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July/August Volunteer Feature: American Express Volunteers Work to Empower and Educate Low-Income Microentrepreneurs

The City Bar Justice Center is delighted to honor American Express as an outstanding volunteer for their work with the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP).

In support of the company's commitment to 'Good Citizenship,' it is the policy of the General Counsel's Office of American Express to encourage the pro bono activities of its lawyers, legal managers and support staff. American Express' pro bono program, with the full support of the General Counsel Offices' senior management, including its General Counsel, Louise Parent, has facilitated the performance of pro bono work in many areas.

In a wonderful example of linking philanthropic support and legal expertise, American Express awarded a grant from the American Express Foundation to the City Bar Justice Center's Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) to develop a new financial literacy initiative geared towards low-income microentrepreneurs. Through this new initiative NELP is able to provide a free 8-hour financial literacy course designed specifically for microentrepreneurs largely through the volunteer assistance of American Express attorneys. NELP partnered with the Corporate Legal Department at American Express to teach the financial literacy course. NELP held the first financial literacy program at the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. (SoBRO) in January 2006. There were 15 participants and eight instructors from American Express.

Wanji Walcott, Corporate Counsel at American Express, and Shirin Malkani, an attorney in the American Express legal department, worked together to assemble a team of volunteer instructors to teach NELP's financial literacy seminar. They pulled together a team of eight attorneys, who in teams of two, volunteered to teach a different subject matter each night. The topics included: Basics of Banking, Spending Plans, Accounting Basics and Understanding Credit. This project has continued and still provides financial and other information to budding microentrepreneurs.

The financial literacy curriculum was created with the idea that the instructors could follow the workbook if needed, but ideally the instructors would add to the materials with stories and experiences of their own or of the participants. The American Express team did just that! They provided context, practical advice and color commentary on the materials and subject matter which led the participants to really think about what they learned and how it affects their lives. The American Express attorneys have turned out to be a wonderful team of instructors.

In addition, American Express, through the NELP project, partners with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and Citigroup to staff monthly legal clinics at a community based organization located in lower Manhattan. Through the clinics microentrepreneurs are provided the opportunity to meet with an attorney and have their small business questions answered. Attorneys from American Express often provide follow-up assistance to microentrepreneurs .

The City Bar Justice Center is grateful for the assistance of American Express attorneys in assisting low income microentrepreneurs.

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