Winter 2019

Working Capital for Community Needs

Wisconsin and Nicaragua have been twinned through the sister states program since the 1960’s, but in the 1980’s due to the height of a brutally repressive and deadly civil war in Nicaragua, their relationships became more than just civic.

“We saw people’s lives being absolutely destroyed,” said Will Harris, interim executive director of what was then the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua but is now Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN). “There’s an old saying: ‘When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.’ We did what we could to help. Folks started backpacking into the country with tools, medical supplies and education supplies. Some of our board members even went to harvest crops.”

The civil war ended in 1991, but there was still a need to help people rebuild their lives. Founded during the turmoil of those times, WCCN now helps people work their way out of poverty by providing microfinance loans to low-income entrepreneurs and small-scale farmers. The group has expanded beyond Nicaragua to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador. Harris estimates that WCCN has made $124 million in loans and investments since its founding, helping roughly 300,000 people.

Harris noted that because of the civil war many men were killed during the conflict leaving a disproportionate number of single women behind.  According to the group’s website, 64 percent of the people it helps are women. “The focus on women,” Harris said, “has led to such endeavors as women loan circles and anti-domestic violence programs. It can be legally challenging for women to own land in Latin America. If you can’t have land, you can’t have collateral, which makes it difficult to get a loan. And when it comes to using the money well, a woman will invest in her business and then invest the profits in her family, especially to help her kids get into school.”

In 2011, WCCN received its first loan from RCIF, a $100,000 note that was doubled in 2016. “Sr. Corinne is definitely someone we go to when we’re having trouble or we want more information about social impact investing. RCIF is seen as a leader in this field.”

Idaho-Nevada Community Development

Nowadays, when one thinks of the challenges presented by homelessness and the lack of affordable housing, attention tends to get focused on America’s coasts. But that’s not to say that there aren’t significant hurdles faced in more sparsely populated areas of the nation.

Idaho and Nevada are two such places. “We do have homelessness,” says Cindy Williams, senior vice president of the Idaho-Nevada Community Development Financial Institution. “Not at the level of Washington, California or Oregon, but it’s a problem for us. More and more people are moving into Idaho and Nevada”, Williams said, “and that has driven up housing prices while pushing availability down. There are now waiting lists of more than 300 people interested in housing units or Section 8 vouchers.”

Founded in 1999, the Idaho-Nevada CDFI provides financing to affordable housing developers – both for-profit and non- profit – to move projects along in a timely manner while ensuring high quality. Since its founding the organization has approved more than 80 loans valued at about $83 million, which in turn has helped leverage more than $400 million, creating more than 500 permanent jobs, 6,200 construction jobs and almost 3,100 units of affordable housing.

Williams said her organization is looking to expand beyond Idaho and Nevada to Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. “Our market research indicates that there are opportunities to fill the gap for financing in these states. We are talking to area nonprofits, developers and elected officials about our future expansion and how we can be of help.”

The Idaho-Nevada CDFI received a $250,000 loan from RCIF in 2016. “They are a well-run organization,” said Williams. “They know that putting a roof over someone’s head is an important first step. We are so proud of that relationship.” (Idaho-Nevada CDFI’s president, Dutch Haarsma, is a current member of the RCIF board.)

Citizen Potawantomi nation [CDC]

For Cindy Logsdon, it all starts with cars. Logsdon is the chief compliance officer and chief financial officer for the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation, (CPCDC) which is a Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN) tribally chartered Not-for profit – Native CDFI based in Shawnee, OK. CPN employs about 2,500 people. “We don’t have public transit, so if you don’t have a vehicle, you can’t get to work. But our people can’t go to a traditional bank because their high interest rates are a barrier.”
Consequently, CPCDC not only provides loans to CPN employees to purchase cars, it also provides credit coaching and financial education, which Logsdon says is the foundation of what CPCDC does. “If you don’t have that financial foundation, knowing how to budget and set goals for yourself, you’re not going to be able to be or become a self-sufficient household.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is one of 39 tribes in Oklahoma, with about 15,000 members – out of 33,000 nationwide – living in the state. CPN operates a variety of tribal enterprises, including a bank, a casino and resort, a discount food center and its Community Development Corporation. They provide housing, education and health services, among other forms of assistance. Above all, CPN is actively working to retain its culture while being on the forefront of promoting Native American businesses.

“We try to take a holistic approach as best we can,” said Logsdon. “We are trying to change a mindset that has tribal membership depending on social services. We want people to think differently. We want them to think ‘I can do this for myself.’ I want them to take pride in being Native American and contributing to the community.”

Logsdon said CPCDC offers business loans to any Native American living in Oklahoma and is looking to expand its products to serve Native Americans nationwide. CPN receives funds from the federal government as well as grants and tribal revenues. Logsdon also notes that throughout its many years of existence, the nation has always had a close connection to the Catholic community. CPCDC received its first loan from RCIF in 2013 for $100,000. That loan has since be renewed.

“It’s a great joy to work with them,” Logsdon said of RCIF. “They have great compassion for people. Like us, they think it is our duty as human beings to have empathy for others. I do admire their social mission. They see there is need, and they are willing to take a look at how they can help.”