Harold Pettigrew, President & CEO, Opportunity Finance Network
Read time: 5 minutes
This month, we mark a new year, and with it, the beginning anew of our shared, enduring vision of aligning capital with racial, economic, and climate justice. The timing is auspicious, falling as it does during a month where we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy reminds us that justice of any kind walks, inextricably, hand-in-hand with others.
This commitment was at the center of what OFN and its partners accomplished in 2023 and remains central to our agenda as we embark on 2024. There are so many to thank for an incredible 2023: our outstanding Board of Directors, our wonderful staff, and all of the incredibly inspiring members and partners advancing this work in communities all across the country.
Photo: OFN staff come together as a team to kick off the 2023 OFN Conference
Thank you. For warmly welcoming me as OFN’s new president and CEO. For your commitment to our shared vision of opportunity and justice. For all the hard work — the sweat equity — you invest in our shared work. It is with pride that I share select highlights of OFN’s impact on our industry in 2023:
- Reached a tremendous milestone of investing more than $210 million in 100 CDFIs over the last three years, with the majority of investments in the last two years made in CDFIs with less than $25 million in assets;
- Convened our boldest industry conference yet, with more than 2,200 attendees at our largest-ever OFN Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.;
- Invested millions in climate-focused CDFIs, hosting climate training for more than 130 organizations, and submitting a historic $3.2 billion bid for clean energy community investments through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund;
- Convened our largest-ever Small Business Finance Forum, bringing together 500 small business finance leaders and partners to learn, network, and collaborate;
- Hosted more than 5,000 practitioners, funders, and investors through in-person and virtual events;
- Grew OFN’s membership to more than 400 CDFIs, furthering our efforts to support the nation’s largest network of mission-focused community development finance institutions;
- Deepened bipartisan support for our industry, bringing more than 200 practitioners to Capitol Hill for more than 80 advocacy meetings with Members of Congress and their offices; and,
- Drove a strategic research agenda, including key briefs that highlight recent industry trends, introduce research priorities for CDFIs, and look at how the Paycheck Protection Program affected boots-on-the-ground lenders.
“We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us. Our accomplishments, and more importantly, their impact, are part of a rich tapestry connected to the forebearers of our industry. We owe who we are — the resources under our stewardship, the support of the communities in which OFN and its partners invest, our ability to deliver ever greater impact — to the many kindred spirits who blazed the trail before us. We are made by our history.
And that history has shaped us all for the moment ahead. We are, as I shared at the OFN Conference, at the hour of fate. The wealth gap is rising, the prospect of having a home and home ownership continues to be out of reach for too many, and racism continues its grip on this country. Our climate isn’t just changing; it has definitively changed.
We are in the business of opportunity. Of justice. Whether you lead from a loan fund or a credit union or a bank or any other institution in our ecosystem, our shared work enjoins a moral obligation to ambition. The height of our aspiration cannot fail to match the depth of need in our communities.
This reality shapes OFN’s vision for the year ahead. As an industry, we have been preparing for transformative investments in climate through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. At our 2023 Conference, I issued the call to action that in the next five years, 100% of CDFIs become climate lenders. Climate investing has been and will continue to be a critical part of OFN and our industry. With 55% of OFN members already offering a climate product, the five-year, 100% goal I shared with you is wholly achievable because we are made by history for this moment.
Ultimately, the year ahead is about the communities we all serve, how we serve them, and how OFN advances that work. In the weeks ahead, OFN will share announcements – from partnerships to people – underscoring the momentum we’re creating for our organization and this industry. Organizationally, we are in the last year of our current strategic plan, so, in many ways, our 40th annual conference celebration at OFN 2024 will be focused on how we capitalize on the opportunities before us all, while continuing to build the industry this work will need in the years ahead. It will be a year of transformation.
But we are made by history for this moment.
With the road ahead, we are eager — and well-positioned — for another year of critical investments in CDFIs and, by extension, the rural, urban, and Native communities our industry serves.
Personally, I am inspired every day by the amazing work of OFN’s staff and members, who work so hard and diligently to meet communities where they are and help get them where they want to be.
I believe in all of you. I believe that we are a key part of the solutions to the greatest challenges ahead. I am proud, humble, and grateful to lead OFN and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with so many of you at this hour of fate, in our collective pursuit of justice and the fight for our future.
Let’s get to work!
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