S.G. has a high school diploma. She previously worked at a hair salon and loves to create new hair designs. S.G. was able to attend follow-up NANO sessions and receive mentoring from M.T..
Nanette and Omaya J. Two of three siblings, Nanette and Omaya, who were facing homelessness as a family, decided to help their mom during the pandemic by starting their Black Lives Matter jewelry business. The older sibling, Nanette, just graduated from high school and is on her way to college. 91
Omaya J., Black Lives Matter Jewelry Business
Q.R., 34, Gardening and Growing Vegetables
Lamount Golliday, 46 Lamount works as a chef, and people love his cooking. He aspired to start his cooking and catering business, which NANO helped make a reality.
Jahari White, 18, Dance and Music Coaching. Jahari launched a dance and music business where he creates music videos and teaches music and dance to kids.
S.E., 19 DIY Clothing Website With resources from NANO and a sewing machine, S.E. launched her DIY clothing website focusing on redesigning existing clothes to fit the seasons and in alignment with newer trends and fashions.
Michelle Terry, Accounting Consulting Business
Michelle holds an associate’s degree in accounting and started her accounting consultancy business with NANO’s funds needed to set up the LLC. She has paid it forward by helping Destiny Church and Shelter with their accounting needs as well as new entrepreneurs at the shelter.
N.W., 19 Starting Own Hip-hop Record Label
After successfully receiving a high school diploma, while searching for employment, N.W., who likes to sing and create music videos, turned his passion into a business.
Aliyah S. Terry, 36, “Pretty n Paint”
Pretty n Paint is a business that Aliyah had just started. She is a painter and loves to paint homes and make them pretty. Aliyah was unable to complete college and was struggling to make enough to meet the needs of her family of four. With the help of a Porter Cable drywall sander, Aliyah was able to make her painting job faster and more productive.
Lamar Williams, 27, Landscaping Business
Lamar was unable to secure new jobs and unable to maintain a job for too long because of recurrent seizures which he suffered from as a result of a head injury he sustained as a child. He is a single dad to a daughter and also takes care of his eldelry mother. A lawn care business gave Lamar the freedom to set his schedule in order to meet his medical needs.
B.C., 20, Printing on T-Shirts B.C. graduated from high school and is employed at West Rock. He loves printing designs on T- shirts.
M.K., 19, Babysitting and DayCare Services M.K. could not complete high school, but has worked several jobs, including at daycares, and is CPR certified. She loves kids and wants to start a website connecting babysitters and day care services to customers.
Nathaniel Barnes, 32, Lawn Mowing Service With a never-fading smile on his face, Nathaniel was tired of doing small jobs. Nathaniel had studied up-to eleventh grade, was unemployed, and aspired to start his own lawn mowing business.
The Rise of Social Businesses There is a distinctive difference between social enterprises and social businesses. A social enterprise is any for-profit organization that has a social impact. However, social businesses are outside of the profit-seeking world. Social businesses work with a goal to solve a social problem using business methods. Nobel Laurette Dr. Muhammad Yunus, in his book Building social business , paraphrases social business as a new kind of capitalism that serve’s humanity’s most pressing needs.1 There are two types of social business according to Dr. Yunus: Type I social businesses are non-loss, non-dividend companies devoted to solving a social problem and owned by investors who reinvest all profits in expanding and improving the business. For example, Grameen Danone, an initiative of Grameen Bank and Dannon Yogurt, is working to solve the problem of malnutrition by selling affordable yogurt fortified with micronutrients to the impoverished. Type II social businesses are profit-making companies owned by the poor, either directly or through a trust dedicated to a predefined social cause. Profits generated flow to the impoverished, working with the business, thus alleviating poverty. Solar Sister is one such business that involves groups of impoverished women in Africa who make and sell solar products. NANO saw the rise of type II social business as a natural evolution of the single person-owned business. A powerful unexpected outcome of NANO is groups of unhoused individuals coming together to start a business. During the entrepreneurship workshops, when NANO entrepreneurs are at the same table discussing their business ideas and plans, they open up the opportunity to collaborate with each other and at times even think of starting a business together. Additionally, it seemed that landscaping was a frequent interest among men, and beauty and hair care solutions were a common business idea among women. This raises the important question of how many of the same kind of business the local ecosystem can support. This led some innovative entrepreneurs to take the next step: starting a business as a group.
Entrepreneurs with Destiny Gardens
A group of four unhoused individuals with the Destiny Family Church and Shelter, who recently graduated from a gardening internship program with Hope Education for the Homeless, together started a vegetable garden around Destiny Family Church under the supervision of Rev. Steve Bodda. They attended the entrepreneurship workshop and applied for assistance with soil, lumber, and tools to get started. Several donors came forward to help. Once they got started, they took up three barren lots in their neighborhood, turning urban land into temporary organic farms. They produced several pounds of produce that summer.
Lamar, Maverick, and Ernst realized that instead of all three of them individually seeking a loan for manual lawn mowers, they could merge their loans and together acquire a motorized lawn mower. This enabled them to work together, mow lawns faster, serve more customers, and make significantly more income than they might have earned individually.
A group of unhoused individuals in two shelters, City Hope and Covenant House, volunteered to make cloth face masks for those in shelters and encampments, and those on the streets with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when the need was fulfilled they made more masks and donated them to foster family homes, local hospitals, and home health agencies. Once that need was filled, they continued to make masks using the sewing machines and the fabric and started selling them at local stores, turning it into a social business.
Lessons Learned ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ●
Unhoused, not homeless Poverty: A multidimensional challenge Homelessness can be solved Anyone can be affected by poverty and homelessness Where are the resources? Even a small amount can empower one economically Benefits go beyond the income: The $50 project “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community” Creativity, persistence, and clear goals The impoverished are givers too Money is not the complete solution A “loan” over charity Lessons from fundraising
Use Unhoused not Homeless The streets we walk our dog and greet our neighbors on, the streets we learn to bike on, the streets we play with our friends, the streets we drive our cars to get to places are the same streets many call home. Technically, home is where one resides and has a cozy, loving space to oneself, and it may not be a house. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the unhoused problem. The main issue hindering potential progress towards solving the problem is the lack of active thinking of or actively considering and attempting to help those who are unhoused. The example that I often like to give that gives a potential demonstration of the nation’s attitude towards the unhoused is during the early stages of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdowns were occurring and people were told to socially distance as much as possible and not go outside, the unhoused were often almost left out. Social distancing and other measures are not exactly easy for them, whether they are in a shelter or not. It is instances like these that show we as a nation need to begin to think more actively about the unhoused in our decision-making in all aspects. When discussing the unhoused, it is essential to use proper terminology because the way we talk and what we say can have profound impacts on not just who we are talking to but our mindsets as well. One of the largest terminology essentials that I stress is using the term “unhoused” to describe individuals without housing instead of the term “homeless.”
