Helping Refugees Get a Strong Fresh Start in New York

by Yanki Tshering

Over the years we have helped over 10,000 New York small business owners flourish and grow. One group of New Yorkers we have been particularly proud to serve is refugees.

We help refugees both through low-interest small business loans as well as our IDA Savings Account program, which was specifically created to a help refugees who need funding to start businesses, complete their education, or buy a first New York home or apartment.

Qualifying refugees take IDA (Individual Development Account) financial literacy courses, designed to teach them how to successfully navigate financial processes in their new country, while contributing to a special IDA savings account. When they have completed the course, the program matches the dollar amount they have saved with a matching grant of up to $2,000 for an individual or $4,000 for a family,

This extraordinary program, backed by the U.S. government, has allowed us to have an incredibly positive impact on the lives of thousands of refugees and New Yorkers with approved asylum-status.

Here are four of their inspiring stories:

Aguiratou Ouedraogo is a refugee from Burkina Faso and the mother of three children who opened a family day care business, Marisna Day Care, in the Bronx. She soon realized that, in order for that small business to grow, thrive, and serve more children and families, she needed to move to a larger space.

She enrolled in BCNA’s IDA Program, contributed to the IDA savings account, and then used those savings, the match grant, and a supplementary loan, to move to a larger space and purchase additional furniture and a computer. Marisna Day Care now has twelve children currently enrolled and she has hired two full time employees to help her.

Ismaila and Mohamed Bah, both refugees from West Africa, began working with BCNA in 2011 and have received several microloans to provide working capital for their business, Noor Halal African American Market. The market is in the economically challenged South Bronx and offers fresh produce, groceries, African specialties, and freshly butchered halal meat – a valuable service for a community that is considered a “food desert”, with few places to purchase fresh, healthy foods.

The loans from BCNA have provided working capital that has helped them increase their inventory, stock up on special products for important holidays, and expand and thrive. To honor their hard work and success, in 2015 BCNA presented the Bahs with the “Bootstrap Entrepreneur” award at the 4th Annual BCNA Immigrant Heritage Week Awards. And through our efforts, Noor Halal is now in talks with City Harvest, a non-profit that supports corner bodegas and grocery stores to stock more healthy food items, and provides equipment and other forms of assistance.

Oumar Diamanka comes from a remote village in Senegal and was the first child in his family to go to college, earning a degree in computer science and accounting. When he wanted to start a tax filing business in Brooklyn he applied to several banks for loans but was not approved because of a low credit score – a problem many new arrivals with no credit history face.

He learned about BCNA’s services for refugees from a fellow refugee and enrolled in the IDA Program. With the money he saved, the match grant, and a BCNA low-interest loan, he was able to purchase the computers and furniture he needed for his business, Franklin & Fulton Services, which provides tax filing and translation services. Today, Franklin & Fulton Services has over 2,000 clients and 11 employees.

Sayed Mohamed is a refugee from Egypt who came to the USA with his family in 2014. He and his wife Iman are great cooks and, since 2016, had been operating three different food carts: one selling breakfast, one selling Halal food for lunch, and one selling fresh juices and smoothies.

Sayed and and his daughter Hadir enrolled in our IDA program, attended several workshops, and graduated at the end of May of 2019. With the money they saved, matching funds from the IDA program, and a loan from BCNA – as well as invaluable help from Mohamed Attia, the new Director of  Street Vendor Project – they have purchased a food cart from which they can sell both breakfast and lunch. Having their own single, multi-purpose cart will save them time – as well as money – as it eliminates the cost of renting their current food carts.

If you know a refugee or asylee who could qualify for BCNA’s IDA program, please have them contact Francess Smith, Manager of BCNA’s IDA Program at or click here for more information.