By Husam Nasser
Mr. Nasser works as a loan officer at the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation. He graduated from Berea College in May 2014 with a major in Mathematics with minor in Physics and Business Administration. He was born in Aden Yemen and grew up in Damascus, Syria. Before attending Berea he completed high school in Marysville, WA as part of the Youth Exchange Program.
“Traditional banking systems made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to access the capital needed to get their business off the ground,” writes Nasser (Berea ’14) who works for Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp.
I was born in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. Born into a well-off family but growing up as a refugee in Syria, I was familiar with both the concept of having all your needs met and sleeping hungry at night because your family could not afford to purchase food. I attended Berea College, a small liberal arts school in Kentucky that was the first college to educate both whites and blacks together in 1855. Berea College only accepts students with high academic achievements who also come from families that live below poverty line, bringing poverty closer to my life.
When my advisor told me about the Shepherd Alliance Program in 2010, I was more than eager to apply. After months of waiting to hear back, I was thrilled to find out I had been selected for this incredible opportunity. I felt a deep connection to those who do not have access to the same opportunities as me and believed it was my duty to give back.
I was assigned to work as a Finance Assistance Intern at Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC), a nonprofit dedicated to providing low-income housing and economic opportunities to minorities, immigrants, women, and low-income families in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. While at DBEDC, I worked with the economic development team, which provides loans and technical assistance to entrepreneurs who are not eligible for traditional bank funding. During my eight-week internship in Boston, I met many smart and talented entrepreneurs who were trying to start or grow their businesses but were having difficulty due to limited options in the current financial system. Many of our clients were from immigrant and minority communities and were working hard to reach “the American Dream.” But the traditional banking systems made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to access the capital needed to get their business off the ground. While working at DBEDC, I discovered that many of the clients we helped were not eligible for loans from traditional banks because of minor issues with their credit, lack of collateral, financial hardship due to medical emergencies, or because their startup business was considered a high risk. The financial system did not offer much to help them, and it was becoming more and more apparent to me that our current system is designed to make the poor stay poorer. I admired the work DBEDC was doing to fill a gap in the traditional banking system and felt useful, and I also appreciated the opportunity to contribute to economic development for the underprivileged.
Approaching the end of my undergraduate degree, I reached out to DBEDC about possible opportunities to work for them. I thought they would understand why I wanted to come back and work for them. After all, my supervisor at DBEDC was a Shepherd Alliance intern who worked for DBEDC for twelve years. She was a talented woman who could have worked anywhere she wanted, but chose to work at Dorchester Bay after her graduation and stayed there for more than a decade. I was excited that Dorchester Bay offered me not only a position, but also the opportunity to join the same team I worked with during my Shepherd internship. However, this time I was brought on as a full-time staff member with more freedom, and of course more responsibilities. It is true I learned quite a lot about poverty during my internship, but I discovered that there was much more opportunity for me to have a better understanding of it through my full-time job. For example, DBEDC offers computer literacy classes for people living in the nearby community. Before starting work, I had assumed that persons in their 30-40s and living in Boston, would know how to use a computer. I quickly learned that for those with limited money to buy a computer, this was not the case.
I have now been at Dorchester Bay for a year and a half, during which time I have had the opportunity to work with many more clients from various backgrounds and cultures. Some of these clients would talk to me about how they felt that the system was designed to keep them in poverty. Others have mentioned to me how they were being denied access to opportunities because of their race or gender. I am grateful to work for an organization that actively seeks to offer opportunities to people who are otherwise kept at the bottom of the system.
The Shepherd Alliance Program helped me through my career and personal growth and continues to do so. Now I see clearly that poverty is the same everywhere, regardless of the country. Whether it is Yemen, Syria, or the U.S., economic and social injustice are inherent evils of our current system that trap talented individuals and keep them from achieving their goals. To combat this, I continue to volunteer and help the community I work in. In addition to my responsibilities as a Loan Officer, I teach a web marketing class for small business owners who have little experience with online marketing. I also volunteer with some legal clinics around the City of Boston. I will continue to use the values I have learned through the Shepherd Alliance Program to fight poverty and educate others about what can be done to help the underprivileged.