Before I get into the reasoning behind this specific terminology, I would like to preface this by saying that it will not be easy to stop using the term “homeless” and use “unhoused” instead. It won’t. It will require active efforts and lots of active thinking to remind yourself and try to catch yourself when you are discussing this topic. I will say I am still not perfect at it. There are times I use the term “homeless” instead of “unhoused” but I try to catch myself quickly. But given what I have said previously about the necessity of active thinking about the unhoused in order to make progress toward any solution, this is one of those manners in which we can employ that active thinking. While it alone may not be large in terms of solving the problem, it is a beginning and an effort we can make to display that active thinking needed. The main reason behind using such strict terminology when discussing the unhoused is the impression, meaning, and connotation each term has. On numerous occasions, including by people who volunteer and work at shelters, I have been told that homeless is almost a state of mind, something that is permanent, or descriptive of a person and their character. As Robert White said, “homelessness is a state of mind. A person who is homeless might get a house or apartment but still might think about how to get food for that day or continue to ponder the basic needs. Despite his housing, that man is still homeless.” Beyond this connotation of “homeless” being used as a term to describe a person and their mindset or characteristics, it often immediately triggers a negative connotation within another person’s mind whenever the word is used. Instantly stereotypes may enter the mind, and suddenly the person who was described as “homeless” is automatically being thought of negatively and as having negative character traits. On the other hand, the term unhoused is descriptive of a current, temporary situation. As Lewis Reed, the President of the Board of Alderman in St. Louis said “it is wonderful that [people] use unhoused over the homeless because being unhoused is a current situation. It is a housing situation.” As such, stating that someone is unhoused does not describe them as a person or their character or introduce the same stereotypes that the term “homeless” tends to introduce. The term “unhoused” then allows everyone to understand that this is a temporary distressed situation someone is in rather than an indication of permanence or an indication of the person's character. In this sense, I agree with Deborah Schneider, director of marketing and business partnerships at Lava Mae, that the term unhoused is more accurate and more respectful, since it describes homelessness as a set of circumstances, rather than using it as a blanket label to place on an individual or group of individuals.1 According to a publication for the San Francisco Homlessness Project, one of the best ways to begin to combat the issue is to change the negative stigma surrounding it which can start with all of us using the word “unhoused” instead of “homeless.” 109
Poverty: A multidimensional challenge Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” This quote is furthered in an article in Harvard Business Review by Dewayne Spradlin, urging us to question whether we are solving the right problem before jumping onto solutions.2 Understanding poverty is of prime importance and precedes solving it. It also entails erasing the existing misbeliefs, attitudes, and narratives, many of which are dangerous and counterproductive. The jaws of poverty that engulf our society are painful and harsh. Poverty’s maze and traps are multidimensional, and it is impossible to comprehend all the dimensions. The several traps that one may try to fight may well be beyond one’s control. Factors well beyond one's control are the family one is born into, the marital status and education of one’s parents, one’s education, the net worth of one’s family at the time of one’s birth, one’s neighborhood, and one’s health at birth. Someone’s childhood neighborhood, in fact, is one of the strongest predictors of their long-term economic success, according to a paper out of Harvard University that analyzed more than a decade of IRS data to show that growing up in a poor neighborhood greatly hampers economic mobility.3 Richard Reeves, an economist at the Brookings Institute for Research, showed that if you were born at the bottom quintile (dividing the nation into five groups economically), your chance of making it to the top quintile is 1 in 10. If you were born in the bottom quintile and raised by parents that were never married, you have a 5% chance of making it to the top. If you are born in the bottom quintile and never finished high school, your chances are even worse: 1%. If you have a four-year college degree, your chance then rises to 20%.4 Reeves’s analysis shows the effect of one being born in poverty along with one additional factor, such as parents that were never married or dropping out of high school. Now imagine if one is facing two or more of those barriers simultaneously - the odds are simply close to zero. Their chance at prosperity instantly lags behind, even prior to their birth. Now add barriers that are not included in this analysis, such as physical or mental health issues, being raised by grandparents, being subject to abuse or neglect, an environment of anger, drugs, or crime. Imagine fighting a war you were born into. The enemy is attacking you from multiple directions, yet one endures, persists, and lives with a hope and a vision that this will end one day. These are the real heroes, and it is time we give them the right ammunition: a way to earn a decent living.
Reeves’s research further sheds light on the single most important factor that can provide someone with an equal opportunity for the American Dream: completing a full four-year college degree. However, if your family is struggling for basic needs - food, shelter, safety and a daily minimum income to meet those basic needs - prioritizing education trying to focus, study, and achieve a passing grade are unimaginable. And thus, the cycle repeats. It is dangerous to not analyze a problem but instead undermine those who are impoverished or unhoused as having high-risk profiles, leading to imposing high interests on their loans due to their high risk, or assuming that they need to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. I resonate with Dr. Martin Luther King's statement, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself up on his own bootstraps, but it’s a cruel jest to say that to a bootless man.” NANO opened my eyes to the harsh traps of poverty which are extremely difficult to untangle. People battling health issues and family relationships, amidst a full plate of day-to-day responsibilities still trying to get a job and earn a living, helped me to be action-oriented in fighting poverty and more compassionate. When people adopt laissez-faire and judgemental attitudes, I am now able to raise my voice and share the numerous instances I have witnessed and worked through, where people fighting poverty worked relentlessly to achieve their goals of having a home and exiting poverty. Assuming that climbing the economic ladder is purely hard work without recognizing the myriad of barriers, perpetuates the bootstrap narrative that the poor remain poor because they're lazy, rather than looking for creative solutions promoting upward mobility. This situation demands for two straightforward solutions: ● Understanding and empathy ● Opportunity for consistent income A consistent household income right off the bat can not only support basic needs but also offer children that much-needed opportunity to have a successful education. Their journey may still not be smooth, but at least they have a ride. A consistent income coupled with successful education for children allows one the best chance at breaking the cycle of poverty and furthermore preventing it for future generations. We have a big problem, and we need big solutions, big people, big hearts, and big movements. One of the biggest reasons we are still unable to solve poverty may not be that we aren't givers or there is not enough for everyone, but that we lack empathy and an understanding of the problem and have developed narratives that are damaging and indeed may have potentially taken us deeper into poverty.
Let us begin with empathy. People's hardships cannot be measured on a tape, and their burdens cannot be weighed on a scale. Clearly these should not be measured or weighed, but understood and empathized with. Understanding and empathy followed by empowerment is a powerful strategy. Homelessness can be solved. People frequently ask me what is the biggest cause of homelessness. Unfortunately, there is no single answer to that question. Homelessness equates to poverty. Homelessness indicates extreme poverty. Poverty, on the other hand, does not equate to homelessnes. However, homelessness is at the tip of the iceberg of poverty. Millions of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck, struggle to pay their rent and have no savings are in the larger submerged portion of the iceberg and are at risk of homelessness. If you look closer, homelessness is not only a lack of a house, but also a lack of a car, a comfortable means of getting around, and last but not least a lack of a supportive family to fall back on during times of adversity. There are two types of homelessness: chronic and transitional. Chronic homelessness is extreme poverty, usually coupled with one of two additional issues: mental health problems or substance abuse. Thirty percent of all unhoused people are chronically homeless. Chronic homelessness is one of the most obstinate issues, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving health care and drug rehabilitation. Transitional or transient homelessness on the other hand is caused by housing unaffordability, a numerical mismatch between low income and high rental/housing prices. Imagine living on an income such that you must choose between putting food on the table or a roof over that table. For the eleven million American families who currently spend over 50% of their income on rent, this is not a hypothetical, but a reality.
Households that spend over 30% of their income on housing are considered cost burdened, and those that spend over 50% are severely cost burdened. This means that they are just one paycheck, one catastrophe, a hospitalization, or a job loss away from potentially becoming homeless. America is in a housing crisis. Millions of low-income working families struggle every day just to put a roof over their heads.
