02/20/2013 11:07 am ET Updated Apr 22, 2013

Creating Jobs for Native Americans

This is a guest blog post by Bonney Hartley of the Native American Health Center in Oakland, CA. They have partnered with Kiva Zip to help Native American entrepreneurs who they work with.

Native American entrepreneurs have demonstrated tremendous growth in recent years. The U.S. Census shows that Native business revenue totaled $34.4 billion in 2007, a 28 percent increase from 2002. In spite of this growth, success is limited to areas with established business development centers and programs, and often does not reach federally unrecognized tribal communities. The Native American Lending Study reports that 74.3 percent of non-federally affiliated tribes have no access to microloans. There are also barriers for Natives in urban areas -- where more than 60 percent now reside -- in accessing federally funded services that are only available to designated reservation and rancheria communities.

Lack of access to seed funding is just one of the challenges faced by Native entrepreneurs. Like many small business owners and aspiring owners, there are few places to receive critical business training, technical support and financial literacy skills. In order to contribute to meeting these community needs in the urban San Francisco Bay Area, the Native American Health Center (NAHC), took on the role of a Trustee on Kiva Zip.

NAHC is the only health care provider targeting the Native American community in the five-county San Francisco Bay Area. There are close to 80,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the largest concentrations of Native Americans in any urban area in the United States. Though not a financial services organization, Native American Health Center has started using the Kiva Zip platform as an opportunity to lessen barriers and foster economic health in the Bay Area.

Crystal Wahpepah, a proud member of the Kickapoo tribe raised in Oakland, is NAHC's first endorsed borrower on Kiva Zip for her Wahpepah's Kitchen Native American food business. Crystal has a long history with NAHC.

"I literally grew up here," says Crystal. "It was a home away from home. I got my first teeth pulled there, attended the youth program, and later got prenatal care here."

More recently, NAHC is honored to play an integral role in meeting her wellness needs for the next stage of her life: translating her rich cultural food heritage into her culinary dreams.

NAHC staff connected her with the Bread Project, a local food industry skills training program, followed by a connection to La Cocina, a food business enterprise incubator supporting disadvantaged women. NAHC has also provided support vital to Crystal's success, from requesting her services for some of the first catering events for Wahpepah's Kitchen to providing coaching and technical assistance as she drafted the seeds of her business plan.

Though she has received tremendous praise and interest in her foods through the catering jobs and at La Cocina, a real financial barrier remained in having start-up funds to grow her business. She needed her own van for transportation rather than relying on buses or getting rides to fulfill catering jobs. She was struggling without her own catering supplies and the funding for required safety permits.

With NAHC's endorsement, Crystal's profile on Kiva Zip made that happen. Her $5,000 loan request was met by 41 lenders in about five weeks, making it one of the fastest-fulfilled to date on Kiva Zip. Now, she has purchased the van and is looking to hire at least three other community members as part-time employees. This job creation is exactly the intended ripple effect. Platforms like Kiva Zip have helped fuel the financial needs of community aspirations by opening the business up to a broader market of interested lenders.

Native entrepreneurs like Crystal have a built-in asset in the opportunity to draw from community strengths such as pride, self-sufficiency, resiliency, and close social networks.

"My greatest strength is knowing that in the community there's a lot of help and support," says Crystal.

In line with NAHC's holistic healing approach, Crystal's path stands testament to the inseparability of economic health from physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.