Boosting Cottage Capitalism

Borrowing an idea from Bangladesh, U.S. community lending programs are helping the poor to help themselves

Three years ago, Judith Rickenbacker turned her Chicago town house into a laboratory for capitalist invention, international cooperation and entrepreneurial zeal. She did it by buying a sewing machine.

Rickenbacker used to be a hotel bookkeeper, dreaming of what life would be like without a boss. Her break came when she was able to borrow $500 to buy a powerful new sewing machine and become a professional seamstress. Having repaid the loan after one year, she is thinking about expanding her operation.

This triumph of cottage capitalism may not sound like a model of international business strategy. But the program that...

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