Moving the Microenterprise Field Forward: Priorities, Strategies and Roles

February 13, 2009  • Elaine Edgcomb, Joyce Klein &

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This is a time like no other in the history of the U.S. microenterprise field. Born of deep necessity – responding to institutional barriers to inclusive enterprise opportunity in the 1980s – the field has grown from the bottom up, manifesting itself in hundreds of microenterprise development programs that today support a quarter of a million microentrepreneurs a year. Over its history, the field has experienced changes in economic conditions, demand and the political environment. Sometimes these factors supported the industry’s growth, while at other times they posed great challenges. Microenterprises themselves have emerged as a response to both opportunity and necessity. But no time has posed the incredible set of challenges and opportunities that this current moment has. The intertwined financial and economic crises pose serious threats to our nation, and microenterprise development programs, while affected by these crises, are seizing the opportunity to serve. At the same time, the Obama Administration offers the potential for partnership that the industry has not seen in eight years.

In this context, the microenterprise field must rally around a set of strategies that can make a difference for the millions of microentrepreneurs struggling to sustain and grow their businesses in adverse times, and for the industry itself. Just as the Obama Administration has spoken of the importance of using the stimulus package not only to build the economy today, but also to build the infrastructure of tomorrow’s economy, so too should the microenterprise field not only work to support job creation now, but also to strengthen its capacity to deliver even greater benefits going forward.