The Economic and Community Development Institute’s services began in 1998, as part of the Business and Asset Development division of Jewish Family Services, a Central Ohio refugee resettlement agency. In response to the difficulties refugees faced in finding living wage jobs and integrating into the financial mainstream, the Institute’s founder and CEO, Inna Kinney, realized that self-employment was a viable option for newly arrived immigrants and began offering financial literacy and microenterprise development training courses.
Realizing that training was valuable but that aspiring entrepreneurs also needed business capitalization in order to create viable and financially sustainable businesses, Ms. Kinney wrote and received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in 1999. This grant provided small business capitalization through an Individual Development Account (IDA), which is a matched savings account program tied to training and technical assistance.
The Institute also established a Revolving Microloan Fund program with additional funding from ORR. As the only microlender in Central Ohio, the Institute’s program grew exponentially. The Institute incorporated as its own entity in 2004, expanded its services beyond Columbus’ immigrant population and began to serve a broader group of disadvantaged microentrepreneurs throughout the region.
In 2011, The Cleveland Foundation and the Business of Good Foundation commissioned a study to assess the demand for Microloans in Cuyahoga County. The final report identified a $38 million gap in financing that is not being addressed by traditional banks. ECDI spent about 6 months researching and planning, and found that the Northeast Ohio community was receptive to ECDI and the microloan program. The ECDI Cleveland office was officially opened on July 17, 2012.