Nearly 39 million households can't afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation's Housing Report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.5 Transient homelessness constitutes 70% of the total unhoused population and can be overcome and prevented simply by increasing a person’s income. Entrepreneurship can be a great tool in these circumstances as a source of sole or supplemental income. Many shelters for the homeless go beyond offering food and bed to provide case manager services to assist with housing arrangements and job placements. It is time entrepreneurship becomes a part of the discussion on the table at every shelter for avenues to generate revenue and to ensure faster and better chances of sustainability. Even though the causes of poverty and homelessess are many, the solutions are in solidarity. To overcome, both poverty and homelessness, one needs a decent and regular income. This is universally perceived as a lack of a job. Instead, if one perceives it as lack of income, other avenues such as entrepreneurship become evident. With NANO, people that didn't have a job, were able to start a business while looking for one. They spoke about how their venture helped them network with new people and find a job and sometimes a better one than they had expected. On the other hand, those that already had a job but were unable to meet their needs also had the opportunity to start a NANO business to supplement their income. This group of people were amazed how their work place was a rich marketing ground which they leveraged to increase their customers and grow their businesses on the side. Broadening one’s mindset to avenues of income beyond jobs into business and beyond an employee into an entrepreneur can help both those fighting poverty and those trying to help them. It gives me extreme hope that entrepreneurship in terms of NANO businesses can be taken advantage of by many if not all. And if given the right resources, it can potentially be a fast and easy source of supplemental and sustained income. Anyone can be affected by poverty and homelessness During my endeavor, I met a teacher, a writer, an accountant, a manager, a business owner, a salesperson people from varied fields and different professions who were unfortunately struck by homelessness and poverty. For many of these professionals, the loss of an existing job alone put them into poverty’s trap relatively quickly. Finding a new job amidst a full plate of existing day-to-day issues and responsibilities and being unable to get another job right away pushed them deeper into the trap. The assumption that the unhoused, people living in shelters don't have a job is also not accurate. Many people at the shelters did have jobs, but the income was not enough for their basic needs, which gets even harder if you have a family to support. 113
Contrary to popular belief, a full-time job and a college degree, although highly advantageous, Do not provide immunity against poverty. In addition, having a full-time job and a college degree may not be enough for one to get out of poverty. Despite having the intellectual capability and discipline, getting out of poverty is difficult. However, it is possible. The right resources along with hope and support are needed to get unstuck and untangle oneself from poverty’s maze. Where are the resources? People across the economic spectrum, rich or poor need resources beyond money to solve a problem and to succeed. Even a great nation such as ours, where we enjoy advanced technology, cutting-edge research, the most philanthropic and generous society, and several government assistance programs, has one of the highest rates of poverty. The many government and non-government programs that provide food and shelter assistance are definitely a huge safety net. However, resources needed to help people make a sustained income and provide them a chance to walk themselves out of poverty are few to none. Take for instance, people having a hard time attending an interview, or going out to sell a few cases of water bottles at an intersection due to lack of transportation or child care. First, there is a lack of existence of certain resources. Second, if resources do exist, there is a lack of awareness of their existence. Third, if the above two are taken care of, there is a lack of complete access to those resources. To top it all off, the resources needed are different for different people and different circumstances. It is not one size fits all. St. Louis is home to at least two popular non-profit financial institutions that are small business microloan administrators who lend with 0% interest, through government support and community development grants. Most of the individuals that approached NANO were unaware of this opportunity. Of the select few that were aware and had made an attempt to go through the paperwork and criteria to qualify, such as credit scores and proof of income, in the end they were quoted high interest. A group of four unhoused people who had completed a gardening apprentice program, sought a loan to start a vegetable garden in the backyard of their shelter. After going through days of paperwork and background and credit verifications, they were quoted an interest rate of 27%. For such small amounts and for people that have so much to worry about, there should be no interest rates. It was shocking to see a very high number of payday loan stores and title loan stores in certain neighborhoods, sometimes two within a block. Even though these loans don’t need a credit check, they are subject to extremely high interest rates of up to 400%. For lack of better avenues, many resort to these lenders, especially during emergencies, which pulls them further down into debt and the poverty trap, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of. There is an immense need for small interest-free and risk-free loans which can not only help
bridge people out of their emergencies but can also be a means to start small businesses. A vendor permit in the city of St. Louis costs $200 and needs to be reapplied for every year. If a sidewalk business involves selling food, one needs a food permit in addition, which is $160 today. Asking everyone to pay irrespective of their economic status, leads people struggling for every dollar to do business without the permits, therefore risking fines and legal consequences. Are we solving the right problem, or are we creating a new problem? The push to start NANO After one of my original visits to the Destiny Family and Church shelter, I realized that it would be extremely beneficial to have an organization like Grameen America, which is experienced in microfinance and assisting the impoverished with businesses, come to St. Louis and help this populus. It seemed like a sure way to be able to help individuals who needed it, and at that time, I believed Grameen America, would be able to provide resources and mentorship that I myself could not. Thus, I decided to contact them, asking them to open a branch in or perhaps provide resources to St. Louis. I received a response a couple days later stating that Grameen America had already investigated and researched St. Louis as a potential area where Grameen America could provide assistance, but “at the time of their research, the start-up capital that was needed to incentivize Grameen America to begin work in St. Louis was cost prohibitive.” I was baffled, which is probably a severe understatement. I simply could not comprehend the logic that Grameen America was using. This is in no way trying to say Grameen America does bad work or is a bad organization; quite the opposite is true. Grameen America is a wonderful organization, but their requirements for cities and areas often leave out truly distressed communities, not providing the assistance they proclaim to give to the areas that need it. If a city or community meets certain requirements, then Grameen America doesn’t need to be the one to go help uplift that region even Peter Griffin could do it. As an organization that has proclaimed its dedication to helping the impoverished, it was beyond ironic that they ignored an area where there was poverty and an unhoused problem. Grameen America, however, wasn’t the only microlender or microfinance organization that had its areas where more people could benefit. Kiva, a very popular microlender that takes donations and gives extremely small loans to individuals throughout the world, including many countries in Africa, has not only strict terms and conditions attached to its loans but also an interest rate. There have been plenty of reports of individuals who have received loans from Kiva being under such immense stress and pressure to repay that they cannot even fully focus on their businesses. Another set of institutions that charge interest on their loans to the impoverished are payday lenders. Payday lenders’ interest rates are the most absurd, with some small loans having rates reaching 400%. The biggest issue with charging ANY interest rate on those in a distressed situation is the moral and ethical wrongdoing taking place. Further, 115
charging interest reduces the chances that the person who receives the loan can become successful with their business because they will constantly be overburdened with the stress of repaying with such a monumental interest rate. This is furthered by the fact that payday loans, which are small in amount, are taken by a smaller portion of individuals making under $15,000 (9%) than individuals making $15,000 - $25,000 (11%). If payday loans are meant to be in small amounts, then there should be a larger portion of people who are extremely distressed taking on such loans, since they are the ones who are truly in need of such resources. However, this is unfortunately not true, and individuals in distressed situations, due to fear of repayment, are, once again, disproportionately underrepresented by the institutions set in place, not giving them the opportunity they deserve in order to succeed. In another instance, I heard a story of a group of four individuals at the Destiny Family and Church Shelter who were working in the shelter’s garden and were seeking more gardening equipment in order to help them generate revenue by selling the food they were growing. These individuals sought out the government Small Business Administration loans, which supposedly can offer interest rates as low as 0%. However, when the four people who were unhoused went to seek this loan for the gardening equipment, they were quoted by Justine Petersen (finances Small Business Administration loans) at a 27 % interest rate. Twenty-seven percent for four individuals who were unhoused, trying to start a business. First off, it is ethically and morally wrong to quote 27% interest, or any interest, for someone in such a distressed situation. Beyond that, even if this group took the loan, their chances of success would drop drastically because of the constant worrying about how to repay the loan instead of developing and growing their business. Further, this high interest begs two questions. First, if people who were unhoused were getting quoted 27%, who was getting quoted the lowest rate of 0% that was supposedly given out? This then leads to the next question: Are there even any 0% interest rate loans being given? Situations like these clearly depicted to me the lack of help the unhoused were receiving from the government as well. These two situations didn’t make sense to me, in fact upset me. Clearly, banks and payday lenders, focused on monetary gain and treating individuals as pure risk, were not going to help in this situation; an organization like Grameen America, dedicated to helping the impoverished, was not going to help; even the government wasn’t going to help, which made me take action and become the bank myself: to launch NANO and launch NANO into full force.
