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Lee Cataluna

Women bring global vision to help Hawaii residents

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Patti Chang and Denise Albano have traveled to remote villages in China, Africa and South America to help poor people, often women, provide for their families. They saw the huge difference just a small loan can make.

"Loans to some people have been $100 or $200, to someone who wants to buy a bicycle to take their produce to market," Albano said.

Chang, who grew up in Manoa, and Albano, who grew up in Hawaii Kai, have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, but are now back home in Hawaii for weeks at a time.

"It’s the typical story. I came home to care for aging parents," Chang said.

Being here made Chang think of their foundation, Feed The Hunger, in a new way. Hawaii isn’t like some of the poverty-stricken, war-torn countries they’ve worked in—yet people here are struggling.

"We knew we had to do something here at home to help. Or to at least try," Chang said.

The idea is to provide small-business loans of $5,000 to 15,000 to people who ordinarily wouldn’t be considered by banks because they lack collateral.

"They talk about all the C’s of banking: collateral, credit, character," Chang said. "For us, character is the main thing."

In the last month, Chang, a graduate of Punahou, Stanford and Stanford Law, and Albano, a graduate of Punahou, Berkeley and NYU, have been talking to farmers as well as potential investors.

One woman in Waimanalo wants to start a farmers market with all Waimanalo-grown produce. She already runs a market. What she needs is Waimanalo products.

"Right now, she drives to Kahuku and Haleiwa and Waialua to pick up her produce," Albano said. She needs a new truck, and she needs local producers to grow products to be sold at affordable (not gourmet) prices. The vision is to provide seed money and networking help to enterprises like this one that build a strong community.

The two are adamant that they work with loans, and not grants.

"I spent 20 years writing grants," Chang said. She ran the Women’s Foundation of California. "There’s a sense of dignity and pride when you pay back a loan. It’s light years difference than being given something."

The loans are at a low interest rate and borrowers work on a schedule to pay even a few pennies a week rather than a balloon payment at the end of the term

On a recent trip to Hilo, a kupuna advised them that all their discussion of microfinance would be better summed up with the Hawaiian concept of "kokua."

"She explained that traditionally, that’s where those who have, give to those who don’t; and when those people have, they in turn give back," Albano said.

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Lee Cataluna can be reached at


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