During a recent visit to the Michelin Corporate Services headquarters outside of Greenville, South Carolina, their CEO was proud to share an initiative where Michelin had allocated about $2 million for lending to local small businesses in light of the recent economic crisis. The initiative has been very successful in helping local small businesses grow, and its success got me thinking, ‘Why hasn’t the domestic micro-finance model moved to the forefront of options for small businesses today?’

There are only a handful of organizations that make more than 100 loans a year, including ACCION USA, Kiva, and Opportunity Fund. While domestic micro-enterprise development has been around since the 1980s, the industry got a boost two years ago when Grameen America opened in Harlem and Brooklyn, and then a Manhattan branch in May 2010.

It is clear that the current efforts are not competing with the role of banks, but imagine if in each city there was a geographically relevant micro-finance collaborative that invites the largest revenue and profitability corporations to pool funds for lending to small businesses in their immediate surrounding area. Imagine local government and local banks also joining the collaborative.

There is no question that our local governments and banks are currently challenged while the largest corporations sit with some of the most cash reserves in history. Why don’t they put some of that money to work for the communities they depend on for workers, customers and goodwill?
Employing a lens of “Uncommon Sense,” here are five tips I believe could help transform our domestic micro-finance system:

  1. Big businesses in every city in America should take a clear look at how they can become a greater part of their surrounding community by engaging with, and supporting, small businesses.
  2. Big businesses should consider how they can share their resources to help smaller businesses in their immediate communities grow.
  3. Big businesses should explore how they can work together in their city to create a small business fund to help fund small business growth.
  4. Non-competitive big businesses should look at how they can collaborate to support emerging small businesses in their communities.
  5. Big businesses should explore how they can share their professional expertise and technical resources to help accelerate small business growth in their communities.