Since becoming ACCION USA’s head, Gina has played a very significant role in the planning and development of strategies that further enable ACCION USA to expand their reach and help more businesses.
Made it to Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women
A woman with more than 35 years of experience in managing businesses and organizations both in the private and public sectors, Gina truly exemplifies an ideal leader in the world of entrepreneurship. Prior to joining ACCION USA, Gina has worked with big shot companies such as Waldorf Astoria (where she was the executive director of the company’s Local Development Corporation), Washington Square Day Care Cooperative, Harman International Industries (where she served as the president of the company’s North American Operations of Consumer Group), and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (where she was a member of the Consumer Advisory Committee). These, among all of her other experiences have truly established Gina’s reputation as a respected and more than capable leader in the field of management.
Throughout Gina’s career in the business industry, she has received a number of awards that prove her exceptional skills in management and entrepreneurship. When Gina joined ACCION USA, it received the Neighborhood Achievement Award for her extraordinary methods in developing strategies that allowed the company to be able to reach out to more starting businessmen. As a true testament to her influence and encouragement, Gina has been included in Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women,” a prestigious list of women around the world who have become leaders in the industry they are in.
ACCION USA Helps Startup Businesses
But aside from her accomplishments, what actually makes Gina and her company very much worth mentioning is the kind of businessmen that ACCION USA serves. Most of ACCION USA’s clients are small time startup businesses, owned by businessmen who were rejected by banks because they carried great risk in terms of the loan that they would be provided. And yet, in spite of this, Gina and her team at ACCION USA still help these businessmen.
Gina said in an interview:
“Over 90% of our clients are immigrants and/or minorities. They have an enormous entrepreneurial spirit, an interest to do better and to apply creative thinking to solve problems. The problem for many of them is how to take care of themselves and their families. One of our clients said to me that he used to think of himself as poor, but now he knows he’s not poor—he’s a businessman. That transformation happens for the vast majority of our borrowers. In the end, that’s what makes microfinance so different from other programs that help people rise up out of poverty. It’s about empowerment and perfecting the tools so people can take control of their lives.”
Gina understands the importance of micro financing in the lives of small business owners; this is becoming more evident today, as more and more small businesses are being established. As Gina often says in her blogs:
“While microfinance in the U.S. has been helping to support small businesses and self-employed Americans for decades, there may be no opportunity like the present for domestic microfinance to energize small business on a much larger scale. The need is apparent: too many people still cannot find jobs, the income gap is ever-widening and signs of economic recovery remain sluggish... And yet, the ‘irrepressibly American’ spirit of can-do entrepreneurs, hardworking small business owners and brave survivors, marches on. And a growing appreciation for local and community-minded enterprise is taking root.”
Gina and her team at ACCION USA do not just focus on providing microloans to startup entrepreneurs; they also partner with other business-oriented organizations to provide training programs that would equip these future entrepreneurs to become successful in their business endeavors. This not only ensures that the loans that were provided to these entrepreneurs would be used in the most efficient manner, but would also greatly benefit the entrepreneurs themselves by giving them the right information they can use in order to successfully grow their businesses.
In a blog she wrote, Gina tells the story of a young entrepreneur named Sandra who ACCION USA had helped:
“One of the graduates of the Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses Program was fashion designer and Accion client Sandra Nieto. Sandra Nieto moved to the United States from Colombia with the dream of running her own business. Sandra received a microloan from Accion to rent space and host two fashion shows. With her new earnings, she continued to gradually build and expand her business. And now, with the business education she obtained through the 10,000 Small Businesses Program program, she has the tools she needs to create a powerful business and contribute to sustainable economic growth.”
Finally, Gina recognizes the importance of the role of women and youth in the growth of society. In the United States, women entrepreneurs have started to rise in numbers, helping boost the economy of the country. Gina firmly believes that economic opportunities must be equally given to both the male and female members of society, so that stability is maintained which would give the next generation the hope of having a brighter future.
Gina often says:
“Our nation's youth must believe that they have a chance at a bright future that includes a college education, good job, a home and healthy savings account. Our nation's entrepreneurs must believe that their dreams of running their own business can be realized; that they can be their own boss, improve their standard of living, and make a positive contribution to their community and our economy.”
Early Biography: Growing Up With Passion
Gina Harman was born in 1949 to a well to do family, who greatly showed her the love and care that enabled her to become secure and confident in who she was as a person. Later on, in her adult years, Gina would always come back and recall how the love shown by her parents molded her confidence and security in life, and explained how a parent’s actions can greatly affect the future of his or her child.
Gina’s parents also taught her a lot about the importance of justice and equality, which she brought with her as she matured in age. When she was a college student, Gina became involved in both the Women’s, Civil Rights and the Anti-War Movements. She briefly became a political activist after studying due to seeing a lot of injustices being done on people, especially the black community.
