Let’s Play to Our Strengths

By Jonathan Solari, Working Capital for Community Needs

In times of uncertainty, additional pressure will inevitably be put on all forms of philanthropy. Need increases, and the donors, investors, and institutions who can think creatively and uphold their commitments must carry the additional weight. The result of carrying that weight? Strength.

As Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) became an Exponent Philanthropy member in 2016, we celebrated the beginning of our Loan Fund’s 25th anniversary. This milestone gave the organization reason to discover lessons from its founding as a way to navigate the market’s modern moment.

In the 1980s, WCCN was the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, a group that brought the sister-state program of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress to life with tangible results. Cultural exchanges, delivery of goods, and educational programs were building bridges between the socially responsible of Wisconsin and the working poor of Nicaragua. But, as the Latin American country braced itself for revolution, the American government instated an embargo that was meant to stop all exchanges.

What was meant to be a blockade turned into a hurdle to those first WCCN lenders, which evolved to a launching pad for a revolutionary idea. The first WCCN loan of $5,000 was meant not as a new business model, but as a creative solution invented from necessity.

Now, 25 years later, WCCN’s loan fund is part of a greater movement of microfinance. Those concerned North Americans are impact investors. What was once an organization that functioned with 90/10 ratio of donations to investments has found strength in the opposite ratio of 10/90 today. The lives impacted have grown from a few Nicaraguan borrowers to over 25,000 annual farmers and their families throughout nine Latin American countries. That $5,000 has grown to an over $12 million fund.

WCCN remains proud of its commitment to its cause. In 2010, WCCN began providing value-chain financing to farmer’s cooperatives, specifically to support access of coffee producers to fair-trade coffee markets. Through the commitment to providing short-term loans to these coffee cooperatives, even in the face of the La Roya coffee fungus, WCCN significantly added to the 1.3 million farmers represented by the fair trade movement, ensuring more small-scale farmers are receiving a fair price for their coffee. In the face of the 2011’s “No Pago” Movement in Nicaragua, WCCN stayed where and when other lenders left, a move that cemented the trust of partners throughout the region and has paid off several times over.

This commitment is not reserved for Latin American borrowers. In the first 25 years of the organization’s loan fund, WCCN has had a 100% repayment rate to all investors.

These are the results of thinking creatively in times of need while remaining committed to an ideal. There are ways to remain reliable to every actor in an investment in those in need. There are ways to stay unfettered to the day-to-day politics. There is a way to stay small, but mighty; to choose quality of money over quantity.

These lessons of high-quality commitment are well-remembered in the current moment. WCCN has grown in many aspects, but WCCN retains the nimble and creative sprit that has allowed it to succeed through all the obstacles of a quarter century. To, in the face of challenge, create opportunity and competitive advantage.

We, the smaller but more nimble of the philanthropy world, have this advantage over others in our realm. Let’s play to our strengths. Our partners need it. We will all be better for it.

Jonathan Solari is the marketing & development coordinator for Working Capital for Community Needs . Previously, he served as the founding director of New Brooklyn Theatre, a nonprofit arts organization responsible for projects designed to create tangible changes in the health, agriculture, and energy sectors. He holds degrees from Boston University and New York University.

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