stories wedi1It’s the American Dream—creating a better life for yourself and your children. And while it sounds great, it’s not always easy to accomplish. Especially when you arrive in a strange country as a refugee, with very little by way of resources. For those who arrive in Buffalo, there’s an amazing resource that goes by the name WEDI, or Westminster Economic Development Initiative.

“We believe that we have an obligation to the public to help solve problems of poverty and education,” says Ben Bissell, Executive Director. “We’re glad to be in a position to provide tools and access to help empower economically disadvantaged individuals.”

WEDI started out in 2008 with a small group of passionate volunteers. As they grew, so did the need for sustainability and professionalism. A multi-year grant from the Oishei Foundation in 2014 enabled the group to add staff and become a truly professional not-for-profit organization. Today, the WEDI team provides workshops, microloans, individual mentoring, business advocacy, after school programs, and more. So far, they’ve helped more than 200 entrepreneurs start businesses, offering assistance with such things as business planning, training, establishing credit, networking/marketing, and coaching.

stories wedi2WEST SIDE BAZAAR

To reduce barriers and provide a training ground, WEDI created a small business incubator, West Side Bazaar. The international hub on Grant Street offers safe, nurturing, and affordable retail space for entrepreneurs, artisans and chefs.

“Every single one of our businesses is a success story,” says Ben. “They’re all operating, creating jobs, and contributing to the community. Every loan we make creates wealth, and so far we’ve had zero defaults.“

WEDI is now expanding beyond the west side to provide services throughout the city of Buffalo. “We’ve experienced huge growth, thanks to Oishei’s support,” says a smiling Ben. “As we continue to build capacity, we bring more money into the community. We look forward to being more and more a part of the resurgence in Buffalo—especially the resurgence that’s lifting all boats.”

Check out WEDI's video here.