LISC National


Maurice A. Jones
President & CEO



A conversation with LISC CEO Maurice A. Jones and Board Chair Robert E. Rubin about the achievements of 2019 and the work ahead
 


Robert E. Rubin
Board Chair

 

The world looks very different now than it did when 2019 ended. How have LISC’s accomplishments in the last year positioned us to take on the seismic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the needs of the communities, partners and residents we work with?


There are several ways our 2019 efforts prepared us for navigating this public health and economic crisis. For one, we became a stronger organization from many standpoints: Financially, it was our biggest year on record—we made $1.8 billion in investments—and that is tremendously helpful as we navigate through a season that is placing stress on our funders, on our partner organizations and on our ability to work with our borrowers and lenders. We also came out stronger in terms of our talent and capacity.

Beyond that, we closed out the year with extraordinary new relationships that are great assets in tackling the financial challenges created by the pandemic. These include partnerships with the technology and health care industries, and with individuals—many of whom came to us as a result of our 40th anniversary celebration last year. So the headline, I’d say, is that our new partnerships will help us weather this season—both on behalf of the organization itself and, more importantly, on behalf of the people, places and enterprises we're trying to serve.

For the last decade, LISC set a strategic course and stuck to it. It diversified its programs, funding partners and geographic reach and coupled this work with a high level of investment activity to strengthen its financial position. These actions are enabling the team to more effectively respond to this crisis. More broadly, I think it illustrates the critical role that community development financial institutions (CDFIs) can play in relief and recovery plans. CDFIs like LISC already have tremendous experience in addressing economic and social inequalities, and they reach places that the traditional financial system often does not. That is critically important now, as it will be in the year to come.

 

 

What, to your mind, are the three most exciting accomplishments of 2019?


Certainly, one was the very successful launch of the Bay's Future Fund, an imperative initiative to ramp up the supply of affordable housing in the country’s tightest market. Not only did we get the fund up and running, we exceeded our target. We raised $500 million, in the first year—two years earlier than planned.

A second achievement is opening new offices, particularly in the southern and southeastern United States and immediately adding value to places we are dedicated to serving. These include Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C. and Hampton Roads, Va. And we plan to keep growing.

Third, I would say the incredible partnerships we’ve forged with the healthcare industry, including Sentara in Virginia and Kaiser Permanente in California. This is so critical for several reasons: first, it boosts our capacity in the communities where we work in a really substantial way. Second, healthcare enterprises share our commitment to helping make people and places healthier and better off, so these relationships are particularly sustainable. Thirdly, many of these partners are anchor institutions and among the largest employers and economic development organizations in their communities. Our relationships with them enable us to scale our impact like few other partnerships can. What do you think Bob?

I would agree those are all important milestones. Again, it is about LISC having a plan and sticking to it. It is interesting to see, in recent years, how LISC has broadened the financial toolkit through which it aggregates and deploys capital and has been able to have deeper community impact as a result. The range of LISC’s investment funds, loans products and grant programs is unprecedented. LISC’s involvement opens doors to new financing relationships that expand the amount of capital flowing to communities, and it gives us the flexibility to tailor our programs and investments to local opportunities.

 

 

Last year, LISC deepened its commitments both in the South, as noted, and also in rural America. Tell us about the importance of that.


The country’s highest rates of poverty are still in urban and rural communities in the South and Southeast

When it comes to philanthropy, the South receives among the lowest per-capita rates of investment in the country. Part of rectifying that has to do with shifting the perceptions of philanthropists, who currently don’t have trusted partners in these places. And so it is important for us to be there, to become that channel for more philanthropic and investment capital.

Another commitment we made in 2019 and announced earlier this year, which I'm very proud of and motivated by, is the LISC Rural Promise. This is a commitment to affect 20 percent of our total impact in rural places by 2023.

These are the places that need more people fighting the good fight, in order to really make progress. And as a country boy, I am committed to this on behalf of LISC.

We must invest more deliberately in rural communities as well as in struggling urban neighborhoods. Even without the pressure of COVID-19, the systemic inequalities we see across the country are a threat to our nation’s economic competitiveness. This is not a new challenge, but it is an increasingly urgent one.

 

 

Can you talk about how LISC refined and intensified its programmatic focus over the course of 2019?


We continue implementing our strategic plan and pursuing five essential lanes of work.

  • First is maintaining our comprehensive approach. This means continuing portfolios across housing, health, education, safety and justice, and financial stability. We intensified our efforts in every one of those areas.
  • Second, it means expanding our footprint in the South and Southeast, which we did and continue to do.
  • Third, it demands diversifying our partnerships. That's where our new collaborations with technology and healthcare corporations come into play.
  • Fourth, we made sure we were aggressively seeking the partnership of state and local governments, particularly as they relate to economic and workforce development. As a result, for the first time ever, we now have a technical assistance contract with HUD to support local governments, and we have new credit enhancement capacity for small business loans.
  • Fifth, our economic development activity really intensified last year.

By the end of 2020, we will be begin mapping the next three years. And that next plan will be structured to be focused on staying relevant and responsive in, what we hope is a post-COVID world.

LISC has done a terrific job offering policy solutions to reinforce its program work. It has been a critical voice on everything from updating the Community Reinvestment Act to addressing the national affordable housing crisis. Within capital markets, our team has worked to educate impact investors and corporate funders about the value of community development., As has always been the case, our goal is to not only drive our own efforts, but to provide replicable models to help others do the same.

 

 

Given our future in that post-COVID world, what new territory, in terms of program areas or organizational approach, are you looking to advance in the year ahead?


We have some hypotheses. We can safely say this crisis has let the technology genie out of the bottle. We can see how critical it is to communication, commerce and social connection. And we have to make sure that our communities aren't left further behind because of the digital divide. We must figure out how to close this divide now in a more intensive way.

Also, we will redouble our commitment to building capacity because we have to help organizations, communities and people renew their strength, and develop capacity to withstand the next crisis. We know it will come, we just don’t know how or when. Our communities need to be resilient and well prepared. That goal is always at the heart of our mission.

Maurice is exactly right: the gaps in economic opportunity across the country, as well as glaring deficiencies in our social safety net, have been laid bare by this crisis. It will take significant public and private investments to address them, and a strong network of community development organizations to help fuel what is likely to be a long recovery. As such, LISC is focused not only on providing near-term relief, but also on long-term plans that will revive economic opportunity for families and communities.


Read Our Year in Review