Just a few weeks after I joined the CDFI Fund as a Senior Portfolio Manager for the Native Initiatives program, I had the honor of accompanying CDFI Fund Director Annie Donovan as she traveled to the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations in South Dakota. While in South Dakota we had the chance to experience first-hand the important work that the Four Bands Community Development Fund (Four Bands) and Lakota Funds—both certified CDFIs--were doing to increase opportunities in their communities through financial education services, small business lending, entrepreneurship training, and much more.
Four Bands and Lakota Funds are both multiple award recipients in the Native Initiatives program, which was designed to strengthen the institutional capacity of Native CDFIs to increase access to capital and credit in Native communities. Through the program, the CDFI Fund invests in organizations that, through their local and cultural knowledge, are able to provide services and products that are best suited to Native American populations across the country. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and an individual who has spent his career working on behalf of Native communities, I have personally experienced the positive effects that occur when federal initiatives designed to support Native Americans provide them the flexibility to find the right solutions for their local economies.
Throughout our trip, Annie and I met several entrepreneurs and individuals who had turned to Four Bands and Lakota Funds for help in launching their businesses and building their financial capacity, often after being turned away by traditional financial institutions. As the authors of a recently published report, “Access to Capital and Credit in Native Communities,” found, many Native entrepreneurs experience difficulty accessing traditional sources of capital and credit, which creates additional barriers to starting or expanding a business. Historically, Native CDFIs have helped fill the gap in access to capital and credit by providing relatively small, but necessary, loans to individuals and businesses. In South Dakota, successful business owners, like Jerry Farlee of 4 Winds Lumber and Warren Peterson of The Pizza Shoppe, were able to start and expand their businesses due to support from Four Bands and Lakota Funds. Both owners expressed that Four Bands and Lakota Funds were essential in providing the financing and development services necessary to develop their businesses.
In turn, these business owners are giving back to their communities in ways that will benefit future generations. For example, 4 Winds Lumber is currently providing young men with the opportunity to hone their carpentry and construction skills. Warren Peterson has a dream of one day employing as many people from his community as he can. These are the types of changes that Native CDFIs can make in their communities. A simple loan or financial education course can ultimately lead to developments that positively affect multiple generations.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to visit Four Bands and Lakota Funds, it gave me a better understanding of the work that Native CDFIs do to effect change on the ground. I have no doubt that the experience will help me as I seek to support the Native CDFI industry through my work at the CDFI Fund.
Clint Hastings is a Senior Portfolio Manager for the CDFI Fund’s Native Initiatives