Russian Group Visits Tacoma to Learn Micro-lending Techniques and Applications

“The Tacoma Empowerment Consortium is known for its microloan program for small businesses – in Tacoma. But recently, TEC has been playing host to a pair of Russian scholars interested in taking the Tacoma organization’s expertise in microlending back to their home country.Tatiana Klepikova and Irina Bryzgalova are conducting research into how to adapt microlending techniques to the Russian economy. The two are here as research fellows through the Freedom Support Act administered through the International Research & Exchanges Board, an American not-for-profit organization. Funding for the fellowships comes to IREX from the United States Information Agency.Bryzgalova is an engineer and economist who teaches as a professor of economics at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration. Klepikova is a professor of energy at the Irkutsk State Technical University.The two first came to this area last summer in a group hosted by the program, Women of Vision. Their current trip brings them together with economic development agencies, as well as with Rotary Clubs in the Puget Sound region. Both Klepikova and Bryzgalova are members of Rotary Clubs in Russia.The advisor for their stay is Nancy Peregrine, principal of Peregrine Resource Company, and a member of the Vashon Island Rotary Club. The Vashon Rotary Club is the sister club for the club in Irkutsk, of which Klepikova is a member. Bryzgalova is a member of the Novosibirsk Ob Rotary Club.The two have visited business associations in Washington to learn about microlending. Peter Quist is conducting microloan training at TEC. Quist is a business development specialist for TEC who oversees the organization’s microloan program. He has previously worked in small business development in Romania and Albania.“This is an excellent way to build relationships on both sides, and help people at the same time,” Quist said.“We’ve had very helpful training by Peter Quist,” Bryzgalova said. “It is basic and very concrete, very detailed.”The two are building a foundation of small business knowledge, especially with regards to microloans, Bryzgalova said. Quist’s point of view that a business needs to know the details of what their business is, and how it operates prior to obtaining lending, is especially relevant, she added, to “transport the dream to reality.”Bryzgalova said there are many text books on small business in Russia, but most are written by academicians, whereas the training they are receiving at the TEC is practical in nature, and includes aspects of business planning, marketing, and accounting.“Our goal after going back to Russia is to organize a microlending fund,” Klepikova said. Helping low-income citizens, especially women and disabled workers, in an area they refer to as “very depressed,” is their immediate plan. Funding is difficult to obtain through the Russian government, they said, but added that they hope to possibly obtain some seed money for the project through Rotary International.“The Russian government, maybe is able,” Bryzgalova said. “They cannot support by finance, they have very limited funds.”Home-based and small-scale businesses in the service sector are logical places to initiate lending, they said. Teaching, consulting practices, childcare, health care, legal consulting and other service-oriented businesses, are examples of enterprises that could benefit from microloan assistance, they said. Business activity in urban and rural areas would be funded.Another field requiring better funding sources is that of applied fields of science, Bryzgalova said. In the USSR, the government funded pure science, she said. Now, science is studied in applied fields, and requires funding for equipment needs.The microloan fund would focus on loans that are non-bankable in the Russian economy, Bryzgalova said. The very poor cannot provide collateral and a credit history, she said, and often are not considered for financing.Klepikova said a “village model” could be used, to help share responsibility for the success of a business and to minimize risk. A training program would be put in place to ensure those receiving microloans, and others, would know how the system would work.A factor in the lending process is that the unemployed population in Russia consists of many well-educated people, especially highly educated and trained women, who are now out of work.Bryzgalova said their trip to the U.S. includes training and networking with representatives from business, government, and nonprofit organizations to create a framework to support their work in Russia.Klepikova said the two are members of the Siberian International Microfinance Initiative, an informal organization to promote business ties between Russia and the international community, including Washington.The two said their hopes are for a “very long term relationship” with Washington, including continuing reciprocal visits between organizations, businesses and personal contacts from the two areas.”