Even a small amount can empower one economically and make a DIFFERENCE. With a tiny investment, even as low as $100, people got equipment, material, or merchandise that helped them make recurring income and changed lives. ● A snow cone maker/ice shaver for $94, empowered Philip to set up snow cone stalls at fairs and ball games, with a potential to make $100 to $300 per event and fulfill his dream of selling snow cones to children. 116
● A sewing machine worth $84 helped Veronica, sew baby clothes, and sell them not only now but also potentially for years down the road. ● For just $95 worth of painting equipment, Melita fulfilled her dream of making an income by drawing sketches for others. ● A Chromebook worth $150, helped Vanita, Irva, Brianna, Jessica, and many more with advertising their products and services online and securing more business. ● Within a week after Chef Kiki received her grill, worth $110, she got two catering orders each worth $100. ● With a $150 lawn mower, Lamar was excited that during some good weeks he was able to make a total of $500. ● Dustin flipped his initial merchandise of cut-off hoodies at his gym and made three times the purchase price. ● After securing all the licensing requirements for $200, Alvin was able to increase his pelleting and hauling business to an average of three jobs a week, each worth $50 to $150. (Disclaimer: The revenue mentioned above is self-reported by the entrepreneurs and not verified) Benefits go beyond money Beyond money, NANO gave people hope, joy, a sense of independence, a chance to make their dreams come true. People thanked me, hugged me, shed tears of joy at the sight of their long-dreamt power washer, lawn mower, or sewing machine. They commented that they felt someone cared. Businesses that were successful gave people confidence, independence, and a stronger sense of purpose. Starting a business and owning one is also a great learning experience that taught people new skills. For many, their business gave them an advantage over a job in terms of an unlimited potential for growth at their own pace. It taught them how to market themselves and their product, which helped them in job interviews. Some people got leads for jobs and offers during their business ventures. The dream of starting a business motivated one unhoused man to take care of his dependencies first and seek drug rehabilitation. Once Greg started generating revenue from his T-shirt designing business, he realized he needed regular refills of ink cartridges for his printer to continue his business without any interruptions. With his first earnings, he decided to invest in a monthly subscription plan for the ink. He then started to put aside money regularly to make a down payment on a car, which he had always wanted to have. A business gave him enough supplemental income to plan and to save for further goals.
The $50 project Unlike Destiny Shelter, City Hope is a night-time-only emergency shelter. City Hope is located blocks away from the Cortex Innovation community towards the west and a couple miles from the Gateway Arch. During the entrepreneurship workshop, four unhoused individuals decided to give life to the $50 question: If you had $50, how much could you multiply it in a day? They wrote up their business plans, all four of them selling items to tourists on Labor Day. NANO provided them with their initial merchandise worth $50. Rashard was a young, smart-witted man who decided to request a cooler with wheels worth $35 in his budget of $50 so he could continue to use it to sell cold drinks even after the project. He saw the cooler as an investment. He requested his merchandise of water bottles, Coke and ice with only the remaining $15. He indicated he would sell the first drinks provided, observe what kind of drinks people preferred at his sale site, and then, with the initial earnings, buy more of what was getting sold. He was a talker, and you could tell he could sell. Keith was a tall black man with a lot of questions. Keith predicted, because of the pandemic, selling hand sanitizers and masks would get the most return, so he requested merchandise of hand sanitizers and facemasks worth $50. Arlene was excited about the project and requested cigarettes to be sold. I discouraged the sale of cigarettes and requested that she come up with an alternate. Arlene was a persuader and said if she had cigarettes and lighters she could potentially make four times the amount, plus they would get sold fast and she would not even need a whole day's work. Even though Arlene’s thought process was great in terms of profit, I redirected her to sell items that do not cause people health problems. Arlene's second choice of merchandise was creative and timely for the weather and the day. Head umbrellas, a neat idea for a Labor Day tourist at the Gateway Arch. Jack, known in the community as Uncle Jack, was 74 and was very methodical. He wore a mask that read, “I cannot breathe,” and he carried with him a small notebook and took down notes. He was excited about the project; however, he stated his time frame was not a day but a week and that because of his age, he needed to be careful and not stress himself with deadlines. Uncle Jack already had a wheeled cooler, which he was using as a cart to push around his belongings. So he made a long list of inventory for $50, including specific chocolate bars such as Hersheys, Snickers, and Butterfingers, along with water bottles, soda, and ice.
Labor Day was their big day. Their merchandise was delivered to them at the shelter in the morning. Back at the shelter that evening, everyone had a lot to say. Rashard made close to 5 times the money, which was incredible considering his starting merchandise was only valued at $15. He
noticed that people bought more water than Coke and noticed that the majority of his customers were joggers at the Arch who preferred sports dinks. As a result of this observation, for his next refill, he bought Gatorade. Rashard said he had to frequently move places when he saw an officer, since he did not have a vendor permit. He also came across two homeless people at the park and gave them a water bottle for free. Rashard had a lot of stories to tell, but one of the most inspiring ones was that one of his customers, a used car salesman, offered Rashard an interview for a job and gave him his card. Keith decided to sell his items outside of a convenience store, hoping people who forgot to get their mask would buy his masks, since all stores mandated wearing masks. He tried to market to people that they were cheaper than the ones in the store and they were washable and reusable. However, Keith was faced with several issues with customer preferences for masks, such as color, design, sizes for kids, etc. He wasn't able to sell many masks outside the store, and he wasn't able to sell any hand sanitizer. So he shifted gears and moved to the tourist area where he was able to sell some hand sanitizers, but not masks. The day did not go well for Keith in terms of sales. He decided to sell the next day outside of office buildings when people got back to work. At the end of one week, Keith made three times the initial investment, which he reinvested in a heat compress machine to start his bigger venture of printing T-shirts. Arlene had a delay in getting her merchandise, and she made her sales the next weekend. Even though Arlene had great sales skills, she was disappointed that she generated only twice the amount. This was primarily because of the high initial price of the head umbrellas. Arlene and others commented that they had learnt several different things from the experience and could make better sales next time. Uncle Jack opened his notebook and gave the proceeds of the day hour by hour. He decided to set up his sidewalk sale of candy, water, and soda at the Civic Center bus station. As it got hotter, he had to get on the bus himself for some AC and a nap. After some rest, he made some additional sales. By the end of the day he had made $20 but had plenty of merchandise left. He made a schedule to sell every day for the next week. He took close to two weeks to sell most of the items and, in the end, made three times the initial amount. Uncle Jack felt the project gave a purpose to his day, something to look forward to. Many people often asked him for details of bus numbers and routes and he was happy to help them out. He was previously a salesman and reflected that the best part of sales was the conversations he had with people. A business gave them the pride of ownership, the freedom to work on their own schedule, and a feeling of accomplishment. A loan over charity Given that NANO’s loans are fully forgivable, interest free, and only supposed to be repaid once the recipient is comfortable and given as a loan to another person instead of coming back to NANO, I have been asked numerous times, “Why do you call it a loan?” There is a persistent 120
idea that NANO is just a charity and should be labeled as such, but that defeats the entire purpose and value behind NANO. The term “loan” has been used for ages to display that the person receiving it was worthy of that loan. In order for someone to receive a regular loan from a bank or even the government, there are many restrictions, quite a few of them revolving around credit, which can become near impossible for someone who is unhoused to meet or ever build up to. One of the reasons that I continue to call NANO’s loans as “loans” is that I am hoping that more organizations, banks, and the government can adopt these loans to give unhoused individuals the opportunity to build credit and thus open more opportunities to them. This was one of the ideas behind giving this kind of loan to unhoused individuals: if they were not able to repay, no harm done to them, they would lose nothing; however, if they became successful and were able to repay, then this loan would allow them to develop credit. It’s always important that the goal of NANO is not just to provide the unhoused an opportunity to become entrepreneurs, but to actually help them in a manner truly beneficial to them in the long run. The other large reason that I do not use any other term but “loan” or “lending” to describe the act of funding equipment, materials, and merchandise is what a loan means. A loan displays that NANO, I, and others believe in you, believe in your chances, and are willing to put their money on you in the belief that you can become successful. A loan displays confidence in the recipient. It shows that NANO trusts you and cares about you, even if the regular banking system, others, and even the government may not. Further, it gives recipients a sense of dignity that they may have been stripped of due to their situation. Greg, a member of the Destiny Family and Church Shelter, stated that there were many churches and charities that would come and provide food or some service temporarily to the shelter. In Greg’s own words, however, he felt that NANO was there to help them and cared about them, the individuals in the shelter, while the other organizations came to help the shelter, but gave little attention to members of the shelter. Now, this is in no means trying to state that the work that churches and charities are doing to help the unhoused is bad or unnecessary; quite the opposite: churches, charities, and organizations giving donations or food or clothes are essential, and without them NANO would not be able to provide the opportunities it does. The work that charities and churches do allows individuals in shelters to at least remove some of their worry about where they will find food for that day, allowing them the opportunity to have thoughts about other aspects of life, such as a business or finding housing. The work they do is just as important as the work that NANO does. Greg’s statement, however, is a call to action for more organizations to pick up the work that NANO does, helping individuals in various aspects of their life, mentoring them, and working on a case-by-case basis to help them become successful. But as soon as I begin to call what NANO does, charity, and stray away from a loan is the moment that NANO loses its true value: providing dignity, showing care, and believing in individuals NANO helps.
“Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community.” This is one of my favorite quotes by Andre, who stated this during my first visit and discussion with those in a shelter. Despite his struggles to overcome dependence, Andre had excellent communication skills. On my first visit and discussion with people at Destiny Shelter, it was remarkable that people were friendly, smart, and attentive and had a great sense of humor. I am blown away by the number of different ways people found to make money. People experimented with several skills and avenues. Every single person I met had tried at least one if not many business ventures. Harvard Business School professor, and an expert on the topic of entrepreneurship, Howard H. Stevenson called entrepreneurship “the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control,” which has been used as a standard by Harvard Business School since the 1980s. Examining history and culture in more than forty countries over the last two decades, Professor Stevenson made several hypotheses, one of which is that “entrepreneurship flourishes in communities where resources are mobile.” So it is not a surprise that people facing poverty had difficulty going further and sustaining their business. Making existing resources more accessible is one of the simplest things we can do right away to help. People had immense skills in sales because they had made their entire lives on selling any item they could find. They also seemed to have several other entrepreneurial skills, which were unrecognized by both themselves and others. “All human beings are born entrepreneurs. Some get a chance to unleash that capacity. Some never…” -- Muhammad Yunus “If you can sell, you can get any job.” -- Mark Cuban Why not grow those skills and help people make a sustainable source of income? Why not make entrepreneurship accessible to all?
Creativity, persistence, and clear goals One might think putting up with constant stress in life hinders creativity, but that is not true. Although landscaping, flipping, cooking, catering, and home services seemed to interest several people, there were individuals who had novel and creative ideas for a business as well. Some of these were: ● Mommy and me boutique: selling similar design clothes for mom and baby. ● An online used furniture store for the homeless: connecting used furniture sellers to people who finally move into a new home from a shelter and have limited resources. ● An advertising platform connecting clients to services in a local community. ● Painting used pallets and turning them into simple furniture. ● Box purses: attaching hooks and straps to antique boxes and selling them as purses. 122
● Fur sandals: colorful fur on sandals. ● A mobile nail salon: providing nail services at homes and shelters. There are also numerous examples of persistence and hard work among the entrepreneurs. Ever since Lamar had developed seizures due to a prior head injury, things had changed. He lost his job, leaving him stranded with his health problem and the responsibility of a young child. Lamar immediately took up a spot at a local nonprofit organization which offers a landscaping apprentice program for the homeless. The manager of the program frequently commended Lamar for his discipline, regular attendance, and hard work. Lamar’s goal was to make and save every dollar to buy his own motorized lawn mower. A lock and a key topping the list of materials requested for a loan is unusual. Margaret, who was making anywhere from $100 - $900 a week by doing people’s nails, had a life-changing event one day when all her nail equipment was stolen. Now a resident of a shelter for youth, Margaret works several hours at a local McDonald’s, while taking care of her five-year-old son to make additional money to build her nail supplies back. Margaret was funded a lockable mobile beauty/suitcase in addition to her nail supplies and equipment to help with her venture. Despite facing multiple issues, people had clear and strong goals. During my few hours of interaction with Margaret, she repeated herself numerous times: “I need to get my home” and “I need to get my cosmetology degree.” Even though my discussions with people revolved around their dreams and plans for their business, many of them talked about their life goals. “I need to get a home” and “I need to make a steady income” were two common goals people expressed during their conversations at the shelters I visited. For example, Greg’s first goal was to save money to make a down payment and get a loan for a car and then to make enough for rent. The impoverished are givers too Examples of individuals hanging by a thread economically who have little money and few possessions but are still generous and willing to share are all around us. NANO is a beautiful example of not one but many amazing stories of generosity. People are compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others irrespective of their own economic situation. Professor Utpal Dholakia of Rice University concluded, in his blog post in Psychology Today, that people who have less give more.6 He reviewed a paper where social psychologists compared low and high-social class individuals, defining social class by the person’s own estimate of their socioeconomic rank based on education, income, and occupation status relative to others in their community. In the study, low-social class participants were more generous and believed they should give more of their annual income to charity (4.95% vs. 2.95%). They were also more likely to trust strangers and showed more helping behavior towards someone in distress.
Frank Flynn,a professor at Stanford University, explored research showing that the most generous, trusting, and helpful people are not those with more money but, rather, those with less.7 Regardless of their own struggles and economic hardships, people with NANO were motivated by the thought that their repayment would help others. People were excited that they had the opportunity to help others and wanted to give. Of the entrepreneurs we have been able to follow up with all have repaid their loan by helping another entrepreneur in the community. NANO has never been advertised. NANO has spread because existing entrepreneurs spread the word and encouraged their friends and family to utilize the resources. Even though their businesses are brand new and not fully established, people readily offered free services to help others. ● Robert sewed over one hundred face masks, which were donated to residents of his shelter, other local shelters, and those in encampments. ● Alvin provided free delivery services for the shelter he was acquainted with. ● Mitchell provided accounting services and helped set up LLCs for other entrepreneurs. ● Eddie mowed the grass free not only for Hope House but also for other community gardens. ● Malita, who got sketching tools, provided her sketching services for free. ● Veronica, who had received her sewing machine and needed sketches to sew new designs. ● Greg offered to advertise Lamont’s catering services for free after his website was launched. Some entrepreneurs came up with ventures which are not only solutions to existing problems but also directly help those in need: ● A virtual/online used furniture store for the homeless connecting used furniture sellers to people who move into a new home from a shelter in addition to connecting and working with donors and non-profit organizations to help get the furniture for less or for free. ● A weekend-only emergency transition shelter for those who face situations on a Friday and cannot be placed in a shelter until Monday. ● A day care for the disabled. Money is not the complete solution It became evident that even though money is important, it alone cannot surmount every hurdle. We are human and we all need words of encouragement, particularly while facing a failure. We need someone to remind us that it will be OK. Similar to how business mentors are indispensable to the success of a startup, life mentors and cheerleaders are essential for emotional perseverance through hardships. Sometimes adversity hits hard at the most unexpected times and hits all at once. People fighting such adversities deserve commendation, praise, and encouragement, and to be treated as champions. 124
Mentoring and cheerleading can be vital. Even though the absence of strong family support cannot be replaced, mentoring and cheerleading can be the best alternative. Mentors may help promote resilience and strategies for healthy problem-solving. A study done involving youth facing homelessness looking at qualitative analysis of mentoring shows that when people have someone they can trust and count on, they can develop positive relationships moving forward. This enables them to find hope that they will have a positive future and to know they have someone looking out for them.8 Lessons from fundraising Once the $3,000 I had saved through the years, a collection of prize money from math contests, tutoring students for math contests, lemonade stands, and other small entrepreneurial ventures ran out, I had no desire to stop but wanted to grow the lending hand. Raising funds was initially a new challenge for me, as it truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, I knew that I would have to become comfortable fundraising if NANO would truly be able to make a meaningful impact, so I started to raise funds from friends, family, neighbors, and local businesses in the community. I am thankful to all the generous donors without whom NANO would not have touched the lives of so many. Some of them I approached and some came forward hearing about the work and donated without being asked. SuperBowl LIII, Sunday, February 3, 2019 was my very first fundraising event. I organized a SuperBowl raffle for an iTunes gift card. Despite planning extensively for it, I felt unstructured and didn't know what to expect. The empty basement with a counter full of chips, nachos, soda, and snacks was quickly packed with people by 5:30 p.m. The game was a slight disappointment. Even though my beloved Patriots had won, in comparison to the previous year where they lost, it was a big let down. While the Super Bowl prior had been a back-and-forth offensive powered game, this one was fueled by defense, field position, and making sure the punters’ legs didn't fall off from being overused. Despite the low energy of the game, the guests, regardless of their team winning or losing, came together and contributed to the raffle. I am thankful to my friends who were the very first donors to NANO. Many of them still not working, at the most a tutor at Kumon, donated their allowance from laundry, picking up trash, mowing their lawn, food or car allowance, their game money, etc. They set the first examples of NANO members who gave despite having less in their own pockets. They were the very first banks. It was not only my first fundraising event but also the most fun one. Although the raffle was not the best fundraising method in terms of the total funds raised, it was a rich outcome in several 125
