14/04/2011 - 00:00

Financier has Many Rivers to cross

14/04/2011 - 00:00


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MANY Rivers Microfinance has undergone a rapid expansion of its operations in the Kimberley, Pilbara, and Goldfields regions since its arrival in Western Australia last year.

MANY Rivers Microfinance has undergone a rapid expansion of its operations in the Kimberley, Pilbara, and Goldfields regions since its arrival in Western Australia last year.

An offshoot of Opportunity International Australia, Many Rivers is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to provide marginalised Australians, particularly indigenous Australians, with the credit needed to fund new business ideas.

Through providing interest-free loans between $500 and $20,000, the company works with selected individuals to develop small business ideas such as garden maintenance, vegetable distribution, clothing design and food catering.

With credit from banks generally not available to this group, Many Rivers provides a chance for Australians without assets to gain access to finance they would normally not receive.

Many Rivers state manager David Bagheri said compared to its operations in NSW, where two regional offices were established in two years, the company had experienced unprecedented success in WA.

“We’ve been really surprised and quite amazed at the interest in the program in WA,” he said.

“We’ve already been able to see, in the space of a year, our business operating in three out of the five regions we were seeking to operate.”

The group has field offices in South Hedland, Karratha and Kununurra, and Kalgoorlie and Wiluna in the Goldfields. It is targeting the Mid West and South West for expansion.

During the past 12 months, Many Rivers has made 100 loans and distributed $450,000 nationally.

Mr Bagheri credits a large part of the company’s rapid expansion to the early links it forged with private companies, particularly in the resources sector, when it began looking for support for the program.

He said these early corporate partnerships had also made gaining government support easier.

“We’ve had a lot of resource companies get involved, and from that we’ve been able to leverage that support to get some level of government help as well,” Mr Bagheri told WA Business News.

Private partners of the program include major companies BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside, Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron.

Atlas Iron managing director David Flanagan, a Many Rivers ambassador, said apart from the obvious social benefits, the partnership had professional benefits for the companies involved.

“People will recognise that you are doing the right thing and trying to do things that create a genuine impact,” he said.

“I think that makes a difference with a lot of relationships and those relationships can be very important in your business.”

MG Corporation chief executive officer Franklin Gaffney, who leads a community operation on the ground in Kununurra, said while the initial signs looked promising, Many Rivers still had an important job ahead to ensure ongoing support for local businesses.

“I’m already starting to see outcomes, that’s the beginning,” he said. “I haven’t seen the next step, which is providing ongoing support.

“People get a lot of momentum when the business plan comes through and the money comes through. But it’s two or three months down the track, when things start getting hard and the bills come in, that is really when their support is going to be crucial.”

Mr Bagheri said providing this support was one of the key challenges for the company.

“We’re working with a group of people who have traditionally never run a business before or have limited experience in business,” he said.

“That means we need to spend a lot of time up front with people to help them along the way to see their business become a success.”



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