ACCION Alliance Block Walking a Big Success

by Brett Bivens

As the US economy remains stagnate after the recession, running a successful small business has not become any easier for entrepreneurs. To gather more information on particular issues facing Chicago small business owners and to spread the word about ACCION, the Microfinance Alliance of ACCION Chicago recently partnered with students from Depaul University and North Central College to do Block Walking.

Block Walking is a program designed to spread awareness of microfinance and ACCION Chicago while giving Chicago-area college students the chance to engage with entrepreneurs in their communities.

Students formed teams and surveyed business owners in 7 Chicago neighborhoods (Austin, Bridgeview, Roger’s Park, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Logan Square, and Pilsen) as well as 2 suburban Chicago communities (Naperville & Downer’s Grove). The students’ conversations ranged from growth strategies and borrowing preferences to the entrepreneurs’ views of their community. The results indicate a strong commitment from business owners to their neighborhoods and also show a general lack of resources to grow to the levels they desire.

Here are some of the other findings:

  • Only 21 of the 65 businesses surveyed indicated an awareness of microfinance. Many reported trying to fund their business solely from personal savings or credit cards.
  • While almost 50% of the companies surveyed cited growth as a business goal, most were hesitant at the idea of taking on loans to aid that growth. Many business owners displayed a lack of trust towards lending institutions.
  • If ACCION is to combat the first two problems, business owners said the outreach must be personal. Almost 50% of business owners would prefer to be contacted through face-to-face interactions and stressed the importance of having representatives communicate with them in their native language.
  • Finally, over 30% of business owners believe the most important business topic to learn more about is the idea of cost-effective marketing and social media. Local business owners identified the necessity of becoming strong in these areas in order to compete and remain in business.

Flourishing as a small business owner in the current economic environment is a challenge. Microfinance can be a sustainable solution for some entrepreneurs, helping them to grow without relying on family or more expensive credit cards.

Yet, as the Block Walking has shown, getting the word out there takes time and personal connection.  Of course, with a small staff, ACCION Chicago can only do so much. The Microfinance Alliance helps solve this problem by spreading the word through initiatives like Block Walking. You can always help too by sending entrepreneurs to our website or calling us directly at 312-275-3000. You can volunteer with the Microfinance Alliance by contacting them at

Eric Solomonson and Yesenia Diaz De Leon also contributed to this article.