By Meghan Maguire, Senior Associate, Communications at Reinvestment Fund
When Nadine Ngouabe Dlodlo, originally from Cameroon, heard about the lack of affordable housing in Southwest Baltimore, she wanted to get involved. After a traditional bank turned down her business plan, she decided to go another route. When she heard about her vision to provide affordable housing for area healthcare workers and single mothers, as well as revive a once-bustling commercial strip, Reinvestment Fund didn’t consider her project “risky. “. To help with the acquisition of the property, Reinvestment Fund worked with the female entrepreneur through research and an extensive underwriting process. Today, Dlodlo’s vision is turning into reality.
Women are the largest and growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the United States, and with a large share of that share, black women like Dlodlo are leading the way to becoming the new face of entrepreneurship. In 2019, women-owned businesses accounted for 42% of all U.S. businesses—50% owned by women of color. In the Southeast, the number of women entrepreneurs is increasing. Areas like Metro-Atlanta are home to more than 203,000 women-led businesses. Despite the positive trends that indicate women are capable and successful entrepreneurs, women, especially Black and Latina women, still face significant challenges when accessing capital.
As mission-driven institutions, community development financial institutions (CDFIs) prioritize long-term community impact over financial gain – a distinction that allows them to measure who is “worthy”. of a loan” to maximize impact through a flexible underwriting process. With an added commitment to underserved communities, this approach enables CDFIs to provide access to loans to people who are often overlooked by banks – a trend that for women and people of color is more indicative of barriers. systemic than the potential success of a business. business. For CDFIs, investing in impact-focused women-led businesses goes far beyond the individual – to invest in entire communities across all sectors.
Real estate development:
Inspired by her own experience and commitment to empowering single mothers, Nadine Ngouabe Dlodlo started Preservation of the Women’s House LLC and its corresponding nonprofit, Women’s Home Preservation Fund in West Baltimore. The mission-driven development enterprise focuses on creating accessible housing stock for single mothers and widows. The non-profit organization helps single mother homeowners by providing emergency financial assistance to prevent foreclosure.
Thanks to Dlodlo’s perseverance and support from the Reinvestment Fund, the developer was able to further its vision for West Baltimore. She’s secured three properties on West Baltimore Street and is set to build a bustling commercial strip that includes local restaurants, a retail showroom that doubles as a sewing apprenticeship program, and rental units with the priority given to employees of nearby health facilities and single mothers. In 2021, one of them retail businesses won the competition BGE Grant to boost small businesses.
Reinvestment Fund Housing Stability research advances understanding of housing market trends, issues that impact access to affordable housing, and systemic factors that affect households, neighborhoods, and their cities. Investments that improve the quality of local residential real estate markets and, in turn, strengthen communities, are a high mission. When Reinvestment Fund caught wind of Dlodlo’s project, she was exactly the type of visionary CDFI was thrilled to strike up a relationship with.
Working with Dlodlo, reinvestment fund lender Ryan Rattanni said: “Development has always been a male-dominated profession, which is thankfully beginning to change. Women can bring a different perspective to development that is refreshing. Nadine’s approach, for example, is informed by her cultural and family experiences, which which results in family-centered projects with strong community support. Currently, Rattanni is working with the developer on funding a second project for a building on the same block. It will include 12 apartment units with a turnkey café concept on the ground floor. The concept envisions a gathering and living space that encapsulates the synergy of the diverse neighborhood, home to immigrants representing nearly 52 countries.
Greenprint Partners is a woman-owned, mission-driven, impact-driven planning, engineering and design firm that empowers underserved communities through green stormwater infrastructure solutions. Low-income communities are disproportionately affected by outdated water infrastructure and changing weather conditions that lead to increased urban flooding and water pollution. Founders April Mendez and Nicole Chavas recognized this and combined their entrepreneurial and investing experiences to create a company that solves social and environmental issues disproportionately impacting low-income communities.
The Reinvestment Fund loan supports the installation of stormwater management infrastructure, enabling private property owners to leverage the financial and environmental benefits of green infrastructure grant programs that would otherwise be inaccessible. Historically, although available in many cities across the United States, these programs are vastly underutilized by the communities that need them most. The reinvestment fund extended a line of credit to support GP projects in a variety of markets, with seed funding for projects in St. Louis, MO, where they already have several contracted projects underway.
Their equity-focused approach to project procurement has successfully generated millions of dollars of green infrastructure investment in historically under-engaged communities, activating anchor community institutions such as schools, places of worship and healthcare facilities to become advocates and stewards of green infrastructure on their jobsites.
Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez owns Children’s Playhouse Learning Center, a high-quality early childhood education facility operating in the Philadelphia community made up largely of low-income households and people of color. Like many small businesses in the child care space, it has struggled to secure capital from a traditional bank. So when the Reinvestment Fund began offering grants to expand high-quality care in Philadelphia in 2014, Alvarado-Rodriguez jumped at the chance.
Children’s Playhouse has since received continued support from the Reinvestment Fund for expansion projects, technical assistance related to organizational planning and budgeting and project management, and more recently, Covid-19 relief funds. This is part of the “continuum” approach of the Reinvestment Fund, a sort of intervention that CDFIs undertake to create lasting impact in disadvantaged communities. Assistance provided by the Reinvestment Fund has helped the minority and women-run business empower the community far beyond childcare – by providing ongoing training opportunities for its staff and programs family food during the pandemic are just two examples.
In her own words, the small business owner explained, “I am a Latin American woman entrepreneur and with the support of the Reinvestment Fund over the years I have become a stronger businesswoman, lawyer and a leader. My business finances and my personal finances are stronger. Today, I own two high-quality early learning centers in Philadelphia that serve a total of 270 children. As a small business, I employ almost 60 people.
The success of Children’s Playhouse is no exception. The impact that Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez continues to achieve in its community is representative of what is possible when financial institutions prioritize impact on people and the community, rather than preconceived notions of who and what they consider ‘risky’.
CDFIs are well positioned to help close the racial and gender equity investment gaps, but many entrepreneurs are still unaware of them. In Atlanta, Reinvestment Fund was fortunate to partner with a female-led CDFI, Access to capital for entrepreneurs (ACE) which has helped bring capital to underserved small and medium-sized businesses in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia for more than two decades.
“ACE is committed to maintaining a focus on and helping underserved business owners. Collaborating with other organizations such as the Reinvestment Fund allows us all to help more broadly,” said Grace Fricks, President and CEO of ACE. “For 2021, we are thrilled to report that 51% of our funds deployed went to women business owners and we were able to open our second SBA Women’s Business Center in Georgia.”
The Reinvestment Fund takes a proactive approach to targeting impact investments by providing benefits such as technical assistance programs, emergency relief benefits and an open line of communication for ongoing support and growth projects. Over the past five years, the number of women who have received loans or grants from the Reinvestment Fund has more than doubled, resulting in a total of 113 women-owned and minority-women and/or women-owned businesses. not-for-profit (although they still represent less than 20% of all investments) .
At the heart of many women-led businesses/nonprofits serving low-income communities is a mission to uplift and empower people. For CDFIs, investing in mission-driven women entrepreneurs sits at the intersection of facilitating measurable impact and achieving good business. The impact of women-led businesses on their communities, despite the obstacles in obtaining capital, reflects the very missions that CDFIs are there to serve – and shows why the greatest risk we can take is not to invest. more in them. To learn more about the Reinvestment Fund’s commitment to equity and our work in Atlanta and the Southeast, visit our website.