Investing for Impact in America’s Native Communities
Prosperity Now recently had the pleasure of joining the First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta) at their third annual Native CDFI Capital Access Convening at the historic Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California. Oweesta is the only national intermediary offering financial products and developmental services exclusively to Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Native communities. The convening brought together Native CDFIs from around the country with funders, investors and other national partners to celebrate the impact CDFIs have had in Indian Country to create opportunity and financial wealth.
Over three days, the capital access conference:
- Educated Native CDFIs on how to build organizational capacity to access capital
- Highlighted Native CDFIs’ innovations and best practices in building financial opportunity in Native communities
- Allowed funders and investors to participate in strategic discussions on how to successfully invest in Native communities and Native CDFIs
The convening was a joyous celebration of how Native CDFIs have changed the economic landscapes of Native communities, bringing opportunity and economic growth to communities that have often struggled to sustain economic success. Prosperity Now had the honor of sponsoring the conference and presenting at several plenary sessions and workshops, sharing information and resources pertinent to the needs and interests of Native CDFIs, including:
- Newly released data at the local level measuring financial stability and opportunities for prosperity within tribal areas or American Indian reservations
- Prosperity Now’s efforts to develop financial capability tools that can be used to build pathways to economic stability in various communities, including Native communities
- Policy and advocacy opportunities to support Native CDFIs and strengthen funding for programs that help build economic opportunity in Native communities
The Native CDFI industry has grown from two CDFIs in 2000 to more than 70 Native CDFIs today. In 2017 alone, Oweesta made loans between $10,000 and $600,000 to Native communities, resulting in the creation or retention of more than 750 jobs, the establishment of 63 small or micro-businesses, and the construction of seven affordable housing units. Clearly, CDFIs are transforming the economies of Native communities.
In 2018, Oweesta and other funders (including the Northwest Area Foundation, Capital One Bank and Native American Bank) launched a $10 million Native Capital CDFI pool to provide Native communities with long-term, low-cost capital. With this increased capital, Native CDFIs participating in the conference shared how they have been able to make loans that helped Native individuals buy land, purchase their own home, start a business, expand their business and create jobs, all the while honoring Native traditions and culture.
Beyond lending, many of these organizations provide a plethora of financial capability education and training in Native communities, helping individuals build their financial futures through budgeting, financial education, tax time savings, credit building and repair, financial coaching and counselling, micro-lending, homeownership counselling and more.
Despite this progress, Native communities still have an unmet capital need of $47 million, showing that there are further opportunities for growth and investment in Native communities.