Last week, Urban Institute convened an online debate titled Meeting Community Needs: The Promise of Community Development Financial Institutions. The debate was moderated by Ellen Seidman, Non-Resident Fellow, Urban Institute, and featured CDFI leaders and partners: OFN Chief External Affairs Officer, Jennifer Vasiloff, as well as Janis Bowdler Head of Community Development, Small Business, and Financial Capability Initiatives, Global Philanthropy, JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Bill Bynum CEO, HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation/Hope Credit Union); Elyse Cherry CEO, Boston Community Capital; Dan Kildee US Representative, Michigan's Fifth Congressional District; Brett Theodos, Principal Research Associate; and Luz Urrutia CEO, Opportunity Fund.

Seidman asked questions such as “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?” and “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 Seidman noted, early in the debate there was a shared viewpoint that there is a real “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.”

Vasiloff agreed, pointing out that “Creativity—and discipline and hustle—are necessary to achieve meaningful impact and to survive in the marketplace.”

Later, Janis Bowdler challenged CDFIs “to articulate the creative and compelling problem-solving they are undertaking while also share their organizational concerns, gaps, and system needs.” She also noted as a funder, “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.”

The debate spanned from February 7-9. Read what leading experts had to say in the full discussion here


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