Investing in Change: Takeaways from This Year’s OFN Conference
The annual Opportunity Finance Network’s conference has long been a highly anticipated annual destination for friends and colleagues in the CDFI world including lenders, funders, investors, thought leaders, and the policymakers who support the important work we do.
This year, after two years during which the conference was held virtually, we were able to finally gather in person again for the 2022 OFN Conference: Invest in Change. This year’s conference attracted a record-breaking number of peers and industry leaders, coming together to share experiences, learnings, best practices, and new developments in our industry.
Because this year’s conference was held in New York, a large contingent of the Accompany Capital team was able to attend. As a result, we were able to participate in a wide variety of workshops, panels, and talks.
- Better Process, Better Outcome: Operational Excellence in CDFIs – Maria Paulino, Senior Loan Officer and Director of our Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, cited session leader Barbara Eckblad’s practical and actionable advice about creating systems that help grow and scale your organization.
- Should CDFIs use AI in Loan Decisioning? – Chief Lending Officer Leonid Ostrovsky, Maria Paulino, and Senior Loan Officer Neeraj Gupta attended this important discussion about the value in -and ways to implement – AI and automated Loan Decisioning in CDFI lending, while staying true to a core mission of serving the underserved.
- Telling Your CDFI Purpose and Impact Story – Senior Manager of Communications and Development Nicole Mas cited this valuable session which presented ways to rethink and reframe how to approach telling not only clients’ stories but also an organization’s.
- Investing in Food: New Directions in Food Financing – Senior Manager of Business Development & Training Tshering Gurung and Senior Loan Officers Jason Kohl and Neeraj Gupta attended this session on the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a Federal Grant program to support the establishment grocery stores and other businesses with healthier food choices to underserved neighborhoods.
- Building a Pipeline: Technical Assistance as a Path to Credit and Finance Ready Borrowers – Tshering Gurung also cited this important session, during which participants could creative ideas from other CDFIs on how to manage Technical Assistance programs.
OFN Justice Award
Among the special benefits for New York City CDFIs as hosts of this year’s conference was that we were invited to suggest panel topics and to lead tours to showcase CDFI-funded businesses here in the five boroughs. Most importantly, we were also invited to nominate organizations for the annual OFN Justice Award whose missions are consistent with OFN’s core purpose of aligning capital with social, economic, and political justice. There was no doubt in our minds who Accompany Capital would nominate: we were honored to suggest Bhairavi Desai and her team at The New York Taxi Workers Alliance and we thank all our fellow CDFIs for supporting the nomination and selecting NYTWA for this year’s Justice Award.
NYTWA is a 21,000-member strong union of NYC yellow cab, app-dispatched, and green, black, and livery car drivers, whose members are predominantly immigrants from over 90 countries. Among NYTWA’s many significant accomplishments, what stands out for us at Accompany Capital is their unrelenting commitment. They not only advocated with city government and lenders, they staged multiple public protests, one of which culminated in a hunger strike, until they succeeded in securing debt relief for struggling yellow cab drivers. Those drivers, who had purchased the city taxi medallions at exorbitant rates from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission were burdened with an average of $550k in debt for each medallion, an amount impossible to repay given that the medallion’ resale value had been severely lowered by competition from Uber and Lyft.
To date, the drivers have received a life-saving $220M in debt relief. NYTWA is now negotiating with CDFIs and other financial institutions to refinance an additional $200M in debt, so that the drivers’ debts are written down to $170k and below. We applaud the NYTWA and look forward to our continuing partnership and shared mission.
Above all, what mattered most was the community. It was inspiring to share the week with 2000 dedicated colleagues who share the same goal of ensuring that low-income, underserved entrepreneurs and communities have access to affordable financing and support.
Senior Loan Officer Neeraj Gupta, who was attending his first OFN Conference, particularly enjoyed listening to leaders from across the country like Luis Pastor, President and CEO of Latino Community Credit Union and Calvin Holmes, President, Chicago Community Loan Fund, share their organizations’ success stories, as well the challenges they’ve faced over the years.
And Leonid Ostrovsky was happy to be able to have in person meetings with Erik Wogstak of Downhome Solutions and Nick Elders of the SPARK underwriting platform about important new features we’ll be adopting soon to enhance our technological capabilities.
Our NYC Communities
Finally, we were thrilled this year to be selected to lead a CDFIs in Action Tour. Thirty conference participants traveled to Jackson Heights where our Queens Team and food historian Jeff Orlick introduced them to the extraordinary diversity of the Queens food scene.
Participants also met several Accompany Capital clients and learned how we had supported and helped grow their restaurants and food trucks and stands.
A huge thank you to the OFN team for organizing this year’s very successful and impactful conference. Many innovative and practical ideas were shared that will translate into greater equity for underserved communities in the months to come.
Click to see the NYTWA receive the Justice Award: