Leading experts weigh in on current policy issues and challenges

Meeting Community Needs: The Promise of Community Development Financial Institutions

The country’s more than 1,100 certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are playing an increasingly important role in the financial, economic, and social health of low- and moderate-income communities, financing businesses owned by people of color, women, or residents of rural areas, and supporting communities devastated by the financial and housing crises of the past decade. Both governments and business partners have come to rely on them.

But CDFIs are being challenged to do more, in both their traditional communities and beyond.  And they are being asked to go beyond finance. Meeting these challenges will require CDFIs to build on their traditions of social justice, compassion, and financial professionalism, while maximizing their creativity, resilience, and ability to build coalitions and partnerships and shape policy at the federal, state, and local levels.  

The Urban Institute is talking with...
Janis Bowdler Janis Bowdler
Bill Bynum Bill Bynum
Elyse Cherry Elyse Cherry
Dan Kildee Dan Kildee
Brett Theodos Brett Theodos
Luz Urrutia Luz Urrutia
Jennifer Vasiloff Jennifer Vasiloff
Ellen Seidman
Moderated by:
Ellen Seidman
Non-Resident Fellow, Urban Institute

Welcome to our policy debate on the role of the country's more than 1,100 certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and their partners in understanding and meeting the challenges of the often under-resourced communities in which they work. 

CDFIs are providers of capital with a strong mission to enable all communities to reach their full potential. But capital is only one tool; CDFIs and their community, business, philanthropic, and government partners have learned that collaboration that generates integrated strategies and execution are essential to positively changing community outcomes. And they also know how important it is to measure results, iterate design, and get the story out. This policy debate will explore these issues with leaders of several CDFIs that have--over many years--been highly effective, often through creative and innovative strategies. We will also benefit from the views of thoughtful CDFI partners.  

This policy debate is part of ongoing work by the Urban Institute--as part of our collaboration with JP Morgan Chase--to explore issues important to CDFIs and their communities. We are fortunate to have a wide range of experts and stakeholders contributing to this dialogue. 

We will begin the conversation with this question:

First the financial crisis, now budget cuts and a changed political environment--all have come together to increase both the need for what CDFIs can provide and CDFI visibility, while at the same time constraining resources. For CDFI leaders: how do you go about defining the challenges of your community (and defining your community) and determining which of those challenges you will tackle, in what manner, in what order, and with what partners? For CDFI partners: what do you see as the critical challenges facing CDFIs as they work with their communities?

Planning for an adverse interest-rate or economic environment must begin years ahead of the actual event.  CDFIs can anticipate that over multi-year – even multi-decade — cycles that the budget and political environment will change in positive and negative ways. As a practical matter, that means that CDFIs need to build a balance sheet based on multiple sources of revenue rather than relying primarily on Government and philanthropic sources of capital. This includes tax-credit generated fees, sustainable business lines, and carefully ensuring that the services they provide can support their own expenses. Absent a strong balance sheet, CDFIs have little option other than to constrain their activities in adverse environments – the very moment our communities most need us.


While CDFIs have more than demonstrated their ability to improve conditions for underserved people and places, the demand for the work of CDFIs far exceeds their capacity.  The primary constraint to increasing the impact of CDFIs is capital.  And America’s most vulnerable places are capital starved.  

Here in the Mississippi Delta, we have found that braiding resources enables us to serve more people in more places.  The key to braiding is identifying areas where the interests of diverse entities converge. Examples include:

  • Government: wants to incentivize good jobs; stimulate affordable housing; and otherwise promote development in distressed areas.
  • Business: wants a productive workforce; and strong markets for their products and services;
  • Philanthropy: has programmatic priorities that align with community development goals – i.e. helping families achieve economic self-sufficiency, fostering healthy communities, improving education outcomes, etc.

Few entities have the ability of CDFIs to add value toward addressing such a wide range of economic and social needs.  In many ways, CDFIs are the “Swiss army knife” of community development.   

As more and more communities across America grapple with the consequences of poverty and inequality, and the departure of traditional financial institutions and other vital supports turn communities into opportunity deserts, it is vital that government, business and philanthropy work collectively to bolster the capacity of CDFIs to respond the pressing challenges to America’s economic future.   

I love Bill Bynum’s image of a CDFI serving as the “Swiss army knife” of community development. As a national membership association of CDFIs, Opportunity Finance Network seeks to maximize the effectiveness of hundreds of “Swiss army knives” through peer learning opportunities, industry research, direct financing and public policy advocacy.

