Seven candidates. Three seats. The campaign is on! This year, your CDFI’s vote for the OFN Board is more important than ever. Get to know the candidates through candid interviews with CDFI Connect.
Next up in our series of Board interviews is Inez Long, President of Black Business Investment Fund Florida. After you read the interview, learn more about Inez and the other candidates here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivates you to keep pushing for the industry.
I am President of a small, mission-driven CDFI that specializes in providing loans to minority and under-served businesses throughout the entire state of Florida. I began working in community lending about 25 years ago, prior to which I worked for a commercial bank. During my time in commercial banking, I worked with a lot of minority business owners who were trying to seek loans from a traditional bank. I found that I had a lot of challenges trying to get approved for loans. After work, in the afternoons and evenings, I worked with minority business groups, listening to their challenges and gaining a better understanding of their business needs. It occurred to me that I could be more helpful if I worked in an industry that allowed for more creativity and flexibility to underwrite loan capital. And that is what brought me over to the CDFI industry. The ability to be more creative in our ability to get capital into the hands of folks that couldn’t get it though mainstream banking.
Transitioning from my background in mainstream commercial banking, I am able to not only help business owners solve their immediate needs, but help educate on the importance of building their relationship with mainstream banks to support future needs. For instance, there is an African-American contractor in Central Florida who could not get a traditional bank loan. When he came to us, we were able to provide working capital loans, and strengthen his bonding abilities. Since the time of his first loan, he has grown to be one of the largest African American-owned contractors in Central Florida. His business has grown to more than 60 employees. Having grown up in and underserved community, this client makes a point to employ individuals from similar neighborhoods, teaching them a trade and offering job opportunities.
What is the most important role for OFN in the CDFI industry right now?
OFN plays several important roles, but the most critical are (1) its ability to serve as a trade organization to assess the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats to the CDFI Industry, (2) its ability to serve as a CDFI intermediary and advocate, driving private investments and public policy that best support the evolving needs of the CDFI industry. Over the last several years OFN has taken on a new challenge, to create equity within the CDFI industry. Driven by inclusion and diversity, OFN has worked to ensure that even the smallest CDFIs have a representation in leadership. Since beginning my service to the OFN Board in 2013, I have met and talked to many members, advocating for fairness of resources and support for all CDFIs, especially small, minority, and rural organizations. As I have expanded my knowledge and gained a better understanding of the variety of needs of the OFN member base it has strengthened my drive to help to create more fairness of investments. As OFN has the unique capacity to influence the way investments into the industry are done by banks, investors, foundations, and the government, the board’s commitment to equity is a must to ensure the impact and success of all CDFI practitioners.
Where do you want to see us go during your tenure?
I would like to see OFN increase its CDFI membership. Further, I would like to see OFN encouraging other grassroots groups around the country that are doing community lending work to become Certified CDFIs. Because OFN has the ability to influence equitable capital investments, I would also like to see more equal distribution of capital to those CDFIs that may be smaller, grassrooted organizations as well as the larger ones. One way this could be done is to influence the collaboration of the larger CDFIs with some of the smaller organizations that have high impact in underserved communities.
Why is it important to you to be a part of the OFN Board during this industry and organizational inflection point?
OFN is in a season of transition; the importance of keeping a steady hand on the wheel of change cannot be understated. I believe it’s important for me to remain a part of the OFN Board during this critical time to make certain there is a smooth transition of organizational leadership.
I understand that during times of change, it is critical that both staff and investors are considered, making sure that they are in a comfortable space as we bring on a new leader to enhance and strengthen both groups. It is important for the OFN Board to find a leader that has experience working in the CDFI industry and who understands the pivotal role OFN plays as a CDFI industry change agent. The new leader must be someone who has the capacity to lead a high-performing team and connect with members so they know that their needs and challenges are understood. Lastly, it will be imperative that the new leader has the respect of industry investors and policymakers.
What do you uniquely bring?
There are a number of distinct ways that I bring diversity to the OFN Board. For starters, I run a small CDFI that focuses on the minority community. I also run a CDFI led by a person of color. I also bring uniqueness in that the CDFI that I run is in the south. Representing a minority population, small business CDFI, and a southern region of the US are unique qualities that need to be a part of the board. That voice of inclusiveness needs to be a part of the board as it tries to figure out programs and policies that can help all CDFIs. I truly feel that inclusiveness and collaboration are of the utmost importance to this industry.
To ensure an efficient voting process, we are asking Members to identify their Voting Delegate in advance of the Membership Meeting at OFN Connect. Please contact Emily Tunney with the name of the Voting Delegate for your organization. Voting Delegates will be able to pick up their ballots a half hour before the start of OFN Connect.