other ways. For someone that has always had a hard time asking for money from others, this experience prepared me well and gave me a sample of the fundraising experience. Additionally, the event got people inspired and interested in the work NANO was doing and helped get the word out. As a result, NANO gained valuable volunteers, who gave their time to future fundraisers as well. Some of my friends started to help by visiting shelters with me, conducting workshops, helping people with their business plans, creating websites, advertising their businesses on social media, and more. Later on, mentors, experts, community leaders, and local businesses gave their time to assist NANO entrepreneurs in their ventures. Following my first experience with fundraising, I had to switch gears from math contests and teenagers to asking the adults, the neighbors, the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, the mentors, and local businesses to help. Eventually, I learned to turn every party I attended into a fundraising campaign. I explained my project to the host of the party and asked for permission to have fifteen minutes with all the guests together at the end. Many were generous enough to let me do so. Now, when people see me at parties, they expect a fundraising campaign. Eventually I started to plan beforehand by calling the host for permission and potentially trying to bake some food for the guests. As people enjoyed the company of friends and relatives and their dessert, I made my presentation of NANO, of the people who received the equipment, of the people that did well, and of the dreams and requested equipment of new entrepreneurs. Fundraising took a new direction when I started pitching NANO to my business mentors at Spark! and local small businesses in my community, who donated funds not only for one entrepreneur but for several entrepreneurs ahead of time. I additionally approached local grocery stores if they could add NANO to their checkout charity list. I am thankful to live in such a giving and caring community where people are willing to help each other. Together, we can find better and faster solutions to cut poverty and give everyone a chance at prosperity and abundance. Fundraising is a great opportunity for people to critique and provide valuable feedback. People raised important questions and issues, some of which I had thought about and addressed, while others provoked my thoughts and ideas to do more and better. Overarching concerns were about where people would keep their equipment, how they would transport their equipment and fight dependencies, why it was a loan and not a donation, and how to track the pay-forward to the community. All of these topics and concerns made me look deeper into the potential issues and pushed me to find better solutions. The concern and safety of the equipment was addressed much earlier, during the beginning of NANO. Shelters were willing to provide space for people’s equipment if needed. Once an individual’s time at the shelter was up, if they did not have a safe plan and had to be back on the streets, the shelters gave them the option of continuing to use the shelter space for their 126
equipment and allowed them to take it on a daily basis or whenever necessary. Some of the apprentice programs also allowed their entrepreneurs to store their equipment with them. Online fundraising, a tool accessible to all, took a leap during the COVID-19 pandemic. A GoFundMe campaign helped kickstart COVID-19 relief for the unhoused, raising funds for sewing machines and fabric needed to make face masks for homeless shelters and unhoused individuals. Despite being online, the majority of fundraising still revolved around word of mouth. The wonderful part about fundraising is that it is about more than the funds. Fundraising raises concerns, feedback and structured criticism and attracts new volunteers, new projects, and new connections with community leaders doing similar work. Another big source of revenue for NANO has come from pitch contests. Pitch contests additionally serve as a free fundraising campaign and a marketing tool to attract new donors and volunteers from the audience. Fundraising for individual entrepreneurs and their needs has yielded the highest benefit. When people donate and know whom they have donated to, they become more vested in their recipient’s success. Donors also volunteer to mentor and be cheerleaders. The donors have connected and later choose to offer business to the people they have helped. This in turn also gives free marketing to NANO entrepreneurs’ services. Fundraising as a whole is a powerful tool that enables one to share the joy and gratification of empowering an individual, seeing that person’s dreams and vision come to life, and sharing their successes with the donors. The conversations I continue to have in follow-up with the donors about the progress of the entrepreneurs they have helped never cease to bring joy. Through NANO, both by helping the unhoused and through fundraising, I have been able to develop valuable relationships with many people, and I now feel more connected to my community.
NANO MOVEMENT From understanding to taking action
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A radical change to poverty America is the most generous nation Do something different - be the unlikely ally Everyone is a bank “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community” Outnumbering the problem Banks can be inclusive of those in need Government and policy on our team A thriving community
In his address to the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 2016, President Obama said, “There’s always been a gap between our highest ideals and the reality we witness every day. But what makes us exceptional - what makes us American is that we have fought wars, passed laws and reformed systems, organized unions and staged protests, and launched mighty movements to close that gap.”1 NANO is a movement of everyday people desiring to radically end poverty in people’s lives by empowering themselves as banks and empowering struggling individuals as entrepreneurs. “Everyone is a bank” - is the concept at the center of the NANO movement. This concept can lift one person, or many people, out of poverty, causing not a ripple effect but a tsunami that wipes out poverty. A radical change to solving poverty and homelessness In one of the richest countries on earth, poverty still exists, and it exists in a visible and big way. In one of most extravagant countries, home to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, many people still call streets their home. In one of the most luxurious countries with emerging space tourism, people don't have a car or another safe means of transportation. In one of the most innovative countries on Earth, we lack efficient solutions to put an end to poverty. In one of the most technologically advanced countries, we lack a tool to identify those at risk of poverty. In one of the most artificially intelligent societies, we are unable to create an algorithm to get some one out of poverty’s maze. In one of the most philanthropic countries on the earth, we are unable to connect everyone in need to the giving. In one of the most generous countries in the world, people still lack hope. It is time we closed the gap. Even one person in poverty is too many.
Economic instability subjects one to a state of constant scarcity, a search for food, shelter, transportation, higher education, health care, and jobs. It is a self-perpetuating problem until the cycle is intentionally broken by a means of sustained income. According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, extreme poverty is a global emergency. More than one billion people--one-sixth of the world's population--live in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day.2 Building and strengthening entrepreneurship ecosystems made up of NANO businesses in struggling communities may be the quickest way to end poverty in communities and bring a radical change to their economies simultaneously. NANO businesses are started with low investments, are risk free, provide quick and additional income, and can be scaled. NANO is a movement of all people who are leaders, irrespective of age, race, and economic standing, that believe everyone is a bank: a bank that mobilizes resources for those struggling economically. ● A movement empowering people with NANO businesses. ● A movement of bold people that believe everyone is an entrepreneur and invest in starting their businesses. ● A movement of banks that believe the impoverished should not be subject to lending based on interest. ● A movement where the amount lent to NANO entrepreneurs is not paid back but paid forward. ● A movement of compassionate people that aspire to end pain and suffering related to poverty. ● A movement that understands the problem of poverty and starts with empathy. ● A movement of mentors and cheerleaders that help people persevere through their journey until success is reached. ● A movement that harnesses the collective power of people to speed up poverty alleviation. ● A movement that enables everyone to achieve self-sustainment. ● A movement that does not wait for others to be the unexpected and unlikely ally. ● A movement that champions the economically struggling who are philanthropists themselves. ● A movement that leverages government, banks, businesses, and organizations. ● A movement of people that think big, take action, and prove how much we value each other. ● A movement that brings all of us closer, and makes us better connected. ● A movement that brings a change.