A challenge for a national organization like OFN is to address issues relevant to the entire CDFI community while also assisting important subsets of our members with unique needs. The market conditions facing a small business lender in the Delta require a different approach from that of a CDFI operating on Native lands or one financing affordable housing in Chicago. OFN's challenge is to offer value to all types of CDFIs while also strengthening the industry as a whole. CDFIs are already accomplishing so much but the potential for increased impact is great and must be realized

Thanks to the Urban Institute for inviting me to participate in this important discussion. I am from Flint, Michigan – a community of 100,000 people that has fallen on hard times due to its depleted manufacturing base, an anemic housing market, and for the last few years, an ongoing lead in water crisis caused by the callous implementation of extreme austerity measures imposed by the State of Michigan. I represent Flint along with Saginaw, Bay City and smaller, more rural communities. While each of these older, industrial communities has their own specific qualities, they all have suffered from years of reduced federal investment and a phasing out of state revenue sharing.

These communities are not alone, however; a whole host of America’s cities and towns are experiencing very serious fiscal stress, the kind of stress that threatens their sustainability and solvency. This challenge will require a bold national policy of revitalization that supports these important and unique places. It is in our national interest to support these communities that are home to millions of Americans, which is why I’ve launched the initiative “The Future of America’s Cities and Towns.” This effort is intended to begin that conversation in Congress, as well as fuel a national discussion that results in implementing an agenda to rebuild the places that built this country – places that can help build the next America if we unleash the possibilities that lie within them.

The federal government, as Congress has clearly demonstrated over the past several months, does not have all the answers – solving the challenges of fiscally distressed communities will need local stakeholders, CDFIs, foundations and other entities that focus on place-based investment. It will also take creative thought on how to increase capitalization of CDFIs so that critical and successful work happening in fiscally stressed communities can be taken to a scale equal to the need.

I am interested in hearing the thoughts from my fellow panelists on how we can work together to start to address these challenges.

The financial crisis pushed millions of Americans from the middle class to the bottom trenches of America’s very poorest households. And so, through the Great Recession, Opportunity Fund saw the very community we serve – low-income households - grow in size. Historically, Opportunity Fund has defined “community” as a place-based notion within an economic sector – small businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. And we've offered a core financial product: term loans. However, the credit crunch that resulted from the financial crisis meant that the small businesses seeking funding had a tougher time than ever accessing capital to sustain or grow their businesses. Into this breach, a new breed of non-bank lenders – some online, some offline; some healthy, some predatory – emerged.


Opportunity Fund chose to prioritize the challenges our core customers – small business owners – were facing accessing capital. Staying true to our core competence as a lender and driven by our values as a mission-based lender, we went broader with our products and services – developing a wider range of loan products and services to respond to the changing small business credit landscape – and we went broader to reach more small businesses owners in more places (statewide and now rolling out nationwide) and more industries than ever before (i.e. trucking and mobile food trucks). By prioritizing the needs of our core customer, and playing from the strength of our core product offerings, we were able to focus on where and how we could grow.


Since the Great Recession began and in the decade since, Opportunity Fund’s small business lending has grown from providing 150 loans (totaling $1.2M) in FY09 to providing 2,188 loans (totaling $65M) in FY17. We achieved this through geographic expansion, product innovation, and partnerships. All have been key to our success rising to the growing and evolving needs of low-income communities to access capital for small businesses that drive economic mobility.


Thanks everyone for the rich dialogue so far. It seems like there’s a lot of agreement that CDFIs are doing important work to provide capital to strengthen communities that are experiencing economic distress or are underserved by mainstream lenders. As noted, they are much more than capital providers. And yet, despite having a proven track record of serving distressed communities, they have yet to reach all corners of the US. Many communities are less well served by CDFIs, including many economically distressed counties. As described, we will need policy that is bold, not incremental if we want to achieve big changes.


To add context to where CDFIs are reaching and where they have yet to expand significantly,  our recent factsheet, Expanding Community Development Financial Instructions, identified where CDFIs are lending. As the map below shows, the central Midwest, South, and Puerto Rico have a lower CDFI loan volume per person than other regions.


