In April 2017 we welcomed Nate Schaffran to our lending team as a Senior Loan Officer. Nate joins Community Vision with many years of diverse experience in social impact lending, healthy food financing, and policy. Welcome, Nate!
What were you doing before joining the team at Community Vision?
Most immediately, I was deputy policy director for Tom Perriello’s campaign for Governor of Virginia. Community Vision was kind enough to let me defer my start a few months to help Tom launch his campaign, for which I’ll be forever grateful. But for the 10 years before that I was with Root Capital, a social impact loan fund providing credit and capacity building to rural enterprises in Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia. I served in a variety of roles there, starting out as the organization’s first loan officer in Africa, eventually building Root’s loan portfolio and operations on the continent before returning to the Boston headquarters as Senior Vice President for loan origination.
What brought you to Community Vision? Tell us about your new role.
I was born and raised in Richmond, California, and for years I imagined that one day the right opportunity would come along to bring me back home. I’d long admired Community Vision’s work and occasionally monitored its openings, and when I saw that Community Vision was looking for someone to grow its portfolio in healthy food lending, I immediately thought to myself, “this is the one I’ve been waiting for.”
I’ve learned that Community Vision’s services have been foundational for affordable housing and community nonprofits across the region— just about every Bay Area non-profit I’ve always known and loved has been an Community Vision client at some point. I think we’re in the perfect position to do the same for food, helping to support an ecosystem of production, distribution and retail that makes healthy food more accessible and the production system more just and inclusive. There’s so much we can do, from helping to build groceries in food deserts to financing production models that challenge the deep social inequities in California’s commercial agriculture. As a Senior Loan Officer, I will be leading underwriting of food-related loans and working with our Special Initiatives team to build an impactful portfolio.
How did you first become involved with lending?
Immediately after college, I went to work as a Quaker volunteer in the Juan Francisco Paz Silva agricultural co-operative in northwest Nicaragua. The co-op produced sesame oil for the Body Shop stores, at premium prices that made a huge difference to the members’ ability to support their families from their small plots of land. But there was still no financing available to us for crop purchase, processing and export. That experience left me convinced of two things: that community-led business has the power to create economic opportunity for even the poorest, and that capital markets ought to take social impact into account. So it was a dream when, a few years later, Root Capital gave me the opportunity to lend to African producers in similar situations.
You’ve joined Community Vision with prior experience with food lending. Tell us about that.
When I joined Root Capital, the organization was focused on financing high-value export crops like coffee and cocoa as a way to raise smallholders’ incomes. That was powerful for building livelihoods, but it didn’t allow us to support the production of the foods that Africans themselves consumed, things like rice, corn, and sorghum. Africa was and is on the rise, but feeding the continent is a major issue– crop yields have remained relatively low, and rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency hold back human development even as GDP in many countries takes off. So I was able to help the organization raise a pool of loan capital from the Ford and Gates Foundations dedicated to lending to African food producers, with a focus on making nutritionally fortified foods more available.
From your experience how, if at all, is lending internationally different from local, regional lending?
I’m coming to think the two are more similar than different, especially when dealing with small business and community non-profits. In either place, a small business owner or non-profit ED is often someone with a vision to do things better, and a tremendous drive to see that vision through– but while they develop their service and build their team, they might lack the background and the time to focus as closely on financial planning and management. In both cases, lenders need to be understanding of their clients’ challenging operating environment, and to support them with technical assistance as well as capital.
One big difference is that the US CDFI industry is very fortunate to have a public policy infrastructure supporting it: The Community Reinvestment Act, the CDFI Fund at the Department of Treasury, and New Market Tax Credits. These and other programs create a foundation for an entire industry focused on channeling capital to low-income communities that commercial markets, left to their own devices, fail to invest in. This system is a major achievement, and it’s surprising to me that leaders would even consider dismantling it – especially a President who was elected on a promise of revitalizing the very kinds of places that CDFIs exist to serve.
What has surprised you most about working with Community Vision so far?
When I returned home to the Bay Area to start this job, I began asking friends and colleagues to suggest the best organizations and small businesses they know working on healthy food access, so that I could reach out to them on behalf of Community Vision. Several times now it has turned out that those organizations are either already in our lending pipeline, or they’ve happened to get referred to us just after I’ve learned about them. That’s a good surprise—it tells me that Community Vision has been doing the right things to build a really high-impact portfolio.
What’s the best part of your new job?
Having the opportunity to support ventures in such a range of communities, from a youth services non-profit in my hometown of Richmond to a grocery store on a Native American reservation in Northern California. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to tangible, bottom up change in that way.