Last week, Big Society Capital attended the 2015 Community Development Finance Association (CDFA) Conference which gathered a wide range of experts to discuss if a values based economy offers the only sustainable route to growth. Our Development Director, Danyal Sattar, shares his thoughts on the discussions brought up on the day.
Attending last week’s CDFA conference felt like going back to visit a school you have left many years back. Everything is intensely familiar, yet inside, the content and quality of teaching has transformed. It may seem frustrating to delegates from today’s community development finance institutions (CDFI) living through the difficulties and set backs of running small, growing organisations with varied and irregular funding streams. Yet there has been so much progress since those early founding CDFI days. Operational quality, data, partnerships – all so far advanced. Speaking to a fellow delegate, I was also reminded by him of how unusual it is in our sector to attend an event solely focused around the needs of our own community lending organisations. It was a brief few hours of reflective time.
The CDFA looked at some big themes this year, unleashing the likes of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Chair, Financial Inclusion Commission, Julia Groves, MD of Trillion Fund and Chair of the UK Crowdfunding Association, James Bevan, Chief Investment Officer, CCLA, Patrick Magee, COO, British Business Bank, and Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development. What does a values based economy look like? Can we get off the current debt and consumption based economy? What might it mean for the growth of our sector? Some of the recommendations that will come out of the Financial Inclusion Commission might offer practical steps that can be taken. I also found Julia Groves reminders of the power of ordinary investors and their capacity for engagement in the organisations we seek to support compelling.
This year, I felt there was a clearer call than ever for sustained and coherent support for CDFIs. It is difficult to get beyond stop/start programmes of funding support. Of course, it is right and proper for governments to move around resources to support different sectors in response to changing social and economic priorities. At the same time, though, the need for the affordable, accessible local community based finance offered by CDFA members is not going to go away. The solution put forward by Jonathan Diggines, the CDFA chair, was for sustained support along the lines of the CDFI Fund in the USA. Such a fund in the UK could offer long term, mixing grant and investment funding, with expertise to back good practice and support the continued innovation for the sector.
By Danyal Sattar, Development Director, Big Society Capital.
Danyal has worked for a number of CDFIs, for Steve Walker at Aston Reinvestment Trust, Naomi Kingsley at London Rebuilding Society, and for Investors in Society which became Charity Bank.