On Thursday of this week, I will step into the role of Interim OFN President and CEO when Lisa Mensah moves to the next phase of her illustrious career. I am excited for the opportunity: For 25 years I have worked at OFN in many roles and have seen our network grow and change to become an indispensable force for good in driving an inclusive economy.
While OFN will miss Lisa’s fearless advocacy at the helm of OFN, OFN is confident in the journey ahead as we continue to drive forward on our core work to: increase the flow of capital to CDFIs so that they can lend where it counts; build the capacity of CDFIs to serve their communities; amplify the voice of CDFIs and make the case for increased investment and growth; and fortify OFN for the journey ahead.
Lisa helped drive us to where OFN is today. We are grateful and wish her well in Oregon. But we couldn’t let her get away from us without one final message to the membership she loves and champions so fiercely.
– Beth Lipson
A Message from Lisa Mensah
I joined OFN in 2017 fresh from the Obama Administration, where I did work I loved as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development. I left the administration with a profound sense of how much “unfinished work” there is on the road to justice in America. I felt great sadness leaving a government position that held the power to make meaningful progress down that road.
But coming to OFN was a joy. Here, I found a new path on the journey to social, racial, and economic equity and justice. As many of you know, joining OFN was a return to the community development finance work I first learned about more than 30 years ago at the Ford Foundation. I’ve loved coming back to that space and being part of the CDFI family alongside the leaders who’ve inspired me throughout my career.
One of the joys of CDFIs is seeing what is possible when capital meets hope. As I said in my first OFN speech, we are “walking together” in the fight for American opportunity; our strength is holding on and holding out for more. For years, I have believed this is our time — I have said again and again that CDFIs have earned our place in the financial infrastructure and now is our time for more capital. Yet, it took a pandemic for the nation to truly realize the CDFI power and potential. Someone recently said the pandemic “turned up the volume” on both the systemic challenges of inequality and the power of our network.
CDFIs are lenders who build communities. We fight for the dreams of overlooked entrepreneurs. We value place, and we work alongside rural, urban, and Native communities to create opportunity in the areas people have lived for generations. We invest capital and time in nurturing thriving day care centers, health centers, senior centers, and affordable housing that serve millions of Americans.
While CDFIs are a powerful force for good, capital gaps are cavernous. Millions of people need our hands, hearts, and heads to continue the fight and finance the work that the market alone doesn’t do.
If the past three years have shown us anything, it’s that our country, our democracy, our capitalist system need fighters who seek to build an economy that helps all people build wealth. The market does not lift equally; too many are left behind. CDFIs have the tools to address inequities — we match our money with our technical support and stay the course to bring about change.
This industry will forever be part of me. I am not going far, even as I am pulled to do good in my home state of Oregon. There is so much good to be done, and OFN — the membership of more than 370 CDFIs and the organization — can make it happen. You are a force!
I leave OFN in the tremendous hands of Beth Lipson, who steps up to lead as interim president and CEO. OFN’s network has elected a wonderful board, and I am so thankful for their service, especially the work of Board Chair Donna Gambrell. The organization’s staff is extraordinary, with big hearts, great minds, and a deep commitment to the mission
My prayer is that CDFIs stay brave, stay bold, and continue to support each other as the world grapples with new challenges — and celebrates new resources. CDFIs, now is your time! Fight on to finance justice; fight on to lead the journey to invest in the change our country needs.