Microloans, Big Credit: 'Sharing the Wealth'

Whole Foods Market created the Whole Planet Foundation in 2005 to combat poverty by assisting entrepreneurs in developing countries with direct microcredit loans and other tangible support for community partnership projects. The idea was that by sharing the wealth, the retailer could advocate better living conditions and potentially discover new products. A growing number of companies are eager to

Whole Foods Market created the Whole Planet Foundation in 2005 to combat poverty by assisting entrepreneurs in developing countries with direct microcredit loans and other tangible support for community partnership projects. The idea was that by “sharing the wealth,” the retailer could advocate better living conditions and potentially discover new products.

A growing number of companies are eager to join, and have helped the nonprofit organization expand both its scope and the number of loans. Companies that have enlisted include Ito En, Allegro Coffee Co., Back to Nature, Balance Bar, The Hain Celestial Group, Naked Juice, New Chapter, Seventh Generation and Stacy's, among others.

The primary focus is on efforts in villages and rural communities that have the best chance of supplying stores with products, such as tropical fruit, vegetables, tea and coffee.

Loans also go to finance businesses or programs involved in agricultural production, chicken production, pastry and breadmaking, sewing and clothing design, and textile and other handicraft work.

Microloans are small loans — usually $200 or less — requiring no collateral or contract. Loans are repaid and then reused in the community. Together, the group has pledged more than $1 million to the Whole Planet Foundation's Supplier Alliance to support the microlending program. Right now the foundation is most active in Central America and Central Asia.