Charlene Virgilio, executive director of OFN member Four Directions Development Corporation

Native CDFI with a Mission to Help Tribal Nations in Maine Achieve Economic Success

Read time: 6 minutes

Through education and financial investment in affordable housing and business, Four Directions is catalyzing economic sovereignty for the people of the Wabanaki tribes. 

This month we’re highlighting Four Directions Development Corporation.

Based in Wabanaki Territory (also known as Maine), Four Directions has been a certified community development corporation and Native CDFI since 2001 and an OFN member since 2007. Through education and financial investment in affordable housing and business, Four Directions is catalyzing economic sovereignty for the people of the Wabanaki tribes. 

We spoke with Charlene Virgilio, executive director of Four Directions, to talk about her CDFI’s work to spur economic growth and increase economic sovereignty in these communities. 

What is a unique aspect about Four Directions that we should know about?

Our CDFI is focused on the Native tribes in Maine. As a nonprofit Native CDFI certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury and a State of Maine licensed Supervised Lender, we are led and managed by the Wabanaki people. We were created by the Penobscot Nation in 2001 as an independent entity that quickly expanded to serve the Wabanaki tribes: Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. 

We provide vital resources and tools for nation-building and possess the strategic capacity and historical performance to double the impact. Given our mission, which is “to improve the social and economic conditions of the Wabanaki tribes in Maine – the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot – through education and investment in affordable housing, tribal business ventures, and Native entrepreneurship,” we are uniquely positioned to provide Wabanaki-level programs and technical assistance.

In the past year, what project do you believe had the biggest impact on your community?

We worked with one of our tribes on a multi-year basis to help them with a fishery expansion project. From our data collection process in 2019, we learned that one of the most significant needs of our tribes to help drive economic success was to find a way to provide technical assistance and business development services.  

With Four Directions’ support, Mi’kmaq Farms secured a $4 million grant from the Economic Development Administration and a $1 million loan from Four Directions for a hatchery expansion from 12,000 to up to 60,000 fish capacity. Located in Caribou, Maine, the hatchery will be a solar-powered facility. (Photo by Jacques Delli Paol, FDDC team member)

We secured funding through a Native American CDFI Assistance grant to conduct a feasibility study on the fishery expansion, which provided the necessary data to support a grant from the Economic Development Association. We also helped them develop a business plan. These two elements, along with the tribal efforts, led to a $3.8 million grant award, and we are now supporting the project with a $1 million line of credit to help them construct the facility.  

With this loan and the $1.3 million we deployed for residential lending, it is the first time in our CDFI’s history that we have deployed more than $2 million in loan capital in one fiscal year!

What’s the biggest opportunity to create even greater impact that Four Directions is considering?

We have several initiatives underway that are poised to produce a greater impact for our organization, mostly emanating from our community development program. The program is working across all the tribes in Maine, collectively known as the Wabanaki people, to help with housing development, cultural tourism development, and broadband connectivity.  

Underpinning our community development program is our small business program. This program recently received more than $2.1 million to deploy over the next three years to help grow Native-owned businesses aimed at supporting construction and technical trades and hospitality assets to support housing construction, developing a robust tribal tourism industry, and closing the digital divide.  
With these programs, we help to establish jobs to increase opportunities for individuals. Another key component, we consider the secret to financial success for potential homebuyers and business owners is to first go through our financial capability program to ensure they have the financial well-being to succeed.

How do you describe OFN to people who do not know us?

OFN is a strategic partner who provides critical industry insight and research to help us see where we compare to our peers. They are a key partner for us, and as an intermediary, provide us with access to programs, resources, and funding opportunities that are not directly accessible to us. They are also a key advocate for the work we do — bringing capital to the communities we serve!

If you could describe the CDFI industry in one word, what would it be?

Hope. We provide loans to our community that traditional lenders are not able to; we bring capital to Indian country where others may not. We support financial well-being, asset building, and generational wealth. We help tribes create businesses that provide revenue streams to advance economic sovereignty. Through our programs and services, we work with clients for however long it takes to help them achieve their dreams of becoming a homeowner or a business owner.  

Stay in the loop with Four Directions Development Corporation! Follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn, subscribe to their newsletter, or attend one of their signature events.

More from Native CDFIs 

Earlier this month, OFN held our Midwest Regional Meeting in Minneapolis in partnership with the Native CDFI Network (Four Directions is also a member of the Native CDFI Network). More than 80 CDFI practitioners and partners came together in Minneapolis to discuss opportunities and challenges for the industry in the region.

The event featured a panel on Native CDFI lending insights, best practices, and policy considerations with OFN’s senior vice president of research, Adrienne Smith. In addition, OFN delivered training on CDFI 101 and financial management and visited several CDFIs to see their impact on the ground.  

View photos from the Midwest Regional Meeting on OFN’s Facebook page.

Are you a CDFI interested in joining OFN’s membership? Learn more about the benefits of joining our network of more than 390 members and apply today!

Attend OFN’s Northeast Regional Meeting  and Training
Join fellow CDFI practitioners and partners at the OFN’s Northeast Regional Meeting on August 9 in Boston! Registration closes August 2.

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