As a dual degree student at Wharton and Harvard Kennedy School, I was eager to find a summer position that would reflect my passion for social impact and help me further develop the skills needed to launch my own social enterprise. Specifically, I hoped to learn more about sustainable solutions to persistent economic and health problems and to continue to develop my financial skills. After sifting through a number of different offers, I signed on to work with the Strategic Consulting team at the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) here in Philadelphia.
The Opportunity Finance Network is a national leadership organization of community development financial institutions (CDFIs). CDFIs are private financial institutions completely dedicated to serving underserved and disadvantaged communities. They provide loans and technical assistance to a variety of community projects in areas such as housing, small businesses, healthy foods, and charter schools.
In addition to serving as the CDFI industry’s largest membership group, OFN also engages in its own development work, lends to CDFIs, works on national policy issues, and offers consulting services, among many other pieces.
My work focuses on two major consulting projects: the Scaling Up Microfinance project and the newly-launched Financing Community Health Centers project. The Scaling Up Microfinance project is funded by the CDFI Fund to help build the capacity of microlenders nationwide. I worked extensively on the evaluation piece of this project, ensuring that our efforts were garnering measurable and meaningful results. This experience also included the chance to complete deep dives into the financials and business plans of a number of CDFIs looking to receiving technical assistance.
My entrepreneurship, finance, and accounting training proved extremely helpful, and it was exciting to be able to see lessons learned in class put into real-life use. However, most of my classes focused on large, private corporations and I quickly found that the finances of a non-profit microlender are very different.
Overall, I’ve found my experience at OFN to be both useful in that I have been able to use some of my newly-developed MBA skills while also working in an innovative industry that is dedicated to serving those who need it most in such a comprehensive and sustainable way. It’s been exciting to be a part of such a growing and groundbreaking industry and I think it might be enticing to Wharton students interested in working in the emerging intersection of where the for-profit and non-profit sectors meet. With immediate and intangible results and a default rate that should shame most traditional banks, OFN offers a great opportunity for Wharton students to make a real impact through investing. I hope many of you will take the opportunity to be a part of such an exciting new industry.
Julia is entering the second year of her three year dual degree program between Wharton and the Harvard Kennedy School. She previously served as the Director of Research and Policy at the National Women’s Business Council, part of the Obama administration.