MasterCard International, which through its members helps individuals get credit, now wants to help low-income families do the same.
The Purchase, N.Y., card association and the Citicorp Foundation were two sponsors of the 1997 Microcredit Summit that was convened in Washington Sunday.
The summit, organized by the Results Educational Fund, represented global organizations that provide small-business loans to low-income families to help them start businesses and lift themselves out of poverty.
MasterCard plans to educate its 2,300 member banks about the microcredit program, said Sean Healey, a spokesman for the association.
Currently, hundreds of banks and nonprofit and community agencies generate funds for eight million families worldwide.
The summit launched a "dramatic expansion of these programs," said Jennifer Robey, media associate for the Washington-based fund. Its goal is to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families by 2005.
Ms. Robey said that microcredit organizations have existed for 30 years. The United States has been involved for a decade, with 300 programs that reach 40,000 to 50,000 families.
Not to be confused with small-business development loans, microcredit loans vary from $25 to $25,000 per family. Funds are loaned at commercial rates for periods of three months to a year.
"Most microlending organizations have existing relationships with banks that lend them money that is then passed on to families in need," said Brandee McHale, vice president of the Citicorp Foundation in New York. "One of the goals for the U.S. is to garner more financial support from banks."
"The support of organizations like MasterCard is critical to increase the participation of banks in the United States," said Ms. Robey.
"MasterCard and Citicorp understand that supporting this program is a hand up, not a handout, and are sending the message that there is growth within the United States and international marketplaces," said John Bryant, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Operation Hope, a nonprofit organization that assists residents of inner cities to find funding for business ventures.