JPMC is committed to working with communities to reduce barriers to economic mobility.  This goal is intentionally broad because we look to our community partners to narrow the scope of the problem to reflect local context, opportunities, challenges, capacity, and political realities.  When determining where we engage, we look for partners that 1) have a track record of working in the community; 2) have leveraged data and community input to refine their problem statement and inform their solution; 3) regularly engage local stakeholders to develop more holistic and sustainable programs; and 4) are committed to iterating based on data, community input, and evaluation.  Of course we know this all sounds great, but when we think particularly about our work with CDFIs, we know they are facing a number of challenges in today’s market.  In addition to those Ellen laid out, our partners have raised additional concerns such as major shifts in source and cost of capital; competing pressures like being asked take bigger risks while having minimal losses or being pushed to “scale” while staying also local; and the need for more diverse leadership and deeper service to hard-to-serve areas and communities.  

As a funder and partner of CDFIs, I have a slightly different view on these challenges.  I certainly want to see that CDFIs have strong back offices (regardless of size), solid leadership and bench that reflect the communities being served, and a clear growth and maintenance strategy that aligns with the approach described above.  But assuming the fundamentals are sound, CDFIs need to be able to articulate the creative and compelling problem-solving they are undertaking while also share their organizational concerns, gaps, and system needs.  Of course we can’t fund everything that comes our way, but when we engage in partnerships with CDFIs we want to go beyond funding a project and think about how we can help them build the resiliency and sustainability of their organization so they are lasting resources for the community.  Potential grantees easily share their vision and desire for financing, but are often less forthcoming on the organizational investments necessary to meet their goal.

Many thanks to all of you for participating—and for getting started so quickly. 
A major theme that comes through the responses is the need to develop and implement a business plan with diversified sources of both capital and revenue and improvements in organizational efficiency.  Successful plans probably need to include more (and a higher percentage of) earned revenue than many CDFIs have traditionally operated with, both equity and low-cost debt capital from previously untapped sources, and improvements in operations.  All this while maintaining a sharp mission focus—and recognizing that many more people, businesses and communities need to be served.  Even if we assume a world of technological disruption, silo busting, increased impact investing and greater corporate responsibility (should we?), this combination seems like a hard nut to crack.  But CDFIs are creative.  What strategies can, should, and will CDFIs  use to build long-term viable organizations that broaden and deepen their reach and impact?  How will CDFIs ensure their strategies are aligned with community needs?


As we continue this important discussion, is important emphasize how central the concept of “place” is to the work of CDFIs.    In the context of our work at Hope Enterprise Corporation / Hope Credit Union (HOPE), that place is comprised of the Deep South states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.  Vast stretches or our territory are rural and marked by persistent poverty.  Approximately 1/3 of the counties in our region are persistently poor.  Of note, race factors heavily into the gaps encountered by local people.  Of the 50 majority black counties in the Deep South – 45 have experienced poverty rates above 20% for 30 years in a row.  Not surprisingly, the region’s persistent poverty counties are also home to the highest rates of unemployment, unbanked households and the lowest rates of health and education outcomes.  Later, we will share how underinvestment in the Deep South is exacerbated by a lack of bank and philanthropic investment to set up how / why we engage local communities to bring about change where we live and work.

We can all agree with Ellen that CDFIs are creative. Creativity - and discipline and hustle - are necessary to achieve meaningful impact and to survive in the marketplace.


The “rules of the road” matter also. By “rules of the road”, I mean the laws and other public policies that influence the operating environment facing CDFIs. Opportunity Finance Network places a high priority on public policy because the “rules of the road” can make a huge difference in a CDFI’s success.


Just yesterday I participated in a webinar convened by Enterprise Community Partners, a national CDFI and OFN member, to discuss the Opportunity Zone program (newly created in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). There were almost 1000 individuals on the phone! I know that many of the participants in the webinar were CDFI leaders wanting to learn more about the applicability of this new community development tool to their ability to attract capital to the low-wealth communities they serve.


Similarly, I am working with a number of OFN members seeking to take advantage of provisions of a law enacted almost ten years ago that placed obligations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reach underserved markets. The 2018 implementation of this law could enable some CDFIs to attract more capital to support their affordable housing loans.


All of us acknowledge the important role CDFI Fund grant programs have played in the growth of the CDFI industry. These equity investments allow CDFIs to leverage other forms of capital to the benefit of communities across the nation. But “rules of the road” that do not provide a direct subsidy can also impact a CDFI’s success in important but maybe not as visible ways. 

Don't forget the granddaddy of them all (beyond the charitable deduction): CRA.  Both keeping CRA strong and making it more relevant for all parts of the country--especially those like the Deep South where Bill works--is something we should all be paying a good deal of attention to.  The Treasury will soon be coming out with a report that will probably have some things that we think work and some that we think don't.  But the real action will be with the Fed, OCC and FDIC.  Soon all of them will have new leadership.  Making the case with the new leaders, as well as with staff, for what CDFIs need to be effective will be an important order of business for 2018.

