Power of CDFI Partnership on Full Display in Phoenix

Caroline Valvardi, Vice President of Marketing, Opportunity Finance Network

Last month, more than 80 CDFI practitioners and partners convened in Phoenix for OFN’s Southwest Regional Meeting, new training program, and site visits to see CDFI impact on the ground

For more than 50 years, community development financial institutions (CDFIs) have served as trusted partners in delivering affordable, responsible capital to disinvested people and places. CDFIs partner with each other on advocacy, peer exchange, and financing and technical assistance to support clients. They also work with a wide range of external partners.

For example, CDFIs partner with other community-based organizations to provide holistic services to clients, along with private investors, philanthropies, and other funders seeking to meet corporate responsibility and impact goals. They also partner with local, state, and federal governments to deploy public funding and programs, as well as universities to recruit talent and research program impact.

What do these powerful partnerships look like in practice? Many examples, big and small, were on full display during OFN’s recent trip to Phoenix for our 2023 Southwest Regional Meeting, new CDFI industry training program, and site visits to see CDFI impact on the ground.
Here are a few highlights that demonstrate the power of partnership with and among CDFIs: 

OFN Training – Financial Management and CDFI 101 

The day before the regional meeting, OFN held our first in-person training. More than 35 CDFI practitioners and funders gathered at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus to participate in one or both of two pilot programs: Financial Management and CDFI 101. The financial management workshop intends to help CDFIs build organizational resiliency and included instruction on Excel tools developed by OFN, including a key performance indicator dashboard. The CDFI 101 course offered an overview of the origins and evolution of the industry for newer practitioners and partners.

Photos: (left) Sindhu Lakshmanan, OFN’s senior vice president of development services, Khalid Sarwary, OFN’s senior investment officer of financial services, (right) and CDFI practitioners during OFN’s first in-person trainings.

OFN launched the Next Generation CDFI Workforce Initiative last fall with a grant from Citi Foundation’s Community Finance Innovation Fund. Through this initiative, OFN aims to strengthen talent recruitment, development, and retention in the community development finance field by facilitating access to the tools, skills, and expertise CDFIs need to achieve their mission of advancing economic justice.

Southwest Regional Meeting 

During OFN’s Southwest Regional Meeting, more than 80 CDFI practitioners representing diverse communities across the region and bank and philanthropic partners discussed industry challenges, opportunities, and best practices. Top issues raised by CDFIs included recruiting new talent, creating innovative, scalable lending products while staying true to mission, effectively telling the CDFI story to clients and funders, and raising capital amid rising inflation and interest rates. 

The convening also included a panel on building CDFI ecosystems. In recent years, many CDFI coalitions have emerged throughout the country, including the California Coalition for Community Investment, which comprises more than 30 CDFIs. Housing Trust Silicon Valley CEO Noni Ramos spoke about the success of the coalition and the 2022 passage of the $50 million California Investment and Innovation Fund, which is a state-level version of the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund. MoFi CEO Dave Glaser also spoke about his Montana-based CDFI’s collaboration with neighboring Native CDFIs to share knowledge and resources.

OFN EVP of External Affairs Dafina Williams also shared federal policy updates, including the latest guidance on the Inflation Reduction Act’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. With historic investment in CDFIs, the Biden-Harris Administration continues to recognize the vital role CDFIs play as partners in directing federal resources to communities most negatively impacted by climate change and economic injustice. OFN believes we are stronger together and is pursuing a collaborative approach to this opportunity, which includes joining the 15-member Community Builders of Color Coalition

Site Visits 

The day following the meeting, locally-based OFN members showcased their impact on the ground in Phoenix to OFN staff and funders. The tour included visits to thriving Latino-owned businesses, an NFL-supported charter school, and a future railway line intended to make South Phoenix’s lower income communities more accessible.

We also visited the Women’s Business Center, operated by OFN member Prestamos, as well as OFN member Raza Development Fund’s beautiful new headquarters in the heart of South Phoenix. 

More details: 

  • B’s Granite and Marble. Financed by Prestamos CDFI with New Market Tax Credits. 
  • Let it Roll Bowl. Operates in a facility owned by Clearinghouse CDFI. 
  • NFL YET College Prep Academy. Financed by Raza Development Fund (RDF) and supported through partnership with the National Football League (NFL). 
  • Prestamos CDFI’s Women’s Business Center. Colombian lunch provided by local CDFI-funded business.  
  • South Central Light Rail Extension. Businesses along this future five-mile extension, which will connect South Phoenix to the regional light rail system, have received funding from Prestamos CDFI and Raza Development Fund (RDF). 
  • Botas Juarez. Technical assistance and small business/PPP lending from Prestamos CDFI. 
  • Raza Development Fund’s new headquarters. Churros provided by local CDFI-funded business. 

As the number of CDFI partners and CDFIs continues to grow – from fewer than 200 certified CDFIs in the mid-90s to 1,300 today – the list of CDFI partners is also growing. Nevertheless, CDFIs still only represent 1% of the U.S. financial system and the journey towards racial and economic justice remains far from complete. We invite new, mission-aligned partners to join us! 

See more photos in OFN’s Facebook album!

Photo credits: Pablo Robles, Media Compass Photography

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