Harold Pettigrew, OFN President and CEO, along with OFN CEO members at the Hatchery food incubator in Chicago

We Are Made for This Moment

Harold Pettigrew, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

Reflections on my first year as OFN President and CEO

Read time: 7 minutes

This month marks the first year of my journey as President and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network. I am so proud of what we have accomplished together and excited about the future of community development finance. 

I deeply appreciate the warm welcome extended by so many of you as I have traveled the country this last year. I am thankful to work with an outstanding team at OFN, and I am grateful to serve alongside so many outstanding members, partners, and investors in our shared work.  

The best parts of this year — the parts that inspire the deepest pride and excitement — are not about me. They’re about you.  

In February, at our Southern Regional Meeting in Jackson, Mississippi, I met Executive Chef Nick Wallace and learned of his culinary journey to stardom, like being featured on television shows Top Chef and Chopped and being named to the list of Best Chefs in America, a journey that began with his two grandmothers sparking his love for culinary arts. But his entrepreneurial journey was supported by an OFN member. It’s fitting that Nick’s journey is literally animated by hope — he is a Hope Credit Union client and now Brand Ambassador, an example of Hope Credit Union’s 30 years of impact across the Deep South. 

Last July, I had the opportunity to visit Minneapolis to see not only the important work of OFN members on the ground, but also the rebuilding taking place after the ignition of social unrest and protest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. I saw the incredible work being done to support entrepreneurs along the city’s commercial corridors and real estate development projects like those led by the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC).

LEDC is leveraging its financial strength and creativity to create a new food ecosystem, now influencing local real estate development because they, like so many OFN members, have come to the conclusion that our work is not just about financial capital but ultimately creating new opportunities in communities across the country. 

One letter can’t do justice to all the inspiring experiences, meetings, and conversations of this first year, but I thank you for welcoming me and for the commitment you bring to our work on behalf of the communities we serve.  

An Extraordinary Year for OFN

The pride I feel in our members is matched only by the pride I feel in what the OFN team has accomplished on your behalf. OFN’s impressive list of accomplishments from the past year shows that our organization — and our industry — are prepared for the opportunities and challenges ahead. In the past year: 

  • We crossed the $200 million mark for capital deployed to over 100 OFN members through our Finance Justice Fund, with more than 50% of capital to CDFIs with less than $25 million in assets in the last two years. 
  • We’ve grown to more than 420 members, solidifying OFN’s position with the industry’s largest and most diverse membership of community development financial institutions. 
  • We designed and delivered 30 training programs to nearly 1,000 practitioners between April 2023 and March 2024, from CDFI 101 to climate lending to other topics that meet members where they are and help them better serve their communities. 

A Call to Climate Action – The Moment Ahead

Pride in our accomplishments can’t displace a clear-eyed evaluation of the challenges we’re helping communities combat. From inflation that’s eroding the purchasing power and increasing the cost of capital for households, communities, and entrepreneurs to the threats to our downtowns and main streets as they navigate the realities of hybrid work and shifting consumer behaviors to political and policy volatility, the challenges facing our country are great and complex. And the greatest of our shared challenges is the climate crisis.  

But if our challenges have become greater and more complex, so, too, have we.  

Last year at OFN39 in Washington, D.C., I issued a clarion call for CDFIs to become climate lenders to mobilize the community development finance industry to combat the climate crisis. In alignment with this focus, OFN was selected to receive a $2.29 billion award through the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator (CCIA) of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). This once-in-a-lifetime $27 billion investment will deploy clean energy technology and combat the climate crisis, improve health outcomes, lower energy costs, and create high-quality jobs while strengthening our country’s economic competitiveness and ensuring energy security. 

The success of this initiative has been placed on the shoulders of community lenders. This is the fullest recognition of the fact that community development financial institutions are indispensable in ensuring that this generational investment leaves no community behind.  

OFN is working closely with our partners at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize the details of the program with an eye to launching before the end of 2024. As we do, I encourage you to visit climate.ofn.org, which we are continuously building in advance of the program launch. 

Made for this Moment and Infrastructure for Scale

The last several years have called for our industry to aggressively mobilize the capital needed to create equitable opportunities in our communities. We met that moment because we were made for it — with resources under our stewardship, the support of the communities in which we invest, and our ability to deliver ever greater impact — shaped by the kindred spirits who blazed the trail before us.  

And we are made for the moment ahead. 

While we will continue the capital mobilization focus of the last several years, it’s clear that absorbing and effectively stewarding those resources requires a new strategic perspective. To meet this moment, we need to fully embrace the new opportunities, models, and pathways before us.  

That means investing in infrastructure for scale — the systems, solutions, and structures needed for our industry and our organization to meet the moment ahead. Infrastructure for scale will be at the center of OFN’s strategic agenda over the next year. We are operating under the final year of OFN’s current strategic plan, and infrastructure for scale will include developing a long-term strategic plan, which we will develop with you in the year ahead. 

Conversations with you — whether one-on-one, in small groups, or at our largest-ever Small Business Finance Forum a few weeks ago — helped shape the infrastructure for scale agenda. And your enthusiasm underscores for me that this agenda will support and accelerate the trajectory of our industry. 

I look forward to continuing those conversations, I thank you for a remarkable first year working together, and I extend my deep appreciation for the warm welcome you’ve extended to me. I know we are made for this moment, and I am deeply humbled to serve our communities alongside you. 

I hope you’ll join me as we celebrate our accomplishments together at OFN40 in L.A. this fall

Now, let’s get to work! 

2024 OFN conference blog body

Connect With OFN

Subscribe to receive regular updates straight to your inbox and check out our blog for the latest coverage from OFN and the CDFI industry. 
Follow us on social media.

Read More From The Series

  • Raising Capital for Your CDFI? Don’t Miss OFN’s March 19 Virtual Forum

    OFN’s free, half-day virtual forum on March 19 will focus on capital raising strategies for CDFIs and other community-based mission… Read More

  • Remembering Longtime Economic Justice Champion Adina Abramowitz

    Join CDFI Friendly America on February 21 for a virtual gathering to honor the remarkable life and legacy of Adina… Read More

  • We Are Made By History: The Year Ahead

    This month, we mark a new year, and with it, the beginning anew of our shared, enduring vision of aligning… Read More

Tags: , ,