Host Georgia Levenson Keohane speaks with Lisa Mensah, president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network, and one of the country’s leaders, and leading voices and visionaries, in the field of community and economic development.
We spoke with Mensah at the start of the new year, only days after the attack on the Capitol, and before the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration. In our conversation, we explore the world of community development finance institutions (CDFIs) — their rich history, diversity, and critical role as “financial first responders” during the COVID-19 crisis. Mensah helps us understand how CDFIs blend traditional banking and financial tools with “a good measure of heart” in the form of patient and flexible capital, technical assistance, and deep community knowledge, making them particularly well suited to meet this moment. In addition to traditional sources of public sector and philanthropic support, we learn how new sources of capital, including corporate investment, from the likes of Google, Twitter, and others, are making real these companies’ commitments to stakeholder capitalism and helping OFN and CDFIs “finance justice.” We end on a bright note, discussing the resources for CDFIs in the December stimulus, and, more broadly, ways in which the new administration can support CDFIs to “finance hope” and help struggling communities across the United States build back stronger.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Opportunity Finance Network’s 2020 Conference Finance Justice (November 2020)
- Opportunity Finance Network’s Finance Justice Fund
- Opportunity Finance Network and Google Partnership: Grow With Google Small Business Fund and Google.org grants
- The December 2020 federal stimulus, or the Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Deal. A summary of the CDFI provisions is here and further information about CDFIs and PPP is here.
About Lisa Mensah:
As president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), the nation’s leading network of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Lisa Afua Serwah Mensah expands sources of capital and provides greater visibility for CDFIs. Under her leadership, OFN helps CDFIs leverage public funding with private investment from mainstream financial institutions, socially responsible investors, and philanthropic partners in distressed communities across the United States. Mensah joined OFN in March 2017.
In 2014, Mensah was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the US Senate for the position of Under Secretary for Agriculture for Rural Development, where she managed a loan portfolio of $215 billion and directed annual investments of $30 billion in critical infrastructure for rural America. Before this, Mensah was the founding executive director of the Initiative on Financial Security at the Aspen Institute. Mensah began her career in commercial banking at Citibank, after which she joined the Ford Foundation to manage the country's largest philanthropic grant and loan portfolio of investments in rural America. She holds an MA from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University and a BA from Harvard University.