I agree with Ellen on the importance of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in terms of ensuring that banks meet the credit needs in low and moderate-income neighborhoods. Along with many of my Democratic colleagues, I have weighed in with Treasury and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on ways that the CRA can be improved and strengthened. We in Congress, and those of you that work every day on these issues, need to make sure that any report and recommendations that come out on the CRA do not weaken the goals of the legislation. The CRA should be made stronger and more effective so that our communities have access to much needed lending and investment. 

The secret sauce for how CDFIs strengthen their organization and ensure their efforts are rooted in the community’s vision is not so secret: collaboration, strategic partnerships, and data.  CDFIs understand the importance of these elements to their growth and success, but it’s not always so easy for them to implement – and a big part of the challenge rests with funders.  As funders, we have the ability to help CDFIs and their partners identify efficiencies, test and build creative partnerships, and leverage their resources.  When we were designing the pilot that led to PRO Neighborhoods we were guided by two principles: 1) CDFIs were often asked to compete against one another for resources when working in concert would actually be more productive and 2) local leaders were best positioned to articulate the barriers to economic opportunity.  (This second one may seem obvious to the practitioners in this conversation, but for national funders eager for “plug and play” initiatives this cannot go without saying.)


The principles naturally led to a hypothesis that if we asked local leaders what they needed and created an incentive for true collaboration that they could achieve more together than working alone.  We also knew that developing strategic partnerships, building new technology, or tackling a tough local problem takes time, so we structured our awards as three year grants.  The results to date have far exceeded expectations: The pilot cohort in 2014 received $33 million and collectively made over 1,700 loans totally $283MM.  They developed more than 2,500 units of affordable housing and made more than 400 loans to small businesses that helped them preserve nearly 2,500 jobs and create 2,600 new ones.   


Responding to the second part of Ellen’s question on CDFIs aligning with community need, we’ve observed over the last four competitions that the most successful efforts are rooted in a locally-developed equitable development plan – for example, the DC 11th Street Bridge Park Project engaged hundreds of residents to build the plan for their community.  For this year’s competition we will ask applicants to outline how their approach lines up with such a plan or apply for a planning grant to develop one.  There are a number of good resources out there on developing an equitable development plan such as these toolkits developed by NALCAB and PolicyLinkSave the Date! The RFP will be released on March 5th.

An important and sometimes overlooked solution for CDFI stabilization and growth are states and localities. Our recent brief State and Local Policy: A Critical Concern for CDFIs notes that many CDFIs are involved in coalitions to address local challenges.


There are a lot of arrows in the quiver. States and localities and help CDFIs with equity (grant) support; long-term or low-cost debt; credit enhancements; tax credits for investment in or with CDFIs; fees to run public programs; licensing and regulatory policy; and policies affecting consumers and communities.


In the most successful examples, CDFIs become trusted implementation partners of the public sector—not just another competitor for pubic dollars.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to reflect on the question of community development investments and gentrification.  Given the level of underinvestment in our region, this paradox is not one with which we wrestle. The National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy found that the nation’s largest foundations averaged $41 in grant making per person in the Alabama Black Belt and the Mississippi Delta compared to $451 nationally and $995 a person in New York.  The reach of the Community Reinvestment Act is also limited in our region.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, of the 20 largest banks in the Southeast, only one has an assessment area in the Mississippi Delta.  Analysis by the Urban Institute also concluded that over a quarter of the nation’s distressed counties had no CDFI activity at all – Alabama being home to a disproportionate amount of such underinvestment.  This served as a primary motivator for HOPE’s 2017 expansion into Alabama.

Poverty and disinvestment in our region weighs particularly heavily on small towns where limited resources burden leaders struggling to hold their communities together.  These realities sparked the creation of our Small Towns Partnership, where HOPE is working with seven Mississippi communities —Drew, Moorhead, Itta Bena, Shaw, Utica, Yazoo City and Louisville — challenged by persistent poverty, chronic disinvestment, and a talent drain caused by the absence of opportunity. In four of these towns, HOPE is the only financial institution.

While HOPE brings certain experience, resources and relationships, we are not the experts.  We work closely with elected and community leadership to conduct surveys and focus groups and otherwise collect data that inform strategic plans for improving conditions in these respective towns.   

