JULIA VINDASIUS Director Good Faith Fund, Pine Bluff, Ark.

Julia Vindasius, 30, discovered her niche in American banking in an odd place - a rural village in Bangladesh.

She had gone there in 1987 in hopes that a high-risk lending scheme for poor borrowers in the United States could be modeled on a successful program launched by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

"When I saw how it worked, I knew it would translate," recalls Ms. Vindasius. Returning to the United States, she has plowed new banking ground by setting up a similar program for small-business borrowers in Arkansas who are not normally able to secure credit.

Based on cooperative lending principles developed by the Grameen Bank, Ms. Vindasius formed what she calls the Good Faith Fund. Based in Pine Bluff, Ark., the fund lends small amounts of money to groups of borrowers - usually four or five people - who want to set up small businesses. They borrow at market rates with terms of about two months. Only after the existing loans are repaid can the other members step up to the borrowing window. Delinquencies run high, around 7%, but to date there have been no defaults.

Since 1988, when she first set up the fund, the venture has blossomed to include 12 lending groups scattered over the dusty counties of southern Arkansas. Ms. Vindasius has lent money to hog farmers, coffin builders, cooks, and truckers, many of whom would be shunned by traditional banks.

The Good Faith Fund is a subsidiary of Southern Development Corp., a holding company created to stimulate growth in this blighted market and funded, in part, by equity from the Little Rock-based Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. It is affiliated with anothe subsidiary of Southern Development, Elk Horn Bank of Arkadelphia, Ark.

Ms. Vindasius came to this unique corner of the banking busines safter doing her graduate work in urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she wrote a thesis on Grameen Bank. She worked briefly for the Ford Foundation as a research assistant, before landing a job at South Shore Bank in Chicago, as assistant to the bank's cofounder and chairwoman, Mary Houghton.

Armed with that experience, she made her fateful visit to size up the Grameen project.

The Good Faith Fund, with only $18,5000 of loans outstanding, does not put Ms. Vindasius in the billion-dollar league with other up-and-coming bankers. But her fund's influence now extends far beyond southern Arkansas. Its success has spawned over a dozen imitators in the Souther and Midwest. It has even caught the attention of acress Debra Winger, who has agreed to star in a movie inspired by the Good Faith.

Says Ms. Vindasius with a modest chuckle, "I don't think Debra Winter will be playing me."

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