As I approach the end of 2016, I find myself reflecting on a truly eventful year—thankfully celebrating successes and humbly learning from mistakes. Opportunity Finance Network has much to celebrate. Collectively, this past year, our CDFI member network invested more than $5 billion into the lives of people and communities across all 50 states—into many of the most vulnerable and disinvested regions of our country. We did this with remarkable impact combined with near record low delinquency and credit charge-off rates. With the help of so many faithful investors and supporters, once again CDFIs proved, as we have for over 30 years, that capital combined with a focus on justice and equity can indeed bring economic opportunity and social change.
Yet, despite our successes, small business owners still find affordable, transparent capital in short supply; rural communities are overlooked for necessary healthcare, educational, and infrastructure investments; urban centers still face gentrification threats and limited affordable housing stock; and consumer predatory lending practices remain on the rise.
We enter 2017 as a year of unrivalled political and social uncertainty, following an election cycle that leaves many wounds to heal and bridges to rebuild. Once again, we face a year full of challenges and obstacles. Our success in building a better and more equitable nation for our children depends on our collective ability to see past the wounds and our differences, to embrace the challenges, as we re-think and re-imagine what we must do to transform our financial, social, and political institutions and policies to deliver good and lasting change.
Last week, a friend shared how he views challenges and obstacles as gifts. This hit me sideways when I first heard it. He shared “challenges can become stepping stones towards growth, wisdom, and innovation. Obstacles force us to persistently and collectively draw upon our intelligence, values, and courage to produce outcomes that are better than before.” Upon reflection, I saw the wisdom in his statement, and I see it reflected in our industry. CDFIs see obstacles as opportunity, creating transformational change in challenging situations. Investing in small businesses that cannot access traditional capital, rebuilding hope for families that have lost it, creating jobs, and critical infrastructure in rural communities.
As we lean forward into 2017, I ask us all to take my friend’s words to heart and continue to see challenges as stepping stones. We will need collective wisdom, greater collaboration, more “old-school” grassroots advocacy, and increasingly innovative financial solutions to tackle with urgency the challenges in front of us.
I pray each of you has a peaceful, joyful, and blessed holiday season. All of us at OFN are thankful and honored to work alongside you as partners in our journey to create more equitable, just, and vibrant communities. We look forward to 2017.