We believe, as civil rights leader Ella Baker did, that “persons living and working in a community are in a better position to select leadership for a community project than one coming into a community.”  This is why we place a priority on empowering residents to engage in this work.  See “Local Leaders in HOPE’s Small Towns Partnership Benefit from NeighborWorks Community Leadership Institute.

For our final question, I'd like to push us to articulate the role of CDFIs in the communities in which CDFIs work.  In 2009, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put out its seminal work on the social determinants of health, emphasizing the critical importance of community on health outcomes, including morbidity and mortality.  In 2012,  the San Francisco Fed and the Low Income Investment Fund brought together practitioners, scholars and funders in the book What Works for America's Communities, calling for "community quarterbacks" to bring together those interested in housing, transportation, health, jobs, education, justice, arts and culture, and the environment to build strong communities.  And Bill recently served on the Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, which emphasized the need for integrated solutions if all "people are to achieve a reasonable standard of living with the dignity that comes from having power over their lives and being engaged in and valued by their community."  What is, and what should be, the role of CDFIs in these integrated strategies?  

Ellen – great final question! Breaking down silos is critical, but it can be a challenge to do it without losing focus or accountability.  There are a number of roles a CDFI can play.  In 2014, Raza Development Fund (RDF) saw an opportunity to redevelop an old cement plant in South Phoenix.  What began as community listening sessions to inform the development quickly broadened into a visioning exercise for a neighborhood facing changes – positive and negative – spurred by pending construction of light rail. The Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard University documented the financial achievements of the project, but also noted RDF’s leadership strengthened the community’s ability to ensure any development in their neighborhood aligns with their vision.  In 2015 we partnered with Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) to launch the Equity with a Twist loan fund.   The idea was to provide “community quarterbacks” extremely patient capital at the enterprise level that would allow them to be proactive and nimble in their community development efforts.  In this model LIIF served as lender and accountability partner to loan recipients.  (Full disclosure – I’m a proud board member of RDF and LIIF!) In other examples, CDFIs are implementing partners.  In the 11th Street Bridge Park project I mentioned in my last post, Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF) and City First Enterprises are embedded in the planning and execution of the community’s equitable development plan. 

While the work of a single CDFI is significant, they pale in comparison to what is needed, and what can be achieved through policy change that dismantles the systems that undermine economic mobility in communities across the country.   

In a region that is home to 1/3 of America’s persistent poverty counties and the nation’s highest concentration of Black residents, these systems disproportionately affect people of color.  Consequently,  to quote civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, at HOPE, we see our work as “a continuation of the Civil Rights movement.”

In other places, the emphasis will be appropriately different.   Nonetheless, wherever we serve as CDFI leaders, we must be bold advocates for vulnerable communities, and not just those in own back yards.   A great example is a collaborative that includes CDFIs in Appalachia, the U.S. Mexico Border, Indian Country and the Mississippi Delta.   Clearly, we are stronger and our impact is greater when we work together.   

OFN embraces its role as a national  membership organization and capitalizes on a variety of platforms to provide financing, technical assistance, and opportunities for collaboration to address the most pressing challenges facing our communities. As a CDFI intermediary lender, we lend and manage capital that flows to our CDFI members, allowing them to better meet the financing needs of their communities. We also provide training and capacity building services for investors, CDFIs, and other stakeholders across the industry. A great example of this is the partnership between Healthcare Georgia Foundation and OFN, a capacity building and grants  for CDFIs providing financial services related to social determinants of health in Georgia. The program sought to bolster the ecosystem of CDFIs and partners to deploy capital into areas of need throughout Georgia, share challenges, lessons learned, and build connections with partners in the health and community development ecosystem.

We are also seeking to build the voice and capacity of diverse CDFI leaders through our Opportunity Fellows Program, a partnership with BBVA Compass that challenges CDFI leaders to think about leading systemic change within their own organizations and ensuring equitable investment in underserved and disenfranchised communities. Applications for the 2018 cohort are open through February 23. 

OFN also serves as a convener -  Events and convenings like our annual OFN Conference, quarterly Regional Meetings, Small Business Finance Forum to increase opportunities for CDFIs to learn and share best practices. We are also launching our CDFI Connect online community, leveraging technology to build an open forum to increase dialogue in the CDFI industry.  And finally, through our policy and advocacy work, we seek to do just what Bill suggests above: work together, and "broaden the tent" of allies and partners to boldly advocate for the policies and resources needed to improve lives and increase opportunities in our most vulnerable communities.  

