Innovative Partnerships with Community Development Financial Institutions

Yonina Gray is the Director of External Relations at Reinvestment Fund and a Chicago native with over a decade of experience building catalytic relationships with communities, governments, institutions and everything in between.

About the Author

Yonina Gray is the Director of External Relations at Reinvestment Fund and a Chicago native with over a decade of experience building catalytic relationships with communities, governments, institutions and everything in between. Ms. Gray is passionate about empowering communities and elevating their quality of life through strategic community development and institutional change management. At Reinvestment Fund, she drives national business development objectives to establish new market presence and influential relationships that pave the way for corporate growth. She is also responsible for driving our public policy objectives. Based in Atlanta, GA, she is energized by opportunities to connect with rural communities and to support HBCUs. Ms. Gray is a board member of the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative and is board chair for Incremental Development Alliance, a national nonprofit that trains small-scale developers with capacity-building resources. She is a 2020 Next City Vanguard. Ms. Gray has a Master of Urban Planning and Policy degree from The University of Illinois at Chicago and an MBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

CDFIs like Reinvestment Fund are positioned to connect the dots between community partners, financial institutions and policymakers to help drive healthy and equitable communities. This dot-connecting has allowed initiatives such as Invest Health to come to life to help a broader range of partners understand their role in improving the many determinants of health that impact communities. These partnerships provide critical perspective and complementary resources that can deepen collective impact across program areas from early childhood education, healthy food access, healthcare and affordable housing.

In 2016, Reinvestment Fund opened an Atlanta, GA, office to fill a gap in accessible financing available to communities in the southeast, with an existing partner who welcomed us into the region. In addition to many of our core investment strategies in affordable housing, K-12 education, healthy food, and the arts, Reinvestment Fund identified a new historically disinvested space to channel capital. From our southeast office, Reinvestment Fund began to explore ways to support campus expansion and improvement needs of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Given their history, these institutions provide far more than education; HBCUs still serve as incredibly important sources of culture, healthcare, arts, civic engagement and social services to the Black communities where they are located. The benefits of investing in HBCUs go beyond the institution and can have a significant impact on community health and wellbeing. HBCUs can be economic engines in their communities.  Starting up this new focus area has meant building partnerships, tracking higher education trends, centering our racial equity values, gathering new insights and exploring new business practices to support them. This is how Reinvestment Fund gets to know a new space; we identify opportunities for partnership that will drive impact (social, economic, and community) toward our mission to improve equity and the quality of life for low wealth people and places.

UNCF defines HBCUs as accredited academic institutions established before 1964 that were formed with the explicit goal to educate Black Americans who were restricted from attending predominantly white institutions of higher education. Since their founding, HBCUs have prepared their students to be leaders in their communities and beyond. Despite representing just 3% of the four-year colleges in the country, HBCU graduates represent 80% of Black judges, 50% of Black lawyers, 50% of Black doctors, 40% of Black engineers, 40% of Black members of Congress and 13% of Black CEOs. In the 2020 “State of the HBCU” address, UNCF president Dr. Michael Lomax noted that broad (but shallow) bipartisan support, woeful underfunding from the government and philanthropy, paired with racial discrimination from lenders, amount to the “HBCU paradox”. Yet, despite these challenges, HBCUs continue to make positive impacts on their students and communitiesOur new work to support HBCUs is an example of how Reinvestment Fund builds partnerships centered on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) values to build more equitable communities. 

Reinvestment Fund has learned a lot as we’ve dialed up our commitment to racial equity for the benefit of this new HBCU work and beyond. To date, we’ve provided more than $30 million in financing to four HBCUs and built relationships with many more. Our HBCU partners have helped us rethink some of our key performance indicators, communication styles and the need for technical assistance. Because of these partners, we now know there is an incredible cross-sector network of collaborators eager to support HBCUs- from foundations to corporations and other financial institutions. Reinvestment Fund has gathered insights from these partners to better understand the challenges and opportunities for HBCUs and how we can help them optimize their property assets to improve their campus experience for students, faculty and the communities they serve. Informed by these insights, Reinvestment Fund’s strategy is to encourage a community of practice to address three major challenges: access to capital, technical assistance (related to community development finance) and telling (and understanding) the true HBCU story. We are letting these insights guide our financing, data and research capabilities to help address the root causes of financial exclusion of HBCUs. CDFIs do this all over the country for small businesses, real estate developers, institutions and others in need of resources to help drive impact to underserved people and places.

Looking forward, over the next 12 months, Reinvestment Fund will tap thought leaders to inform our lending practices, develop technical assistance resources and advocate for equitable funding for HBCUs. In support of this work with HBCUs and in other sectors, we welcome connections with partners who:

  • Align with our mission to make communities work for all people.
  • Value the built environment as a critical determinant of health outcomes.
  • Champion financial inclusion.
  • Prioritize racial equity in their approach.
  • Require collaboration across sectors for social and economic impact.

You can read more about some of the incredible HBCUs investment stories HERE. To learn more about how partners are helping Reinvestment Fund drive impact, and investment in the HBCU Brilliance Fund, you can contact Yonina at Yonina.Gray@reinvestment.com.

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