Downsview Advocate met up with Alterna Savings in their buildings located in Toronto, in the centre of the City, at 800 Bay Street. Their offices are bright orange, immediately referring to a bright future, fortune and great opportunities.
Alterna was founded in 1908 as a Credit Union and along with providing financial products and services, Alterna provides micro-credits to individuals with low-income or individuals not eligible for a traditional credit in order for them to build their business. Every member is an owner of the company. Each member owns a share and also has the opportunity to vote for the board of directors. Everyone has a voice and a say. All profits generated by the financial cooperative are re-invested back to the credit union, a community and the micro finance program.
Today, Alterna has 143 000 members and 23 branches, one being at North York and only operates in Ontario. To help reach diverse communities, the Alterna Community Micro Finance program works with different organisations who have a good understanding of their communities.
Similar to other financial institutions, Alterna’s services range from chequing, savings to personal loans, mortgages and investment products.
To better understand the Alterna Savings Community Micro Finance Program, we met up with Susan Henry, Manager of Community Investments; she has over 20 years of experience in micro-finance. At Alterna, she is in charge of the Community Micro-finance program and the Community Loan Funds Partnership Program.
She went through the six programs Alterna has established =
- Alterna Savings Income Builder Loans, in partnership with the Whole Planet Foundation. It helps people with low income, such as young adults, jobless people and people living on social assistance, who all want to become entrepreneurs in order to bridge their income gap.
- Alterna Savings Skilled Professionals and Trades Loans which could apply to people with an earning of less than $50, 000 a year (per person). It helps people who want to start out in a skilled profession or trade.
- Alterna Savings Working Women Business Loan, for women who already have a business and a year of revenue but still need a financial support to develop their company
- Alterna Savings Social Impact Entrepreneurship Loans, which help business specialized in social issues, community issues or environmental ones.
- Alterna Savings Success Accelerator Professional Development Loans, which give $5,000 to pay for courses, training, licensing, registrations fees.
- Alterna Savings Community Micro-Finance Program.
These loans range from $ 1,000 to 25,000 with an average of $5,000.
Susan Henry is also in charge of ‘Networking Café’ which helps members build a network and their skills through workshops and webinars. For example, one of the last webinars was ‘Understanding Your Number’, which provided a step-by-step guide to interpreting small business financial information.
In the 17 years she has been working at Alterna Savings, the Credit Union has given the equivalent of $4.5 million in loan capital to individuals and organizations for them to build and strengthen their businesses.
Alterna Savings put the emphasis on helping people with financial situations which won’t allow them to get traditional loans or credits but also to help these entrepreneurs in every step of their business creation and development with a tight and personalised follow-up, making it a life-long partner.
Alterna Savings is why one idea, one individual’s dream, can become one business employing a hundred of people.
For her hard work, Susan Henry was rewarded with the Gary Gillam Award for Corporate Social Responsibility for championing Micro-finance in Canada in 2015 and Alterna Savings was awarded in 2016 with Ontario Credit Union Corporate Achievement Award.