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“Build the Hill” creates community of sustainable businesses

Members of "Build the Hill" visit Green Heal Farms, a business that was provided a microloan from the organization, on March 26, 2023. Photo Courtesy of Benny Lispector.

In one simple Zoom meeting with the owner of the local ice cream shop Elaka Treats, Build the Hill students sparked opportunities for the company to transform from a small-scale kitchen into a wholesale.

“At that moment that we connected, even over Zoom in the middle of the pandemic, it was a really strong connection that I felt and a very big sense of purpose,” Benny Lispector, treasurer of Build the Hill said.

Build the Hill is affiliated with the Campus Y and was founded in 2014. Its mission is to alleviate poverty by promoting sustainable small business growth in Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle area, according to its website. One of these businesses is Elaka Treats — a dessert business run by Shafna Shamsuddin. 

Build the Hill students said Elaka Treats' business growth was partially made possible by a micro-loan from the organization. The loan was awarded after Build the Hill analyzed the business’s credibility, mission and personality.

“She is just such a powerful female entrepreneur," co-president Lynelle Huskey said of Shafna. "We had such a great conversation. She's raising her kids but also running this business. And so I think just getting to hear from her and learn from her definitely was the most inspiring experience that I've had.”

Build the Hill works to find businesses that would be impacted by zero-interest micro-loans and credits to improve their ventures when the business can not get a loan through traditional means. Zero-interest micro-loans mean that only the principal balance must be paid back without additional fees. 

The volunteer-based nonprofit initiative works to strengthen ties between UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill so students can connect with community members that may not be directly involved with the University.

“Our first goal when talking with someone is just understanding who they are as a person,” Huskey said.

Build the Hill provides one or two loans a semester while also giving students an introductory knowledge of microfinance and allowing them to get hands-on experience in the field. The loans come from a limited amount of resources and fundraising.

“It doesn't have to be some crazy big change," Huskey said. "Even just giving $1,000 to one entrepreneur can really change someone's life in a tremendous way. I hope that I just kind of take that with me and remember it.”

Members of Build the Hill said Green Heal Farms, a business that was provided a microloan from the organization, has used this money to provide a new tool, something the organization witnessed in its visit last month to the business itself. This is the first visit the organization has made to a company it has invested in.

“I think (the goal is) to have this personal touch with them to actually see their businesses working and see most important of all, our impact on their business,” Lispector said.

In the visit to Green Heal Farms, members of Build the Hill followed up on how the loan is being used and also enforced the teachings Build the Hill wishes to impart upon its members. 

“I think it has definitely taught me the value of human connection and just thinking about community change from a grassroots level,” Huskey said.

Larkin Gliddon, a UNC first-year and microfinance analyst for Build the Hill, agreed and was looking forward the visit to Green Hill Farms.

“It will give some of the members of Build the Hill some great experience by being able to see the workings of a business and see the impacts that these loans are making on small business owners,” Gliddon said.

After just a few semesters with Build the Hill, he has been able to see many takeaways reinforcing the slogan on Build the Hill’s website “microfinance, macro impact.”

“It is just incredible to see the real-world impacts of stuff like this and how you can really make a real difference to small business owners,” Gliddon said. 


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