Guest blog post written by Katie Rascoe, Content Editor, Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire
The Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire is known throughout New England for its commitment to public service education, and equally for its national research, policy analysis, and civic engagement work. Carsey collaborates with select partner organizations that share a community-focused mission, among them Opportunity Finance Network (OFN).
The partnership between OFN and the Carsey School offers OFN employees – as well as employees and board members of OFN member Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and ally organizations and individuals – the opportunity to advance educationally and professionally. Austin Vasko, a graduate of the Carsey School’s Master in Community Development (MCD) program, is just one of several Carsey students who has taken advantage of the OFN-Carsey Partnership Education Award. An employee at Aeris Insight (an OFN ally), Vasko received $2,500 to pursue Carsey’s MCD through this partnership.
Vasko recently shared information about Aeris Insight’s background, explaining that the company was conceived as a project within OFN nearly two decades ago, then became an independent rating agency in 2013, and now is positioned at the intersection of CDFIs and impact investors. Today, Aeris helps ensure transparency on CDFI financial performance by supplying lenders and investors with digestible metrics reported by CDFIs.
Vasko shared this about the importance of CDFIs: “These institutions create significant impact in the communities they serve and, in the case of this pandemic, fulfilled the role of financial ‘first responders,’ bringing relief to some of the hardest hit communities nationwide.”
As organizations such as OFN and Aeris continue to be recognized for their positive impacts, they gain more interest from private financial parties. According to Vasko, Aeris’s customer base has largely been “CRA-motivated financial institutions, mission-driven charitable foundations, and government,” but they are experiencing a shift, now attracting the interest of “private wealth and impact fund managers, as well as more mainstream investors looking for impact investment opportunities.”
This expansion of the market segment demonstrates that creating the space for equal opportunity can inspire others to also take action for the improvement of their communities. The steps taken by OFN and other CDFIs today to support community organizations and struggling families provide the building blocks for a more equitable and sustainable world for future generations. And, Carsey School is excited to support professionals like Austin who seek higher education as a way to fuel their passions for making a difference in underfunded communities worldwide.
For more information about the education award, check out the Carsey School’s OFN partnership webpage, or attend an upcoming info session about the MCD program (January 28 and February 18).