BUFFALO, N.Y. — Zaw Win is a business success story on Buffalo's West Side.
He noticed a demand for a recycling center in his community, and he can barely store all of the bottles and cans that are picked up weekly.
"It is very simple and easy. And the customer, sometimes we count together. I thought, ‘if I open this business, it could be very helpful for my people, my neighbors, my community,’" Win said.
He attributes some of his success to the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, and investors like a group of high schoolers from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute who run a nonprofit called International Micro-Loans of Buffalo.
Locally, they have partnered with WEDI to find entrepreneurs with limited financial resources, but sound business plans, and give them interest-free loans of up to $1,000.
They do the same thing internationally through KIVA, and have donated money to people in 55 countries.
"They present us with cases of people who are vulnerable, they're at a disadvantage financially, and they're looking for a loan to start a business and provide a better life for themselves and their families, their communities," said junior Paul DiNicolantonio.
International Micro-Loans of Buffalo was founded by three St. Joe's students in 2012.
When they graduated, they passed the organization down to current students.
Two seniors and two juniors run it every year, and they meet several times a week to choose loan recipients and strategize how to solicit donations, which has been very successful.
"By sharing our background and why we do what we do, people have been very moved by that," said senior Thomas Dunia.
As loan recipients pay the students back, they quickly reinvest it.
By the end of 2018, they will have given out $100,000.
"We've raised roughly over $14,000, and the fact that we've been able to loan out over $90,000 is really impressive. The money keeps getting recycled and we can reuse it again and again and it will help hundreds of people,” said junior Michael Boland.