Even at a young age, Gina already exhibited amazing leadership skill and brilliance of mind. Although growing up in a fairly average environment, Gina was known to be excelling in her studies, which caused her teachers to praise her often. During her high school years, Gina took a particular interest in business management and entrepreneurship, which she continued to study when she got to college. She took up urban planning and policy at the State University of New York; after earning her bachelor’s degree, Gina continued to study at Columbia University’s Non-Profit Management Institute and Milano School – Graduate Center’s Tenenbaum Institute for her master’s and doctorate degrees, respectively.
Working for Harman International Industries Incorporated
Gina’s amazing performance and skill in management enabled her to immediately find work after graduating from college. She worked with several public sector offices such as being the Youth Bureau Planner for the borough of Queens in the Office of the Mayor of New York, and founding the Washington Square Day Care Cooperative and becoming its Director for many years. Gina’s experience in working in the public sector enabled her to get an in depth understanding of how the government relates to businesses and entrepreneurs.
In 1985, Gina left the public sector and started working with Harman International Industries Incorporated. While with the company, Gina demonstrated outstanding work ethics and potential, and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the President of the North America operations of the Consumer Group in 1998. With this position, Gina handled the company’s twelve consumer brands, strategic operations and planning, product development, engineering, marketing strategies and international sales.
In 2002, Gina went from being the President of North America operations to becoming the President and Chief Executive Officer of Consumer Group. Additionally, in 2005, she was named as the Director of Harman International Industries Incorporated, which enabled her to oversee the entire operations of the company worldwide. In 2007, Gina became an Executive Director of the Astoria Local Development Corporation. Her experience and skill enabled her to also become involved in several companies and offices such as the CDFI Coalition’s Board of Directors, the New York State Governor Paterson’s Small Business Task Force and Capital One’s New Market Tax Credit’s Community Advisory Board.
Aside from her work with companies, Gina also actively participated and supported several non-profit organizations throughout her career. Known as a passionate advocate in various labor and community organizations, Gina has worked effectively with several foundations such as Girls Incorporated, Junior Achievement, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, CFED, YMCA USA, Kiva.org, Sam’s Club for Giving Made Simple and Community Reinvestment Fund USA. Her active support of these companies not only shows her amazing ability in managing and entrepreneurship, but also reveals the heart that Gina has for helping people.
Changing the Course of Her Life: Gina and ACCION USA
Gina started working with ACCION USA, a microfinance company and organization, in 2002. After witnessing the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Gina decided to start doing something that would have a positive effect in the lives of her fellow Americans. When she was interviewed about how she got to ACCION USA, Gina said:
“The career change was huge. I spent the first third of my professional life as a community and union organizer. Second was a 20–year career in the private sector. After September 11, I was determined to do something that was going to have an effect in the U.S. I joined ACCION’s board. We were searching for a new president and I decided it was a good time for me to leave the corporate world and come home, in the sense of working in a manner that’s consistent with my social values and having an impact on lives other than my own and those of my children.”
Since working with ACCION USA, Gina has devoted her life in helping others. One of the people who inspired, taught and encouraged Gina to be able to do this was Bill Drayton, the founder of the Ashoka foundation who also became Gina’s mentor. Through the mentorship of Bill, Gina was able to determine the focus of her life, and from the moment she joined ACCION she spent her time and effort to creating programs that would enable people to fend for themselves through business.
Throughout her time with ACCION USA, Gina has collaborated with other foundations that also aim to help micro entrepreneurs start their businesses and grow them. Among this was ACCION’s collaboration with Goldman Sachs and the Tory Burch Foundation when they started the 10,000 Small Businesses program, which has been running for several years now. Through this program, Gina and her ACCION USA team has been able to reach thousands of potential entrepreneurs and train and encourage them to become successful in their career.
Recently, in a graduation of the latest batch of 10,000 Small Businesses Program participants, Gina said:
“Joy. It was on the faces of the graduates, their friends and families, and others who were at the event to celebrate their success. All had inspiring comments to offer, each walked across the stage with that diploma, manifesting their new confidence and renewed determination to grow their businesses. It was a sight to see—women business owners demonstrating that we are good investments, not just good deeds; as small businesses owners we drive the economy, bring about innovation, and execute; and that the American dream is alive in the hands of enterprising women of all ages.”
Today, Gina continues in her efforts to ensure that more and more people can be reached so that they can become productive entrepreneurs in their communities. Through the efforts of Gina and her team at ACCION USA, hope is given to those who do not have much, so that they can live out their lives in a way where they can become a blessing to others, not just to themselves.
“The numbers tell the story. Yet the most compelling storytellers are the women entrepreneurs themselves. From the CEO of a shoe company to the head of a group of bed and breakfasts to online specialty retailers, jewelry makers, chocolatiers, bag makers, party hosts and distribution and construction company owners, they were there to share their experiences and learn from one another. Strategies varied, but the truth was the same: as far as we've come, there is so much more to do.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- ACCION USA NETWORK
- YMCA USA
- Sam’s Club for Giving Made Simple
- Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
- Community Reinvestment Fund USA
- Girls Inc.
Awards and Achievments
- 2009: Received the Neighborhood Achievement Award (ACCION USA)
- 2010: Received the Founders Award (Boston Beer Company)
- 2012: Included in the League of Extraordinary Women by Fast Company