Lessons learned from a one-of-a-kind pilot program.
By Yehwroe S. Martyn,
Program Director, Resilience Loan Fund
Our two-year pilot program, the Resilience Fund, recently wrapped up. And while the conclusion of this one-of-a-kind program is bittersweet, I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. As I reflect on this experience, I see a journey filled with unexpected challenges and impressive triumphs.
We launched the Resilience Fund on Nov. 1, 2021. The program provided grants and capacity-building to 11 emerging, BIPOC-led Community development financial institutions (CDFIs). This was the first time 13 banks had come together in such a joint funding effort. It was a direct response, led by Rise Economy, to the challenges faced by BIPOC communities accessing critical Paycheck Protection Program Loans (PPP) and SBA loans during the pandemic.
Despite my experience in program management at leading advocacy organizations, I faced the unknown with excitement and trepidation. Questions like “Would all of our cohort members seeking CDFI certification make it?” and “Could we provide them with all the necessary resources within the given timeframe?” filled my mind.
Amidst all the uncertainty, I believed in the transformative power of ushering in a new generation of BIPOC-led CDFIs. I envisioned a future where these institutions could create more opportunities for vulnerable businesses in underserved communities.
And in the two years – these organizations that made up our cohort did just that.
In total, they processed nearly 500 new loan applications, originated 223 new loans, built loan portfolios of more than $2 million, and hundreds of families were able to receive help with housing, small businesses, loans and microloans.
Yet, we faced some challenges. There was no precedent to follow, no established framework – we had to create everything from scratch. The CDFI landscape and inner workings were unfamiliar territory; a steep learning curve demanded quick adaptation, patience and perseverance. I was also navigating this transformative journey while balancing personal and professional responsibilities — embarking on a part-time graduate program at USC’s Marshall School of Business, and relocating with my husband and two preschool-aged boys to a new state.
From these challenges, I learned five profound lessons.
- Targeted Outreach: Our efforts to reach indigenous and rural communities revealed gaps in representation. And as such the cohort only has 1 native-led organization and 1 organization that serves in the Central Valley region. Future initiatives will prioritize intentional outreach to these underserved areas, ensuring inclusivity.
- Funding for Networking Opportunities: Limited budgets hindered our cohort members’ participation in key conferences. Fundraising for cohort travel and lodging costs to OFN and other crucial events will facilitate broader networking, and enriching knowledge-sharing experiences.
- Tailoring Training Approach: Despite valuable CDFI Essentials Training, the information often overwhelmed the nascent organizations in our cohort. Future sessions will adapt content to cater to varying organizational stages, ensuring effective learning for all.
- Exploring Diverse Paths: Longer certification paths led some cohort members to explore alternatives like Community Development Corporation (CDC) designations and micro-equity funds. Supporting varied pathways will be our focus, ensuring flexibility and success for every participant.
- Leveraging Technology: While our customized work plan provided guidance, tracking progress proved cumbersome. Developing or exploring a virtual dashboard offering interactive checklists, digital reminders, and expert recommendations will enhance clarity and streamline the certification journey, making the process smoother for everyone involved.
While the Resilience Fund initiative has run its course, Rise Economy remains steadfast in its commitment to fostering economic resilience in BIPOC communities. Starting next year, we will introduce the Resilience Loan Fund, which aims to provide funding for emerging BIPOC-led CDFIs. The focus will be on creating opportunities for underserved communities, boosting economic growth, generating employment, and promoting inclusive communities.
Two years after we launched this program, I can say that I am filled with a profound sense of pride – in myself, in our incredible cohort, in Rise Economy, and in our partners (CAMEO and CCEDA). We’ve stepped up in ways that demanded our full, unyielding participation, and the results have been nothing short of extraordinary.