The OFN 2017 Board Elections campaign is on! There are ten candidates for four seats on the OFN Board. Get to know each one by visiting the campaign site here.  

OFN Members vote on the OFN Board at the OFN Membership Meeting on Thursday, September 28, from 8:45 AM–10:15 AM. Can’t make it to the Conference? Contact Seth Julyan to vote by proxy!

CDFI Connect spoke with Gary Cunningham, President and CEO, Meda to learn more about the candidate. Check out Gary’s candidate video and statement here.

Tell us a little about yourself and what motivates you to keep pushing for the industry:

I grew up in Minneapolis and I’ve worked in a number of different sectors. For more than 20 years, I have served as the top leader of philanthropic, health care, public policy, and educational organizations.

I joined Meda as President and CEO in August 2014. Meda’s proven market-based solutions address racial economic inequities by fostering minority business development in Minnesota. 

Prior to joining Meda, I served as Vice President and Chief Program Officer for the Northwest Area Foundation and as the President and Chief Executive Officer for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis. I have also worked as the Director of Planning and Development for Hennepin County, County Administrator for Scott County, Senior Fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Graduate School of Public Affairs, Associate Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools and the Deputy Director of Civil Rights for the City of Minneapolis.

I have two children, LaChelle Cunningham, an entrepreneur and restaurateur, and Abdul Khaaliss Cunningham, a Minneapolis Firefighter. I also have four grandchildren. My wife, Betsy Hodges, is the Mayor of Minneapolis.

My experience with CDFIs goes back many years. The very idea of wealth creation for low-income populations is a part of my DNA. I started a co-op grocery store at the age of 18, and was part of developing a community credit union in my early 20s. I grew up with the belief that one should use their talents, resources, education, and privilege to help people less fortunate. I believe this is the rent we pay for living.

My formative education in CDFI work came as a funder. From 2007 to 2014, I was the Vice President of Programs of the Northwest Area Foundation. I had the privilege of working with people such as Elsie Meeks, Tanya Bunch, Mike Roberts, and a host of other leaders in the field who taught me a great deal about the value and the impact of CDFIs and the work of OFN in changing communities.

I was privileged to help fund the growth of the CDFI movement in rural areas, Indian country, and in urban areas throughout the Northwest part of the United States. I learned a great deal from the trials, successes, and failures of the CDFIs funded by the Northwest Area Foundation. I also had the opportunity to do in-depth analysis of what worked and what didn’t in the growth and development of individual CDFIs. This work led to developing capital as well as PRI and MRI products to help grow the CDFI movement. In addition, I was also able to work in developing mission investment movement within the foundation community through the Mission Investors Exchange.

Over the last three years, I have led the work of a CDFI in the Twin Cities and have been able to sustainably grow this CDFI to provide financial and business services to minority entrepreneurs as a means to address the significant income and wealth disparities within our community.

What do you think is the most important role for OFN in the CDFI industry right now?

Since 1973, OFN has done tremendous work helping to build the CDFI movement. It has done this through policy development, research partnerships and providing technical support to our membership to serve low-income people and create an onramp for low-income people for employment, housing, food security and economic wealth.

Today, given our demographic shifts in America, it is important to ensure that the network of CDFIs is strengthened in urban, rural, suburban and Native communities.  It is also important that we think in networks so that CDFIs can bolster each other and support a stronger ecosystem of CDFIs that are working together to change the economic framework in our country.

Access to capital is critical for low-income communities to thrive. OFN could build upon its existing partnerships to increase the flow and the terms of capital being provided to member CDFIs. It is also important that OFN continues to work in advocating at the national level for funding for CDFIs. In addition, it serves as a clearing house and technical assistance provider to help improve the standards and sustainability of CDFIs throughout the country.

One of the biggest challenges for CDFIs is to leverage our existing strength so we can continue to grow this movement, particularly in diverse communities. As mission driven lenders, it is important that we are able to build the network and infrastructure to maximize our impact. This means that we need to improve our collaborations regarding best practices.

OFN also needs to prepare the industry for the significant transition of the baby boomer generation. The gray tsunami is here, and our industry needs to prepare the next generation of leaders to take this movement to the next level. That will only happen if we create the opportunities in training, professional and leadership development of the next generation.

CDFIs, over the next three to five years, need to expand their lending to over $10 billion. This would be double our current capacity and would begin to bring us to the level of having real impact on some of the deep issues of economic inequalities in America. We need to dream big, think big and be the change we want to see in the world.

What will you bring to the OFN Board during the next three years?

I will bring a passion for this work and the ability to think and act strategically.  I will also bring the experience of running a CDFI that focuses on entrepreneurs of color. Most importantly, I will bring the ability to make connections, networks and relationships that will help build the CDFI movement in the years to come.

As a change agent, I have fostered collaborations to improve the current economic and social conditions of low-income people within our country. One of my key strengths is to be able to identify patterns and create the conditions for people to thrive on their own terms. One of the strengths of leadership is taking people where they never thought they could go, to blaze new trails and to provide guideposts along the way. My skills and experiences in making transformation happen will be helpful in the transition that OFN is now undergoing. We need strong policy guidance at the top, along with great execution by the staff in order to move this organization and the movement of CDFIs to the next level.

I am asking for your vote to create a transformative organization that supports its membership of CDFIs who are doing this work on the ground and creating innovation and change for communities throughout our country. If elected, I will make a difference!

To ensure an efficient voting process, please identify your CDFI’s Voting Delegate in advance of the September 28 Membership Meeting and contact Emily Tunney with the delegate’s name. Voting Delegates will be able to pick up their ballots 30 minutes before the start of the Membership Meeting.


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