Community Development & Revitalization - How It's Done

A dialogue on Impact Investing
Jan 14, 2016 9:35 AM ET

A Dialogue on Community Development and Impact Investing: Featuring Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden of CEI

Ron Phillips is the founding CEO of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), the Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) based in Maine. He will be stepping down from CEI in July 2016 after 38 years. Ellen Golden is the Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Managing Director of CEI Investment Notes. She is stepping down this month after 37 years with CEI.

Together Ron and Ellen have formed a venerable team in the development of CEI, a publicly and privately funded $150 million organization – plus the largest allocatee in the U.S. of the federal New Markets Tax Credit program (over $800MM). CEI’s primary market is Maine with an increasing presence throughout rural America – now in 26 states. CEI has 85 employees and a 40 person volunteer board and advisory board.

CEI provides financing, technical support and related policy development for small, medium and micro enterprises, natural resource industries of farms, fish and forests, community facilities such as child care and health care, and affordable housing. Lately it has been investing in renewable energy projects, and revitalizing small town real estate in rural Maine. CEI (www.ceimaine.orghas cumulatively financed over 2,500 enterprises, created/sustained 30,000 jobs, counseled 46,000 fledgling businesses, created nearly 1,700 affordable housing and 5,600 child care slots.

The following is a dialogue between the Ellen and Ron, where they reflect on their commitment to the CDC/CDFI field, a field with roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They also discuss how all of this relates to the rising social consciousness for impact investing today.

Ellen:  Ron, why did you get involved with CEI and the community development corporation/community development financial institution (CDC/CDFI) field? You often say CEI’s roots are in the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. What does that mean?

Ron:  Simply put, it means empowering people and places disenfranchised from a full life and hope. CDCs are grassroots organizations born in the ‘60s as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Then Senators Jacob Javits and Robert Kennedy of New York authored legislation to fund CDCs which were piloted by the Ford Foundation.

Ellen:  As I recall, CDCs were created with the promise of hope for low-income people. What does that look like in the community? 

Ron:  CDCs raise money to invest in low-income rural communities and urban neighborhoods. They build decent housing, revitalize commercial real estate and finance small businesses, education, and the arts. They develop community assets that create jobs and opportunities for those out of the mainstream and also nurture and affirm identity among young people. Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn was the first of many to be funded, and it’s still vibrant today, investing in a holistic, targeted way to create impact. CDFIs, which emerged in the ‘90s, continue the tradition of CDCs, but with a greater focus on financing.

Ellen:  How did you get involved with CDCs?

Ron:  Many of us who came of age in the ‘60s wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and places at the margins of society, whether by income, race, or even place of birth! I organized CEI in 1977 but it all started earlier in NYC. I attended Union Theological Seminary and worked with church mission organizations in Harlem on a college-bound black education academy, at the United Nations on third world development, and at the National Council of Churches on corporate social responsibility. I got a lot of exposure to grassroots groups struggling for economic prosperity all over the U.S. and globally.

Ellen:  And today, there are thousands of CDCs across the country, not to mention 1000 CDFIs. There is a rich 50 year history of raising capital, investing in place and affecting people and communities – you can draw a line right from civil rights to impact investing – and to CEI. But in a rural place like Maine, there had to be something to bring people together. What was the spark that led to CEI?

Ron:  I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. A Maine state agency was planning on establishing a CDC just as I moved to Maine from NYC with my wife, who’s from Maine, and our little kids. The initial state effort wasn’t funded, but I kept it going with fishermen, farmers, bankers, churches, community groups, businesses by turning to churches, and other federal sources like Department of Labor and community action agencies for support. Foundations, churches, community groups and the government have been at this for a long time. Banks have played a role with passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1976. The private sector is critical as are CDC/CDFI intermediaries that bridge the gap between public and private sectors. 

But what about you Ellen? You went from an adventure with women entrepreneurs to engaging wealthy individuals in impact investing!

Ellen:  I too was a child of the ‘60s. I was nurtured by the social and political movements of those times. While you were at Union, I was next door at Barnard College. I too saw the power of collective action and grassroots organizing. My involvement in women’s issues and the feminization of poverty focused my attention on economic issues.

Read the full discussion at-

Cliff Feigenbaum, founder and managing editor
GreenMoney Journal and
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