How NRC’s CDF fosters innovation

Diversity Increases Innovation: NCRC’s Community Development Fund was just named to Fast Company’s annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2022, placing ninth in the “Small and Mighty” category. Portada spoke with Marissa Calderon, Executive Director, NCRC Community Development Fund, Inc. and Head of Community Finance and Mobility, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, understand the key elements that foster innovation in their organization.

(NCRC CDF) is a U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that works to increase homeownership and support small businesses for underserved populations. Marissa Calderon and her team manage a loan portfolio of approximately US$60 million with the goal of providing affordable homeownership credit and small business loans to underserved populations. A significant portion of the Hispanic population is underserved. Ironically, while Latinos are the most prolific entrepreneurial cohort in America, generating over 80% of net new business, they often lack access to capital.

Diversity increases innovation

The success of the NRC Community Development Fund reflects the diversity of its team members. According to Calderon, “The cultural competency of the Community Development Fund team reflects our borrowers. Our team and our borrowers have had similar experiences. If we don’t reflect our borrowers, we don’t succeed. In effect, we tell our borrowers: We see you because we are you.

If we don’t reflect our borrowers, we don’t succeed. We tell our borrowers: We see you because we are you.

The impact of the pandemic has been keenly felt by Black, Latino and women-owned businesses, and NCRC’s CDF has risen to the challenge, showing strength to support and deploy US$17 million in grants, PPP loans, low-interest capital, and small business investments at a time when these entrepreneurs needed it most.

Marissa Calderon
Marissa Calderon, Executive Director, NCRC Community Development Fund, Inc. and Head of Community Finance and Mobility, National Community Reinvestment Coalition,

Calderon says strong ties to housing development and corporate finance organizations help CDF achieve its mission. These organizations include the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Latino Business Action Network.
Calderon mentions that CDF borrowers are the biggest source of referrals from a business perspective, as 60% of referrals come from borrowers. On the funding side, the loan portfolio is funded by various sources, including commercial banks, the federal government and philanthropic sources. According to Calderon, to “tell the story” of how the CDF expanding access to affordable homeownership and helping Black, Brown and women-owned businesses thrive is crucial to securing new funding commitments:”87% of our loans went to black and Latino entrepreneurs. 48% of loans went to women. The big banks are asking us how we can do this.

87% of our loans went to black and Latino entrepreneurs. 48% of loans went to women. The big banks are asking us how we can do this.

Diversity is not just a moral goal and a business imperative; Diversity also increases innovation. Diversity within organizations is increasingly seen as a competitive success factor. A growing body of evidence indicates that heterogeneous companies perform better than their homogeneous counterparts. Deloitte research shows that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more innovative and agile, eight times more likely to achieve better business results, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial goals than organizations with fewer diversity in the workplace.

Leveraging technology with a human component

Calderon emphasizes that she and her team members are very intentional about how they spend their time. “Part of what helps us achieve our goal is being enabled by technology. We intentionally leverage technology with a human component. As examples of how they leverage technology, she cites the process of automation to collect data through online loan applications, with the human component represented by a loan officer “That’s how we were able to deploy during the PPP,” she says.

Calderon and his team identify pain points with borrowers in the process of serving them. For example, a borrower may not own a personal computer, so the CDF must first ensure that the processes are mobile and that there is no need to print documents.

It is important for Calderon to foster a culture of creativity and innovation in its team. “They are all young people and digital natives. Also, just because we’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the only thing to do,” she concludes.

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