In a recent letter to the CDFI field, CDFI Fund Director Jodie Harris announced that the fund is “in the process of finalizing the details of a joint initiative between the CDFI Fund and the Corporation for National and Community Service to launch a new Economic Mobility Corps. The Economic Mobility Corps will place national service members into CDFIs for the purpose of enhancing their financial counseling and empowerment activities.”
It is heartening to see an idea first championed by the CDFI community and, indeed, by the Clinton Administration, approach fulfillment.
The development of human capital was a key proposal highlighted in the CDFI Coalition’s 1993 Principles of Community Development Lending & Proposals for Key Federal Support, to which I contributed. As I wrote in my book (Democratizing Finance: Origins of the Community Development Financial Institutions Movement) our coalition linked our proposal “to President Clinton’s proposal for a new National Service Corps, as well as suggesting three-year internship and apprenticeship programs at CDFIs and collaborations with universities. CDFI borrowers, too, need aid in developing their human capital.” Accordingly, we called for supporting technical assistance to borrowers, especially in business planning, financial management, and marketing.”
On June 20, 1993, White House Domestic Policy Council staffer Paul Weinstein submitted a memo on this subject to Shirley Sagawa, Deputy Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton. He suggested that undergraduates could meet their community service requirement under the national service proposal through apprenticeships at CDFIs of any kind. “Some students might even continue to work at CDFIs, or even start one,” he offered. “Even better, however, would be for these individuals to take positions at banks and other financial institutions. If loan officers trained at CDFIs took jobs at mainstream banks, we could see an unprecedented amount of lending activity in lower- to moderate-income communities.”
The linkage between CDFIs and national service never became federal policy. However, my organization (now, Inclusiv; then the National Federation of CDCUs) implemented the concept on our own, through our nationwide VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. Plaudits to Director Jodie Harris for working to give new, and larger, life to this concept!