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Look to the corn fields. That’s how Vidar Jorgensen describes it as interest is continuing to build on the opening of a credit union in North Carolina by an international micro- lending bank.“It’s like corn. It’s growing higher,” said Jorgensen, president of Grameen America, the United States affiliate of Grameen Bank, a micro-finance institution started in Bangladesh in 1983 that provides loans, savings programs, credit establishment and other financial services to the working poor.Since applying for a federal credit union charter in February, New York-based Grameen America continues to court like minds in the Tar Heel state on opening a cooperative to serve the financial needs of low-income people and those who live below the poverty level. Earlier this year, Jorgensen and Grameen Bank founder and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus met with State Employees’ Credit Union, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, the North Carolina Bankers Association and both the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks and the North Carolina Administrator of Credit Unions to discuss setting up an affiliate there.Jorgensen also attended NAFCU’s recent annual conference in Boston and WOCCU’s August international forum in Barcelona. At both gatherings, he said he was moved by the energy that so many have for propelling the credit union philosophy forward.“Here you have large groups of people who are clearly for the mission of expanding access to the underserved. That’s what Grameen is about,” Jorgensen said.Grameen America also has a strong affinity for the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, which lives and breathes on serving those long neglected by mainstream banks and other financial institutions. In a recent meeting with Clifford Rosenthal, the group’s president/CEO, Jorgensen said he was convinced that there is a synergy between credit unions and Grameen’s micro-finance model.“That’s home for us,” Jorgensen said of the commonalities Grameen and NFCDCU have.Grameen America is making a name for itself in the U.S since its launch here in January 2008. As of September, it had more than 1,000 borrowers in New York. In May, the micro-lending bank opened a branch in Omaha, Neb., and has lent more than $90,000 to more than 80 borrowers there. While North Carolina is still on the radar, Omaha was selected as the bank’s second branch location because of strong local support and a demand for micro-finance services, according to bank officials. The company expects to extend loans to at least 250 borrowers in its first year of operation. Between both cities, more than $2.3 million has been lent to women at or below the poverty level since Grameen America’s debut last January. Borrowers have accumulated more than $165,000 in savings.In August, President Barack Obama presented Yunus with the one of the Presidential Medals of Freedom chosen as one of several “agents of change…Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way,” the president said.Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, Grameen America was scheduled to host a reception in Durham on Sept. 2 to introduce its micro-lending model to those who are not familiar with it. Jorgensen said the bank is making progress through its fundraising efforts for a branch that could potentially serve the areas of Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville and Charlotte. With Nebraska now up and running, Grameen America also has its sights set on opening another location in California. The timing could not be better for those looking for an alternative.“This is not to disparage banks. We’ve seen how credit unions have done better than banks during this economic crisis,” Jorgensen said. “Building support is like growing a garden. It takes time.”–[email protected]

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