Small bank helps Liberians

This week's sale of a small bank that helps Liberians build wealth in their country was a match made in Minnesota.

The American Refugee Committee, a humanitarian-aid group based in Minneapolis, sold the microfinance bank to a group of Liberian professionals with strong Twin Cities ties.

The group includes Wynfred Russell. While Russell lives in Brooklyn Park, where he serves as a planning commissioner, his three friends and fellow investors left the U.S. to help rebuild their homeland.

The bank, Liberty Finance, offers low-interest loans averaging just $250. But in Liberia, that goes a long way toward helping impoverished refugees who have been returning to their country following years of civil war, Russell said.

"A lot of these folks are coming with little to nothing, so this was a way to get them started and back on their feet," he said.

The bank has helped low-income Liberians build open market stands, hair shops and other small businesses. It has especially improved the lives of women who use the loans to open market stands, he said.

The nonprofit ARC founded Liberty Finance in 2005, as Liberia was recovering from years of conflict.

The country is considered much safer now, but it still suffers from endemic poverty and unemployment.

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