Sometimes the way to make a big impact is to think small. That’s what the Providence Revolving Fund did last year when the pandemic and resulting shutdown hit local businesses hard, especially in areas like the West End, Olneyville, and South Providence, where the fund invests in historic preservation and community revitalization.
“The staff and I were speaking with business owners in the neighborhoods we traditionally serve and we found that they were struggling because they had been unable to take advantage of the more traditional small business programs,” Carrie Zaslow, the fund’s executive director, explains.
While working remotely, Zaslow and her team put up $100,000 of the organization’s own money – later matched by the Providence City Council – to set up a micro-lending fund targeting businesses with 10 or fewer employees and under $250,000 in annual revenue, loaning them up to $5,000 with interest rates from zero to two percent to help them weather the storm.
The fund also partnered with the Center for Women and Enterprise to make sure the loans were going to the right places.
“Over 90 percent of our loans have been made to women and/or minority-owned businesses,” Zaslow says. “We are now moving out of the pilot stage and will be making the program available citywide.”
Since taking the reins in 2018 from Clark Schoettle, who ran the fund for more than 30 years, Zaslow has moved to expand its footprint throughout the city. She raised $10 million from a handful of local banks and foundations to launch the Opportunity Investment Fund, which promotes the development of mixed-income workforce housing, something that’s in short supply. It launched last spring, and this year will expand into neighborhoods the fund has not previously served like Smith Hill, Wanskuck, and Washington Park.
“Rhode Island has a shortage of housing for people across income levels,” she notes. “We are very proud that we can play a role in addressing this concern. I would like to see the Providence Revolving Fund as a go-to organization for equitable community development.”
Her Reason for Optimism: “What makes me the most excited is the innovation that has been born out of the pandemic. I have seen this in how nonprofit organizations are finding different ways to provide services, schools learning how to adapt to virtual learning, and businesses that are evolving how they serve their customers. I am optimistic that this innovation or ability to pivot is making us all stronger, resilient, and more creative. Only good things can come out of that combination.”