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Microloans for the Gulf Coast?

Three years after Katrina, one-quarter of New Orleans small businesses are still closed.

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Microloans have proved vital in poor areas of Africa and Asia – but in the United States?

A Jewish foundation hopes to do just that, launching an innovative online campaign that will invest in small businesses along the Gulf Coast still struggling three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Modeled on Kiva.org, which enables individuals to give a loan of any size directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world, the campaign aims to enlist individual Americans to do the same for hurricane-ravaged businesses.

"We thought if you could do it in the developing world, there must be a way to do it in the US ... for people who don't need millions and are often overlooked," says Simon Greer, president and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ). "Their families' lives and their communities could be truly changed with relatively small loans."

The need is great. In New Orleans, for example, one-quarter of neighborhood stores and restaurants have not reopened their doors three years after Katrina. Many others aren't yet back to their prestorm capacity, according to the Institute for Southern Studies.

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