Reflections post-CDFI conference

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the national conference of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in Atlanta. CDFIs, as you’ve read in previous posts are the “good guys and gals of finance.” They provide fair capital and coaching to underserved segments like women and minorities in a high integrity, transparent and personal way. While I was in Atlanta, I met many impressive professionals. Their financial acumen, industry prowess and commitment to their community was nothing short of impressive. But what really made me stop and pause was their stories. CDFI professionals never lose site that beyond the spreadsheets, technology and complex modeling that makes their industry sing, there is an underlying heartbeat that keeps them going — the borrowers.

CDFI borrowers have some of the most beautiful and inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.

It made me reflect on my own neighborhood and the propensity that many of us have to take our local small businesses for granted. The place we grab a bagel. The local dry cleaners. The pet shop down the street. These are neighborhood establishments that serve our needs, but behind those storefronts are people – passionate, committed, driven small business owners that started once with a “what if I’ and turned it into a “and so it shall be.”

Most CDFI borrowers had one if not several denials or rejections before walking through the doors of CDFI. And when they are greeted with someone who believes in them, the magic begins. They meet a loan officer or a business coach that wants to hear their story, that wants to hear the why behind their business and most importantly, that wants to see them succeed.

I will admit, I was incredibly impressed last week to see the level of expertise and professionalism that the CDFI industry hosts. By what I walked away with at the annual OFN conference was not just a natural admiration, it was an emotional connection. Every day, CDFIs change the course of someone’s life. This effects not just that individual, but their family and their community – our community – for years to come.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder