Arizona CDFI Leader Shares Perspectives on Building a More Inclusive Economy
Roland Kamara, Member Relations Associate, Opportunity Finance Network
Growth Partners Arizona’s new executive director, Andre T. Whittington, talks about statewide expansion to support more small businesses and nonprofits.
As OFN prepares for our April 26 Southwest Regional Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, we highlight one of our local hosts, Growth Partners Arizona, and new executive director, Andre T. Whittington.
Founded in 2013, Growth Partners Arizona provides responsible, affordable loans and technical assistance to nonprofits and small businesses in Arizona. Growth Partners Arizona has been a proud OFN member since 2017.
Whittington, who joined Growth Partners Arizona in 2022, recently shared details with OFN about the CDFI, its impact on the community, and benefits of OFN membership, particularly OFN’s resource library.
What’s the biggest opportunity Growth Partners Arizona is considering to create even greater impact?
The biggest opportunities for us are completing our 24-month statewide expansion and launching a microloan fund to support small business needs across the state. In Arizona, one of the largest areas of opportunity is the availability of microloans that do not require collateral.
Over the next 24 months, we will be expanding to become a statewide resource for small businesses and nonprofits in Arizona. During this time, it will be important for us to develop loan programs that address this need and assist in building a more inclusive economy.
This growth will also be accompanied by an increase in demand for capital, as we will now serve areas in the state that do not have local financial institutions. Knowing this, I am focused on developing strong partnerships with trusted community organizations to broaden our reach and identify local and national investors to assist in growing our loan fund. These partnerships will be critical in ensuring we are reaching small business owners where they are and helping them get to where they want to be.
What is one unique aspect about your CDFI or community that we should know about?
What makes us unique is that we are the only local CDFI that is African American-led with a statewide focus. We believe we have a unique opportunity to close the wealth gap for our underserved communities and connect with mission-aligned organizations to amplify our impact.
As a local CDFI, we are able to build relationships with organizations across the state, which will help circulate dollars back within our most underserved communities. Our goal is to work with larger CDFIs in addressing small business needs that fall outside of their focus areas, eliminating the need for local businesses to depend on fintech lending, which can be predatory specifically for BIPOC borrowers.
Oftentimes Arizona is left out of the conversation when it comes to funding programs out West. I believe we are in a position to change this narrative and highlight the amazing work that is taking place in our beautiful state. Being a locally-focused CDFI will ensure that we’re working with, building, and growing small businesses together.
What’s your “why” for working in the CDFI industry?
My “why” is to leave an impact on my community and be a part of the solution to closing the racial wealth gap. After spending 11 years working for a Fortune 50 and a few years running my own consulting company, I became very interested in helping small businesses scale. I spent time deeply involved in creating small business development programs that focused on capital readiness. It was through this work that I became intrigued with CDFIs and the role they play in moving economies forward.
When the opportunity came to join Growth Partners Arizona, I was excited because it aligns with my passions and my why. I am now able to impact my community, be a part of the solution, and help small business owners and nonprofit organizations scale.
What is the biggest challenge facing your CDFI?
Scaling and maintaining strong community impact over the next two years. Expanding our focus across the state will be a great opportunity, and while it will have its challenges, I am confident in our ability to overcome them. However, in order to be successful, we must lean on the expertise of our board members, leverage the support of local organizations, and ensure we maintain a growth mindset.
We will need to think about our capacity, infrastructure, and the capabilities required to be successful. As I think about my role in this growth, I will need mentorship, guidance, and insight from leaders with experience in this space. I love the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, and I see this challenge as one we will overcome as a team.
How do you describe OFN to people who don’t know about us?
I describe OFN as an amazing resource for leaders who are eager to learn more about CDFIs and innovative ways we can impact our communities. As a newly hired executive director, the resources OFN has provided have been invaluable. I always share my experience with OFN when describing OFN. It is personal but it allows me to share my enthusiasm about the organization and how it helped me during my onboarding period – which was, at times, overwhelming.
With the resources [on CDFI Connect], which include the Cash Management Toolkit, CDFI Loan Fund Business Model: Four Pillars Framework, and the CDFI Lending Policies Toolkit, [onboarding] became more manageable. My team was amazing, but having a resource library like that, which OFN provides, is a game changer for anyone in the CDFI space.
We thank Andre T. Whittington and the entire Growth Partners Arizona team for their continued work in their community. Learn more about Growth Partners Arizona on their website, OFN CDFI Locator listing, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
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