By: Caroline Nowery, Chief External Affairs Officer, Locus
Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) hosted its annual conference in Washington, D.C., October 16-18, and it did not disappoint! Over three days, community development finance practitioners and partners from across the country gathered at the Washington Hilton to exchange ideas, share best practices, and tell stories of impact.
OFN offered several tracks of focus for attendees, including capitalization and fundraising, climate and resiliency, lending and portfolio management, racial equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and more. The breadth of session topics can make it hard to commit to a daily agenda, but I came away with three key themes from the conference.
CDFIs are embracing innovation and partnership to prepare for their essential roles in the future of climate solutions and resiliency.
The conference had no shortage of sessions focused on climate and resiliency finance. With many CDFIs – and even OFN itself – coming off an intense application process for funding from the EPA through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), attention has begun to shift to activating that capital when it is deployed. Topics ranged from how to develop and operationalize climate-related financing programs to leveraging public/private partnerships to promote climate justice and resiliency. Solar lending was a hot topic, with CDFI leaders sharing how to start and scale solar programs, ensure community readiness in advance of GGRF funding, and enable proper evaluation and structuring of solar projects. One thing is certain as we all await the GGRF announcement in March – the energy around this critical movement is only increasing.
Partnerships between CDFIs and philanthropies are evolving.
At Locus, we’ve thought a lot about how to partner with foundations in new and different ways for most of our 17-year history. We were honored to participate in two panels at this year’s OFN Conference to share what we’ve learned from our innovative partnerships with community foundations and larger national foundations through programs like the Community Investment Guarantee Pool. These rooms were packed with CDFI and philanthropic leaders alike – with both groups wanting to know more about how to deepen partnerships to effect greater change in shared geographies and focus areas. A third session featured CDFI chiefs who led a thought-provoking discussion around how CDFIs can cultivate win-win partnerships with donor advised funds to raise more recoverable grant capital. (Check out a related story here!)
CDFIs continue to advance equity and inclusion through their work and advocacy.
OFN offered excellent programming dedicated to racial equity, inclusion, and accessibility at this year’s conference, and these were central themes in virtually every session. There was a particular focus on loan products that are developed for and in partnership with communities of color and people with disabilities, as well as the policies we must embrace to advance racial justice. In hallways and at meals, conversations were rich with the exchange of best practices and innovation as we all move to more inclusive lending and risk practices – something that we at Locus discuss often as we explore solutions like revenue-based lending. It is clear that CDFIs are remembering their Civil Rights roots as we continue the movement toward more equitable economies and communities; it is at the core of our lending, partnerships, storytelling, and policy work.
It was incredible to see over 2,000 of our CDFI peers and collaborators come together during this sold-out conference. We at Locus applaud OFN for putting on a top-notch event year-after-year and for elevating the voices of the veteran and emerging changemakers in our field. We look forward to nurturing the new partnerships we established, reaffirmed, and rekindled during our time in D.C.
Inspired by these conference takeaways? Let’s talk.
Be sure to stay tuned to our blog for follow up content from each of our OFN panelists:
- Amir Kirkwood, Locus President & CEO: “Aligning Missions, Amplifying Impact: Diversifying Funding Through Community Foundation Partnerships”
- Bill Greenleaf, Executive Director, Impact Lending: “Starting and Scaling a Climate Finance Loan Program”
- Jim Baek, Executive Director, Community Investment Guarantee Pool: “Opening Up the “Black Box” of Philanthropy: A Q&A with Foundation Leaders Who Make PRIs to CDFIs”