The popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is the inspiration behind Donte Miller, Nathan Jones, and Robin McKinnie‘s organization, Village Micro Fund. As Morehouse graduates (soon to be for McKinnie) and black entrepreneurs who’ve seen the resource gap first-hand, Miller, Jones, and McKinnie are invested in providing access to capital and education to innovators on Atlanta’s Westside. Their bottom line? Revitalize – not uproot – the community.
We caught up with Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Village, who shares how they are actively tackling community issues on the ground while simultaneously building up the people and neighborhood in which they live.
Tell us about the Village Micro Fund.
The Village is a grassroots microfinance organization with the mission to empower entrepreneurs in Metro Atlanta by providing access to capital, business education and a “Village” of support. The name comes from the (difficult-to-source, but widely used) African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” which refers to more than child-rearing. Ultimately, the Village was created to combat the barriers to sustainable small business ownership with a focus on community building.
Operated on the Westside of Atlanta, we want to prove that our communities can self-develop their own activities: that the lack of black businesses in this area is not evidence of a lack of local talent or genius, but rather a lack of access to opportunities. We believe in cooperative investing, where the community collectively invests the money needed to support the businesses they want to see and then gets paid back as they shop locally and the business grows. We believe that our work will change the quality of life for people in one of Atlanta’s most economically-challenged communities.
What services does the Village Micro Fund offer to the community?
Since the beginning, we have created opportunity resources in these buckets: 1) microfinancing and small business development and 2) ad-hoc community development projects.
We have developed a quarterly entrepreneurial cohort model that centers around four critical resources: education, consulting, networking and capital. We have created sustainable partnerships with Morehouse Innovation Center and organizations such as The Guild to help build the community of the cohort.
A fundamental piece of what we do is our community development projects. Community development, to us, is making sure we build up the infrastructure necessary for residents to be able to create their own jobs, support the local institutions that grow our food, and increase access to home ownership. We do this through collaborating with organizations, such as The Guild and the South West Atlanta Grower’s Cooperative. We want to create a village by bringing people together to learn about and discuss real issues that impact our community. We want to build businesses and cause a shift in the mindset around investing that creates a movement.
What have you learned since you started the organization?
We just graduated last quarter’s cohort, our first class of entrepreneurs. We found out that, contrary to what is traditionally accepted as fact in business, in under-resourced neighborhoods, entrepreneurs that are more open to building mutually beneficial relationships are more likely to thrive. They see other businesses in their area as potential partners, not competition. This trait seems to correlate with success even more than the numbers. Creating a system of interdependence and collaboration to pool together the limited resources of the community, makes all of the parties more successful in the end. Essentially, systems of interdependency create more value than competition and some of the other traditional factors that we use when thinking about business.
Since we took the path less traveled, we are being exposed to a lot of really cool opportunities we wouldn’t have had if we had built something more orthodox.There are so many people in this community that want to do the work to support their neighborhood and because we are black entrepreneurs that grew up seeing many of these issues firsthand, it helps give us a well-rounded and more nuanced perspective to tackle these obstacles.
One of the major roadblocks in starting an enterprise is the lack of access to resources; professional and financial. We understand that the typical rules of economics don’t apply to black neighborhoods and because there haven’t been studies, the people are kept to the same standard as someone that has access to a lot more than we do and are held to unrealistic expectations. We are cognizant of this and approach it holistically.
What’s on the agenda for this year?
We have so many things in the works, some of which I can’t talk about because they are not yet in writing. We are planning another cohort for March 20 which will be our second. From lessons learned in the first cohort, we updated our business model so that we can continue to help entrepreneurs flourish and facilitate community controlled capital. We are partnering with the Guild; to establish a live-in cohort centered around entrepreneurship and lifestyle, along with SWAG, Haylene Green Garden Queen, and Atlanta Food and Farm; to do some pretty exciting projects around agriculture and food security.
How can readers support the Village Micro Fund?
Images are property of the Village Micro Fund.