America is the most generous country When you take action, people follow. From billion-dollar foundations to the poor, everyone is a giver. NANO exemplifies the generosity of people that are living on thin economic strands themselves. We are one of the most giving nations in the world. Our people, our foundations and our companies together donated roughly $410 billion in 2017, about 2.1% of the country’s GDP. In fact, the amount Americans donated was more than the entire GDP of all but about 40 countries in the world. The United States being the most generous country is not just based on the contributions of big foundations and the 1.4 million nonprofits that call the US home, but also on the number of people donating to charity, the number of people that helped a stranger in need, and the number of people that volunteer their time. This cumulative value is called the World Giving Index.3 America has consistently topped the list over the last decade.4 Despite our generosity, problems still plague our society. If the basic narrative of solving poverty is simply the inability to make enough sustained income or a lack of employment, a collective focus and effort on economic empowerment and self-sustainment of individuals through helping them start their own NANO businesses is a strong fresh start. Do something different, be the unlikely ally Nita Mosby Tyler, in her TEDx talk on “Want a More Just World, Be an Unlikely Ally,” powerfully challenges conventional thinking in championing a cause. She asks, “What if unlikely allies led out in front of issues? What if Black and Native American people stood in front of immigration issues? Or what if White people led the charge to end racism?” Anyone, including kids, including those already struggling, can be that unlikely ally and have a social impact. Likely or unlikely ally, we need both to create the world we crave. Austin Perine delivers chicken sandwiches on a weekly basis. As he calls it, "giving food and smiles'' to people facing homelssness in Birmingham, Alabama. Austin chose to buy food for the homeless with his weekly toy allowance. Austin is only four!5 Austin is a template proving that anyone can be a catalyst in their own community’s development.
You are a bank Your ability to lend and give makes YOU a bank - no matter how big or small the amount. As a bank, you have the power and ability to completely transform lives. Anyone can be a source of economic power and an agent of economic mobility in our societies. We need a bank that is invested in the economy of individuals, particularly those that are financially struggling. We need a bank that provides interest-free, terms-free, pay-it-forward loans with an anticipation of success. We need a bank that is not self-centered or centered at all, but is diffused across many people, and banks as small but equal centers along the way to create a movement of collective banks for a common good. We need a bank that is based on the core value that the impoverished, the unhoused, and those already struggling economically must not be subject to interest. We need a bank that grows and advances with no fees, no paperwork, and most importantly no interest. We need a bank that is simple, transparent, and accessible to all. Next time you see a panhandler, or someone facing job loss or fighting poverty, have a conversation, be a listener, help them spark their hope, their vision for something big, and be the bank. Entrepreneurship is everywhere Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship is not just for the wealthy As Andre put it, “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in this community.” Andre was a fellow member at the Destiny Family and Church Shelter and during a discussion I had with some other members. He furthered this statement by elaborating on the various ventures that he and others had conducted with no fall backs. That venture had to succeed because if it didn’t, they might not have food for that day. Such ventures included anything from selling scrap metal to junkyards to becoming a single-day salesperson at a local store with extra products left over. Each day provided an opportunity for them to delve into a new venture, each so vastly different from the last, but with one commonality: they needed it to eat. See, an entrepreneur who is not currently unhoused often has many worries on their mind about what could happen if they failed, and the potential debt or difficult situation they might be in. For unhoused entrepreneurs, this is already a reality, and they know that if their venture fails that day, then there is a high chance they won’t be able to eat. They have lived their lives in high-impact situations where they feel the pressure to succeed. This in turn, has enabled them to tune and perfect a wide variety of skills that they have needed to employ just in their day-to-day lives.
One of these skills which many unhoused entrepreneurs have been able to perfect is sales. I have met so many unhoused individuals who are excellent at selling anything and everything. From shoes to hair services, I have seen nearly every item imaginable being sold by someone, and rather successfully. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that unhoused individuals have such a large potential for success is their expertise with sales. When someone becomes an entrepreneur, they are essentially on their own. They report to themselves, work for themselves, and thus, sell themselves as well. In order to generate revenue of any sort, an entrepreneur needs to be able to sell themselves or the service or product they are offering. Without skill in sales, an entrepreneur sees a large possibility of doom. Luckily, for many unhoused entrepreneurs, they are proficient at sales, immediately increasing their chances of success. However, beyond just being incredible salespeople, unhoused entrepreneurs possess so many other skills they can employ, something very essential for an entrepreneur, since entrepreneurs, at least at the beginning, must do everything, or almost everything, themselves. Thus, it is a near necessity for an entrepreneur to have a vast array of skills that they can employ at any moment, something that is true of many unhoused entrepreneurs due to their past experiences. I think the ideal thing to pick up from these experiences and this knowledge is that an unhoused entrepreneur actually has a greater chance of success than someone who has housing. All things being equal, an unhoused entrepreneur is far more likely to do better as well. How often do we as people decide, however, to lend a hundred dollars to a friend or family member to help them when they are on their own or pursuing their passion or venture? Granted, giving to someone who we don’t know as well as a family member or friend can be more difficult, but how comfortable would you feel giving a hundred dollars, expecting nothing in return, to someone who lived in the average house with an average family in the United States? Now what about someone with a difficult family situation and who is unhoused? Chances are you probably thought to yourself you would be just as comfortable giving to the unhoused person as to the average person, but deep down you knew that likely isn’t true. Now, this might not be true for everyone, but I am willing to guess it is true for most. This guess is based on my experiences explaining NANO to individuals and receiving comments such as “You are OK with lending to these people?” This comment often comes despite some of them hearing my entrepreneurial venture ideas and being very willing to give amounts without expecting any return. That guess is also based on the current state of lending and the unhoused problem within the country. This isn’t to put blame on you or anyone, but rather to encourage you to, as I have said and will continue to state, actively think about the unhoused. These individuals have more experience as entrepreneurs than vast majority of the country. If you are looking to help the unhoused problem by lending some equipment to unhoused entrepreneurs (great!), but feel uncomfortable, remember there is an extremely high chance they are more skilled, entrepreneurially, than someone you would be comfortable lending to. But if you still don’t feel comfortable lending monetary resources (which is OK as well), it is time, we all began to treat these individuals with entrepreneurship at the forefront of our thought process, 132
as opposed to their housing situation. This will provide for so many things that NANO strives to give beyond monetary resources: belief, faith, trust, care, and confidence. Outnumbering the problem Mentorship and guidance is a vital component for any business or entrepreneurial venture. Take the business program that my school is able to offer, for example: it is essentially unanimous that the most important portion of the program is the mentors who are able to come in and provide their wisdom, guidance, and advice to benefit the students. Further, nearly every successful business, from small to multinational, has received some sort of guidance or expertise from someone along the journey. Similarly, for unhoused individuals who receive equipment, material, or merchandise from NANO, having some form of mentorship or guidance is crucial in order to maximize their chances of success. So far, a few small businesses in the St. Louis area have been kind enough to donate to NANO and provide mentorship to some of the individuals that NANO assists. Further, NANO is now working to have successful individuals, like Vonita, become mentors for other individuals who are embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys. While this has proven to be extremely beneficial, it is only a stepping stone to achieving a larger goal where there are more businesses and mentors who offer their time and expertise to help unhoused individuals. In fact, this method of each person, or business, helping another person offers a unique and interesting solution to the unhoused problem throughout the entire nation. There are currently over 500,000 unhoused individuals in the United States. This is a number, unfortunately, that will likely rise in the following year due to the secondary effects and negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, however, there are over thirty million small businesses in the United States. Even with a large increase in the number of unhoused in the United States, there would be far more small businesses than the unhoused individuals. If each small business were to mentor and provide guidance to one person who was unhoused and mentor them through a potential business, venture, or any other aspect and help them become successful, we would be able to completely outnumber the unhoused problem in our country. Even if just 2 - 3% of the small businesses in the United States were to provide such mentorship, we would still be able to outnumber the unhoused problem. This is another manner in which you as an individual or a small business can help solve this very pertinent problem. It is a method to work with just one person, for you to play a part in the solution, and we can build toward an overall solution of outnumbering the problem all together.
