Change agent: PayNearMe partners with Grameen America to help lift women out of poverty

By Michael Carney , written on March 4, 2015

From The News Desk

The technology community rarely gets much credit for doing anything positive for the world. Even the most successful companies get boiled down to data gluttons or profit fiends. So when a company does something selfless and purely for the communities it serves, such acts deserve to be spotlighted.

PayNearMe, the cash transaction network that allows US consumers to pay bills and make online purchases using cash at more than 17,000 participating retailers across the country, has done just that. The company has entered a nationwide partnership with Grameen America, the nonprofit microfinance organization providing loans, savings programs, financial education, and credit establishment to women who live in poverty. Under the agreement, borrowers can now make their weekly payments at one of 7,800 nationwide 7-Eleven stores, free of charge.

Grameen successfully piloted this PayNearMe program in Charlotte, NC over the last year and are now rolling out into Oakland, CA and Brooklyn, NY. A nationwide rollout will occur over the coming year.

Having been founded in Bangladesh, Grameen is thought of by most largely as an international organization. Few Americans realize that the same group that helps women in emerging market and third-world countries start small businesses, has inspired a similar program that now reaches more than 43,000 borrowers across the US. Further, Grameen America has set the goal of reaching 150,000 borrowers by 2018.

The organization, which launched in Jackson Heights Queens in 2008 under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, gives women first-time-loans of $1,500 as well as the education and support to build small businesses in areas like jewelry design, food carts, flower stands, tailoring, crafts, and salon services. Grameen America is now run by former Avon Chairman and CEO Andrea Jung.

Prior to the relationship with PayNearMe, US borrowers were asked to bring cash to Grameen’s weekly local community meetings. Each local leader was then forced to handle $10,000 to $15,000 in cash per week, a cumbersome, let alone potentially risky proposition, that Grameen estimates takes 40 minutes per day of focus away from otherwise serving the members of their community. Now, borrowers can make these payments on their own time, and Grameen staff members can better use the time currently spent collecting payments and making multiple trips to the bank day.

Although PayNearMe is inherently a service aimed at helping the underbanked, the relationship with Grameen is the first time the company has worked with a nonprofit, according to CEO Danny Shader, who says that finding other such organizations to support is high on his priority list. Kudos to Shader and his PayNearMe team for reminding us that technology can be a force for good.

With National Women’s Day upcoming on March 8th and much of Silicon Valley’s attention directed at the moment to the Ellen Pao-Kleiner Perkins sexual harassment trial, this announcement couldn’t have come at a better time.

[Image via SD Microfinance]