Braden and I sat down with Winston Jimenez expecting to learn about his efforts to use microfinance as a tool to help low-income entrepreneurs. We did talk about that, but unbeknownst to us, Winston had prepared to start with philosophy and his reflections on the most important human values. Here is a taste of the wisdom he shared with us. -Courtney
“Relating to others from a place of value means we respect them regardless of the pluses and minuses their life experiences have afforded them. Valuing your fellow human beings means you will sincerely seek to comprehend their points of view even if you disagree with them. Valuing others means you don’t engage them from a ‘what I can get from you’ perspective, but from the point of sincerely mutual caring and sharing.”
“Throughout history we have seen that many of the worst atrocities and great acts of evil have originated from the belief that one race or one person is superior to someone else. In other words, making the self feel better by making others feel less than fully human. On these occasions the ambition to be superior has led to the worst of human sufferings, abuse, and pain.”
“Independent of nationality, socio-economic status or religious preference, most of us seem to share a fundamental understanding that we are part of a bigger story. Most of us understand that we are but a single piece of a seven-billion-piece puzzle. But we are a very important piece, as without any one of us the puzzle will not be completed. To the puzzle maker, each piece is important and each piece matters.”
“We are all created for a purpose. I have come to believe it is that purpose which drives the best in us. It is that purpose which brings us back whenever we seem to be stepping away from achieving it. It is the purpose that has produced the great works of art, the marvelous advances in science and the great engineering achievements through history. It is this purpose in your life that will drive your highest achievement. Seek your purpose. Live it. Seek to be yourself. The puzzle maker needs you to be you and fulfill your purpose in order to complete the whole picture.”
What is microfinance?
“Microfinance is a business tool to help low-income entrepreneurs who have a business idea but don’t have the capital to support that idea. You’re normally looking at people who need less than say $50,000 in start-up capital.”
How did you get involved in microfinance?
“I happen to work for Transamerica. I used to be one of the program managers for Latin America, so I came across a lot of microfinance at a high level. Microfinance is bigger outside the United States. There it’s just banks, regular banks, trying to get into financing low-income businesses. That’s how I became more aware of it.”
“How I got engaged in microfinance is I sponsored some people myself. I became an investor in the Dominican Republic. [Winston was born in the Dominican Republic.] How it worked was somebody wants to start a business, say like a taxi driver. He wants to buy a car. A car would probably cost him $500, so I just put $500 down for this guy. I might meet him again, I might not. It really doesn’t matter to me, right? For that small amount of money, you help somebody start a life or a new way of making a life that they didn’t have before. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t lost any money. People normally come back to you once you help them out.”
Why do you want to bring it here to Cedar Rapids?
“As I said, I have been fortunate to be in other places where microfinance is a very useful tool for the community to bring social progress, and I saw that was lacking in Cedar Rapids.”
“What excites me is helping people achieve their own dreams, become financially independent. That’s key for any community. You see that once somebody knows he or she doesn’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from, they’re more relaxed. They’re more creative. They start thinking. Once you take that worry away, you see more social progress.”
Where are you in your efforts to start microfinance here?
“I’ve been working with Diversity Focus to start a microfinance program. On Friday, the 22nd, at EntreFEST, we’re going to kick off what we call Community Financial Access, the microfinance organization. We’re going to launch it with an introduction/presentation. We already have people in queue who want us to start working with them.”
“Finding the funds that we need is a little more challenging, like any other business. But the city and other organizations in town are willing to work with us. The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has been a very helpful organization for us as well.”
How can people get involved to help?
“We’re looking for people to work with these entrepreneurs one-on-one as mentors. The program is more than just, ‘Here’s the money. Go and run with it.’ It’s a mentorship program, because a lot of these people do not have the necessary formal education to run a business, so you try to help them that way. Kind of teach them. They’re pretty smart. They just haven’t had the opportunity.”