Banks can be inclusive of those in need If only our banking system had a provision for those struggling economically, payday lending and several other poverty traps might not exist. Working with the unhoused entrepreneurs opened my eyes to the harsh traps of poverty, where basic resources are a luxury and structured support from banks, a fantasy. Banking for the poor needs to be compassionate and inclusive. People without a house, a car, or a bank account cannot be subject to the same rules and regulations in terms of collateral, interest rates, and terms of repayment. The rules need to be different. For low-income and no-income families and individuals, banks’ goal must shift from profitability for the institution to the benefit of the individual. The current banking system is not only not inclusive of the poor, it is actively exclusive and more stressful for the poor because of their lack of credit, the high interest rates, their lack of needed collateral, and the strict regulations and terms. All of these factors simply either push people further away or lead to them falling prey to payday lenders. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, in 2010, there were 26 million consumers in America who were “credit invisible,” accounting for 11 % of the entire adult population.6 If someone is born into poverty, they may never have a decent opportunity to build their credit. This needs to be changed. Offering nano-loans (amounts of under $1,000) to help people start their nano- businesses, a business started by 1-3 people with an initial capital under $1000 is a start. Such loans targeting those in poverty are interest free, not limited by collateral or terms, and fully forgivable but provide the opportunity to build credit. Such loans and products can provide a stress-free opportunity to grow economic independence and stimulate not only the individual economy but also that of the community. It opens people’s chances to build credit safely, eventually allowing them to merge into the traditional banking system. This eventually benefits the banking industry and our economy in both the short and the long term. Role of government and policy Our government recently set a powerful example of the role of forgivable small business loans though the paycheck protection program of the CARES Act. Why not use this model to boost the economy of our distressed communities? NANO advocates for interest-free forgivable loans to those that have no credit to stimulate their economic growth and give them the opportunity to build credit. It is a powerful prevention measure with the potential for significant long-term return on investment, since empowering one economically some will cut expenditure down the road.
Just last year, in 2019, there were over 500,000 citizens of the United States who were unhoused, and the official poverty rate was 10.5%. Many of these individuals have the skills necessary to exit the situation they are in but lack the initial resources required. Government loan programs to help small businesses have quoted people who are unhoused 27% interest on one known occasion. This completely defeats the purpose and is nothing different from payday lenders and makes people more likely to fall prey to predatory lenders. Recognizing the role of and encouraging entrepreneurship is one of the most important initiatives policymakers can take to help those who are struggling economically increase their incomes, better provide for their families, become self-sustained, break the cycle of poverty, and cause ripple effects into their community’s economy. Here are some of the ways our government and policy can play a big role: ● ● ●
Recognize entrepreneurship as a learning and earning tool. Change the rules of lending for the impoverished and the uncredited. Create policies that incentivize banks and lenders to provide those in extreme poverty with NANO loans, that are interest free and forgivable but allow the opportunity to build credit. Eliminate barriers to entrepreneurship such as waiving the monetary regulations around starting a business such as a business license fee, peddler’s license fee, and provide access to transportation and child care during initial phases of entrepreneurship. Require companies and corporations to offer bus pases and child care for interviews and for the first month. Give shelters for the unhoused resources to enable them to start business incubators, along with dedicated case manager hours to explore and encourage entrepreneurship as another tool of economic empowerment along with helping people with their job search and career development. Incentivize banks to open branches in distressed communities and poverty-dense zip codes and provide solutions to become more inclusive of the struggling population in the community. Develop policies to create a coherence between policy, banking, lending, shelters, delivery systems and the impoverished citizen.
The overall goal of these policies is to create a solution that gives each and every person a meaningful opportunity to create their own business and attain financial independence. Policy should offer a stress-free opportunity to start a business, grow it, and achieve economic independence all while building credit. As our governments, churches, and nonprofits are investing resources in food and shelter, which are very much needed, spending a tiny amount on resources to start a business will
provide a potentially permanent solution for people to exit the state of homelessness along with providing dignity and hope. Thriving communities Intolerance to suffering, an urge to remove pain from people's lives and a sincere desire to see everyone’s personal economies self-sustained and our communities thrive is what drives NANO. NANO has not only changed the lives of the entrepreneurs but also those of the donors and myself. Many donors have gone beyond funding. A donor that initially funded Alvin for his delivery business procured his delivery services when they were moving houses. NANO entrepreneurs in the landscaping business are hired by donors to mow their lawns and to provide other services. Donors hired Vonita to cater food to donate to shelters during the holidays. Margaret regularly receives referrals for nail services during birthday parties. NANO has brought people closer to each other and made the community one, forming lattices and bridges with each other and with government, the private sector and civil society. This march towards unity--neighbor to neighbor and community to community-- has laid the foundation for the private sector and civil society to lessen the burden on the government and the taxpayers. We create our own stories, be it as a giver, a receiver or both. NANO is not only the story of those that overcome their hardships through entrepreneurship, but the stories of all of those who generously share their money, time, skills, resources, energy, and wishes for their success. Through NANO every person feels connected and every problem feels solvable. NANO has brought me closer to my community of St. Louis and given me the tools to tackle some of the harshest societal problems we face: poverty and homelessness. I am looking forward to the day when we collectively become engaged shepherds of our communities so that when problems arise, we can eradicate them courageously and creatively. “Change can occur from the ground up. But we must begin and we must persevere. Many Americans have been working towards the alleviation of poverty. Many more need to join. Uniting these efforts is a vision worth striving for-that one day in the not too distant future, we will look back on the widespread poverty that once blemished America and marvel at the sweeping changes that have occurred. No longer will there be children without enough to eat or parents unable to afford basic health care. That families once were forced to sleep on the streets will be an injustice of the past. The United States will become an innovator, rather than a laggard in addressing and alleviating the scourge of poverty.” Thoughtful and eloquently stated in One Nation Underprivileged, Why American Poverty Affects Us All (253-254), by Professor Mark Rank, expert on poverty and Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.7 With a pandemic unwilling to relent, a global economic contraction at the precipice of disaster, and lingering inequities that should have been relegated to the history books, the time to rise and take action is now! Forging a brand new path to empowering everyone with a decent way of earning a living and restoring dignity is an imperative. 136
Inspired by how a single piece of equipment can be a gamechanger to not only one person’s economy but also the economy of many others in the community, NANO change-makers continue to empower more people and grow the chain of entrepreneurs. The idea that everyone is a bank and holds the keys to empowering others in their community to launch their business, is powerful. Traditional banks and lenders are designed as restrictive communities for the ones that have, leaving in the dust the ones that are have-nots. The excuse that I will change the world once I become a trillionaire is cowardly. One can transform another’s life with just a few dollars or even a small piece of equipment. This idea that you can lift your neighbor permanently from the chokehold of poverty is meaningful and possible. Additionally, the donors and mentors stick with the recipient through their journey till their story can be ended with, “And they lived happily ever after.” Currently, about 10% of our population is fighting the painful jaws of poverty and 29.9% or 93.6 million living close to poverty. Among the other 90%, if only a matching 10% came out to help one person each we would be able to nearly solve the problem. But what if all 90% came to the rescue? We could wipe out the pains and traces of poverty, not only in the USA but the world. Let us take that bold step now. The next time you hear yourself or anyone else say, “If only I had ____, I could start my own business,” TAKE ACTION. Be the bank. Give a loan or resource to make it real and see where it may lead them, and you.
REFERENCES Introduction 1.https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018 2.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_St._Louis 3.https://www.huffpost.com/entry/nanobusiness-a-little-but_b_4170559
Chapter 1 1. Brad Stone, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. 2. https://fox2now.com/am-show/st-louis-surgeon-works-tirelessly-for-children-in-india/ Chapter 2 1. https://weatherhead.case.edu/centers/fowler/business/appreciative-inquiry Chapter 4 1. Muhammad Yunus, Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.
Chapter 5 1. https://hoodline.com/2016/12/is-homeless-the-right-word-for-those-living-on-the-street 2. https://hbr.org/2012/09/are-you-solving-the-right-problem 3. http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/nbhds_exec_summary.pdf 4.https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2014/08/21/saving-horatio-alger-the-da ta-behind-the-words-and-the-lego-bricks/ 5. https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/research-areas/housing-markets-conditions 6.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201711/why-people-w ho-have-less-give-more 7. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/frank-flynn-those-less-give-more 8. https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9004&context=etd
Chapter 6 1.https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/10/remarks-president-address -illinois-general-assembly 2. https://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1780 3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Giving_Index 4. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/245192/generous-countries-world.aspx 5. ttps://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/iyw-boy-helps-homeless-trnd/index.html 6. https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb_data-point-credit-invisibles.pdf 7. Mark Rank, One Nation Underprivileged, Why American Poverty Affects Us All.
Greg is an unhoused entrepreneur who started his T-shirt printing business with a heat compress machine. Greg printed shirts for NANO. www.nanolending.org