This fall, I attended my first Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) conference. It was great to be around former colleagues, current partners, and new friends that share the same purpose: creating prosperity in the communities we serve.
Over three days, I listened as speakers generated ideas and contemplated solutions. We talked about everything from climate change to increasing pathways for economic opportunity. It was refreshing to hear leaders talk about the challenges they were facing – realizing that we were all in the same boat.
It was also inspiring to see the celebration of community and upward mobility being created by the attendees. I think we all left the conference feeling energized with renewed focus for the work that lies ahead.
1) Feeling seen.
A colleague (someone) said to me at the conclusion of the conference that this was the first financial conference that they had ever been to where they felt seen. I agree with the sentiment and believe that’s what makes the work of CDFIs so important. These institutions help communities feel seen, and the ways in which they can connect with their communities is critical to building trust and fostering greater investment in areas where it is most needed. Being able to show up as yourself in a community of bankers that fully appreciate every aspect of who you are and what makes you unique is something that we should all strive for.
2) Technology and innovation will keep CDFIs competitive.
I don’t think there was one session I attended where technology was not mentioned. It is abundantly clear that CDFIs need the tools and resources to remain competitive, and technology is how they get there. The ability to effectively meet the needs of consumers and small business owners in our communities is what makes the CDFI model so attractive to many. CDFIs should have the ability to respond to the microloan for the small business owner with the same efficiency and accuracy that they respond to the commercial real estate loan for the affordable housing developer, without putting tremendous strain on resources.
3) We are responsible for the change we want to see.
The theme for this year’s conference was Invest in Change, which defines the work that we are called to do. But I think it goes beyond one’s daily tasks and speaks to the creativity and innovation that happens when we are connected with our communities. We must continue to create spaces where this type of dialogue can occur and invest in those ideas that move the industry forward. Everyone has done a great job of identifying the problem. Now it’s time to get to work and change those things that aren’t working.