By Danielle Roslevich | Party photos by Alaric Beal
ProsperityME’s Small Business Coordinator Divine Selengbe is excited to be based in Lewiston-Auburn, where she serves as a resource for immigrant business owners in the area. Selengbe helps immigrants who are trying to start up new businesses in the area, including in the early stages, when they may be simply looking for good business ideas. She also assists in the creation of funding and business plans, as well as the search for financial resources, prior to starting up.
ProsperityME is based primarily in Portland, and Selengbe said that can often feel too far for immigrant small business owners in Lewiston-Auburn to travel, which is why she works out of her office in Lewiston. ProsperityME’s mission is to help immigrants and asylum seekers work toward financial stability. To accomplish its mission, in addition to small business support, ProsperityME offers financial literacy courses, one-on-one financial counseling and coaching, counseling for higher education, and partnering with other organizations in the area of workforce development. The nonprofit’s services are open to all refugees, immigrants, asylees, and low-income individuals in the greater Portland area and Lewiston-Auburn.
The initial stages of starting a small business are often overwhelming, and Selengbe suggested it is usually even more difficult or confusing for immigrants. “Simple things can feel so complex for immigrants here. Starting a bank or getting a credit card can be so different here, compared to where they have come from,” she said.
Knowing that immigrants face many difficulties, whether starting up a new business, or in their capacity as a long-time business owner, Selengbe has been developing a survey for immigrant business owners in Lewiston-Auburn. The survey, which will be distributed in November, seeks to understand the challenges faced by these individuals and their businesses – issues with communication, resource accessibility, financial matters, and other barriers such as racism or xenophobia.
Additionally, the survey will incorporate specific questions tailored toward issues faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is hoping to understand the most difficult components of operating a business during the pandemic, while gaining perspective on how operating a business changed during this period for each of the businesses. Eventually, Selengbe hopes to have follow-up conversations with the respondents.
So far, Selengbe has identified roughly 50 immigrant small businesses in the Lewiston-Auburn area that will be invited to complete the survey. Many small business owners are excited that they are being asked to participate and share their stories as immigrant business owners. “They often feel left out, and this is an opportunity for them to feel included,” she said. “In many cases, it can be difficult to get people to fill out surveys, but so far, the businesses want to be engaged and be part of this process, which is very exciting.”
The goal is to develop new, specific programs catered toward immigrant small businesses based on the issues brought forward in the survey process. Selengbe anticipates these programs could include marketing, social media and social media etiquette, bookkeeping, tax preparation, and further financial education. ProsperityME partners with credit unions and banks and aligns with other businesses and organizations to offer services and resources to clients.
Selengbe encourages small, immigrant-owned businesses, new or old, to access programs available through ProsperityME.
To participate in the survey, contact Divine Selengbe: [email protected]
To learn more about ProsperityME, visit www.prosperityME.org.
ProsperityME Block Party!
ProsperityME: The Center for Financial Education held its 13th annual Community Block Party on September 16 at Thompson’s Point in Portland. The annual event is a fundraiser for the PROSPER scholarships, open to asylum seekers, who are not eligible for federal or state financial aid. The founder and executive director of ProsperityME is Claude Rwaganje. Proof of vaccination was required to enter.