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Ripple of Change: Microloans create big impact

Pictured: IAF microloan recipient, Nymphna Montesclaros. This post is part of a "Ripples of Change" series exploring Momentum's impact in the greater community.

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Tue Jun 27, 2023 by Jeff Loomis

Ripples of Change: microloans create big impact.

At Momentum we believe in the wisdom of the proverb that "if you want to fast go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." We recognize that to create significant positive change in our community – and even in our country – we need to work together with other community organizations.

One of the most successful examples of Momentum working with community partners to achieve social impact at scale is providing microloans to new Canadians. We worked to help start and grow the Immigrant Access Fund that now operates as Windmill Microlending – the largest microloan in program in Canada that has provided over $75M in loans to date.

In the early 2000’s a group of passionate women in Calgary became deeply concerned about the significant barriers faced by many new Canadians accessing the job market. They were motivated by the stories of new Canadians trained as doctors driving taxis or engineers working in cleaning jobs. The challenge of recognizing foreign credentials results in too many Canadian immigrants struggling in survival jobs. People like Nymphna Montesclaros, who after moving to Canada from the Philippines as a Certified Public Accountant struggled with lower paying jobs.

This group of Calgarian women – including Dr. Maria Eriksen, Amal Umar, Corinne Tessier, and Kerry Longpre – identified that financial barriers were often a significant obstacle for many immigrants, as they were unable to secure loans or credit due to their lack of credit history or Canadian assets. To address this barrier, they decided to provide microloans to skilled immigrants to help cover the costs associated with obtaining the Canadian credentials and training necessary to work in their field.

Given Momentum’s history in microlending, the group approached Momentum to help launch the Immigrant Access Fund (IAF) in 2005. Momentum worked with the Immigrant Access Fund to develop the loan policies and procedures and designed the program to provide loans based on the individual's character, skills, and potential, rather than their credit history. Momentum’s role in the partnership was to assess all loan applicants, collaborate in the IAF loan approval process and support people after receiving a loan, including connecting them to other Momentum programs like financial education. Momentum was also essentially the ‘banker’ for the program as we collected loan payments. Momentum and IAF worked to together on measuring impact of the program, such as tracking employment outcomes of loan recipients. At the outset, the IAF focused on overall program direction, marketing and raising operating and loan capital funds, including through an innovative model with loans funded by a line of credit secured by personal guarantees of several Calgary community leaders. Many of the original financial supporters of the IAF were also Momentum philanthropic investors. As the partnership evolved, Momentum also started to build the capacity of IAF to assume more responsibility for the program delivery and operations.

Working together, the demand for the program increased as positive outcomes were created. Almost 80% of loan recipients found work in afield matching their skills and education after completing their learning plan financed by IAF. Nymphna decided to apply for an IAF loan at Momentum in 2010. She used the loan to pay for the costs of training and Canadian accounting certification so she could progress in her field. As Nymphna states “I’m very grateful that Momentum and IAF loaned me training funds at such a crucial time when I needed it the most to build the career I dreamt of and am passionate about”. The IAF loan helped her integrate into the Canadian job market and have a brighter future for her family. As she was completing Canadian accounting training, Nymphna also helped support fellow Filipinos in filing their personal taxes after her regular work hours. IAF loan repayment by loan recipients like Nymphna was also remarkably strong with a 98% of loans paid back in full.

Interest in the program started to grow across the country. Local communities and the federal government recognized that microloans could successfully reduce the financial barriers for new Canadians to get employment in their field of training. Based on the early success and growing demand, the IAF developed big aspirations for national expansion. They first expanded to Edmonton, then to Saskatchewan in 2012 and started operating nation-wide by 2014. At the same time, Momentum decided to remain local with its program delivery focused in the Calgary area. As a result of Momentum’s efforts to build the IAF capacity, the partnership came to a natural end. The IAF grew nationally and assumed all responsibility for the program. In 2018, the IAF rebranded as Windmill Microlending and continues to provide affordable loans to immigrants to achieve their employment goals and grow their income.

Momentum remains connected to our roots helping start the IAF. In 2012, Nymphna noticed a job posting for an accounting role at Momentum specific to loan administration, she got the job and worked closely with IAF team. While working at Momentum, Nymphna completed her Canadian CGA designation (CPA) in 2015. It was a tough journey, having to balance work and family responsibilities with her 3 kids, but she is now established in the accounting profession and in her career at Momentum. Now over 10 years later, Nymphna is still working at Momentum and progressed into the Finance Manager role helping ensure we have a clean audit every year! Both Nymphna and Momentum remain committed to supporting new Canadians and their families in Calgary on their journey towards a sustainable livelihood.