But we recognize that there is much more to do.  I look forward to continued conversation about ways OFN can support this important work going forward.   

Earlier, Ellen mentioned the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative that has for the past two years worked to answer the question, “What would it take to dramatically increase mobility from poverty?”   Recently, the Urban Institute, which manages the Partnership, began releasing a series of communications about this effort, including recommendations for philanthropy, policymakers and practitioners.  

Next week, the Partnership will release a paper entitled “Opening Mobility Pathways by Closing the Financial Services Gap”.  It is our hope that the proposals put forth in this paper, which includes leveraging the capacity of CDFIs, lead to catalytic improvements for vulnerable people and places across America.   

I urge you to you to visit the Partnership’s website, sign up to follow the communications on social media, participate in the webinars, and consider how our individual and collective voices can strengthen and add momentum to this effort

Bill and Ellen - Thank you for highlighting the US Partnership on Mobility. It's incredibly important and rich work. Investing in opportunities that boost economic mobility is what drives Opportunity Fund. Our work in small business lending is guided by the belief that small amounts of money and the right advance can help low-income entrepreneurs make permanent and lasting changes in their lives, for their families, and for the workers and communities they serve. And our community real estate investments provide safety net services that form the foundational steps that allow people to move from crisis, to stability, so they are positioned to pursue opportunities for social and economic mobility. All of this work entails partnerships that see Opportunity Fund engaging with folks in the for-profit and public sectors. We can definitely achieve more when we get outside of our comfort zone and build alliances with other players and partners. 


We recognize the toll that stress takes on health and well-being. That poverty is bad for your health. And so, we were heartened to learn through a new longitudinal impact study conducted in conjunction with the ACCION U.S. Network (made possible by generous lead funding from W.K. Kellogg Foundation and JPMorgan Chase Foundation, with additional support from S&P Global) that the entrepreneurs we lend to report increased confidence and reduced stress as a result of the funding we can deliver for their businesses. Here are the preliminary findings and stay tuned for the full report that we will publish next quarter. It wasn't something we set out (6 years ago!) expecting to discover when we started this research inquiry, but it makes sense that a loan can improve health outcomes by reducing stress for the business owner.


There are also certain types of loans Opportunity Fund provides where the connection to improved health is more directly apparent: 

  • Loans to dry cleaners to upgrade equipment to non-toxic alternatives, like Nature's Best Cleaners in Sunnyvale, California.
  • Loans to  long-haul truck drivers, like Mo, to retrofit or upgrade their trucks to reduce diesel gas emissions, especially at the ports and in surrounding communities.
  • Loans to mobile food trucks to bring inexpensive and healthy food options to underserved communities, like Julia Cooks Organic & More in Houston, Texas. 

Partnership like the one forged with Lending Club - that also now includes Craft3 (and more CDFIs in other regions to come, we hope!) - are key to reaching farther and expanding who we can reach outside of our silo as a nonprofit community lender. We have to invest in talent and technology on a scale that can be intimidating. But it's necessary when we see that our approach is working but the rate of poverty is increasing right in front of our eyes. 


To answer your question directly, Ellen: What should be the role of CDFIs in integrated strategies? We should stick to our core strengths as financial institutions serving the underserved. For those of us in the small business lending space, that means developing and ideating on financial products and services that are geared toward underbanked entrepreneurs. But it requires an understanding beyond capital constraints, for an appreciation of all the challenges our customers face in their lives. With this understanding, we must seek partnerships that can help us connect with our target customers on a new scale and be open to partners from places we've never been before. When I look at the leaders of our industry and the customer we serve, I know we have the guts to get this done. 

Many, many thanks to all our debaters (so sorry we lost Elyse to a broken arm—hope you feel better, Elyse!).  And thanks also to the Urban comms team, especially Nicole Levins, who made participating in the debate easy and painless.
I urge readers to look at the posts and check out the links.  CDFIs and their partners are working hard to understand and respond to the needs of their communities.  Increasingly, CDFIs are broadening their own reach, both geographically and in what they do.  At the same time, the community bond is strong, as is the focus on finance—often difficult, creative, multi-party finance.  CDFIs that reach their full potential are smart, efficient organizations with sufficient equity and lending capital at the right price, working collaboratively with other CDFIs and partners in other fields, understanding their impact and telling their stories, and operating in a policy environment that supports them organizationally and philosophically.  It’s a tall order, but our debaters, and many like them, are on the case.  Thank you all.