Seven candidates. Three seats. The campaign is on! This year, your CDFI’s vote for the OFN Board is more important than ever. Get to know the candidates through candid interviews with CDFI Connect.
Next up in our series of Board interviews is Mark Medema, Director, Building Hope. After you read the interview, learn more about Mark and the other candidates here.
Tell us a little about yourself and what motivates you to keep pushing for the industry:
I started working in community development by working for a service provider, the KIPP Foundation, which is a national network of charter schools serving low-income children. After moving to Washington DC, I joined Building Hope which I had worked with while at KIPP.
Building Hope is a single asset class CDFI, exclusively focused on charter schools. Because of their unique capital structure, they have very flexible terms and are willing to tailor their products and take on significantly more risk. What attracted me to working with them is their persistence—you have a hard problem, they figure out a solution for it.
My work in this industry, beginning when I was working on the charter school side, is driven by the end results. I’ve met too many mothers burdened with the knowledge that their babies are stuck in failing schools, limiting their opportunities. When I see that mother witness her child walk across the stage at graduation, and see the tears in her eyes as she realizes her child now has more opportunities—that drives me in my work every day.
What is the most important role for OFN in the CDFI industry right now?
I think all industries need central coordination and collaboration, and for the CDFI world, OFN has that role. They have a great relationship with not just Members, but with the government. Going forward in the long term the CDFI industry has to figure out how to rely more on other sources of capital besides the government. We all need to find ways to diversify funding.
I would like to be a part of the OFN Board at this moment and time because I think can help the industry think about how to move more towards a diverse source of capital, including impact investing. Building Hope started with capital from a corporation. We’ve had tremendous benefits and can showcase how investors can have an impact. I think there is more that OFN can do to move us in this direction. The impact investing sector is growing and is looking for established players like CDFIs, not just startups. This year Building Hope is offering an investment note targeted toward high net worth impact investors and we would like to make sure to share our success and lessons learned with other small CDFIs.
Where do you want to see us go during your tenure?
First, as mentioned earlier, I would like to see OFN begin to position itself more prominently in the impact investing world.
Second, we are a fairly small CDFI with less than $75MM in assets. There are so many other small CDFIs that are grappling with the issue of whether our small size is the right size. We have spent a lot of time thinking about growth and the right way to grow. I'd like to be sure that OFN is providing resources to smaller CDFIs that may choose to grow and want to know the best way, and at the same time support those who want to remain small and effective.
Third, we’ve explored lots of different strategies in the past and we found very few resources to guide us through the decision-making process. We've explored mergers and found very few resources that could help us navigate that process. We have conducted joint ventures with other CDFIs and found very few resources to help guide us. These examples are more applicable for smaller CDFIs and I think it would be great to find more resources in these areas. OFN can be a great resource for knowledge sharing.
Why is it important to you to be a part of the OFN Board during this industry and organizational inflection point?
The impact investing world is emerging rapidly these days. The passage of the JOBS Act and its regulatory guidance will open up windows of opportunity that many of us don't fully understand yet. If we wait a few more years, we lose first mover advantages to other industries.
Diversification of funding is becoming more and more important. For smaller CDFIs, OFN has done a great job creating ways for CDFIs to work together, such as the work with the Bond Guarantee Program. OFN is ideally situated to help identify new sources of capital or help CDFIs partner together. The more that smaller CDFIs can collaborate, and approach the market with larger requests for money, the easier it is for larger financial institutions to get excited. We can end up with more buying power through the partnerships. OFN’s approach to the Bond Guarantee Program was successful and we have learned a lot about what happens when you put small groups together to request funding. We can replicate this for other federal sources, or local and state government programs, individual investment programs, and the foundation world. One example is in the charter school world, where people are excited this year because the Walton Foundation came out with $250MM in capital. But they are likely looking to make larger grants, not 250 separate $1MM investments. I think partnerships among CDFIs can be taken to the next level and once we create these examples of moving large amounts of capital, more will follow.
What do you uniquely bring?
I have 15 years of experience in the charter school sector and have been on both sides of the fence, as a borrower and as a lender. This provides more perspective into how CDFIs can meet the needs of their clients.
I have a passion for improving education for underserved children. I spent a couple of years working on this issue overseas in India and Africa. While I can't imagine OFN and the CDFI community branching overseas, I do think a lot of our members have personal interests outside of the markets being served during our day jobs. There may be ways to create volunteer communities of practice for the CDFI community. For example, we all have lessons that can be shared internationally – and we all can learn a great deal from the experiences of other countries. While OFN doesn’t want to operate globally, it doesn’t mean we have to limit our thinking to the domestic market.
To ensure an efficient voting process, we are asking Members to identify their Voting Delegate in advance of the Membership Meeting at OFN Connect. Please contact Emily Tunney with the name of the Voting Delegate for your organization. Voting Delegates will be able to pick up their ballots a half hour before the start of OFN Connect.