Editor’s Note: As part of foundation’s work to establish a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institute,) we have been researching best practices to (someday) achieve scale beyond Ashtabula County. This paper looks at early practice in the area of distance-based business development services. Through a survey of practitioners and more in-depth conversations with early pioneers of this work, the paper provides lessons for those looking to embark or expand efforts in this area.
A long-time challenge facing microenterprise programs is how to reach out to larger numbers of entrepreneurs efficiently despite the distance in proximity to a program office. A common strategy, for both rural and urban programs, has been to grow geographically — establishing branch or regional offices wherever potential clients work and reside in numbers. While the bricks and mortar strategy has many obvious benefits (local credibility, increased market knowledge, and enhanced customer service being just a few), it also carries some substantial drawbacks, not the least of which is cost. Although these drawbacks do not mean that practitioners will not continue to expand their physical presence, there are compelling reasons to look more closely at distance learning. (To Continue)