Yery Olivares, CDFI Co-Founder and Executive Director, Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation (FAHF)
The Central Valley’s newest Community Development Financial Institution or CDFI is the first one in the region founded and led by two Latinas: Yery Olivares and Dora Westerlund. CDFIs play a vital role in historically underserved communities by increasing access to capital and resources for businesses and individuals. I sat with Yery to talk about what led to this moment and how their institution will tackle deep inequities in the lending world by betting on Latino entrepreneurs.
Why is it important that this is the first CDFI in the region founded by two Latinas?
My co-founder Dora Westerlund and I are the community that we serve. We look like those we serve, and we speak their language. We understand the Latino community and we have been there. Our lived experiences give us an insight into the challenges. We know banking is not accessible to everyone, especially in rural communities where Latinos are targeted by predatory lenders, we want to change that.
Who are you reaching that other lenders might oversee?
– Young innovators in the 18-25 age group. They have great ideas and are often overlooked by other credit institutions that don’t think they are ready. We support young entrepreneurs and offer them the services they need.
– Immigrant entrepreneurs. We have grown our network beyond the Latino community and gained trust from the Asian American community, we serve many Punjabi and Hmong clients. We also welcome those with an ITIN number who need our full–scope of services. We developed a specific loan product for immigrant entrepreneurs.
– We provide personal consumer loans. We know our community is credit worthy and needs the funding. These loans are also open to individuals without a social security number.
The FAHF has been serving the Central Valley for 17 years and was recently certified to become a CDFI. What does that mean for your community?
We have been working in rural communities and we know that if we don’t go to them, they will not come to us. Instead, people turn to small liquor stores to cash their checks, get pay day loans and become targets of predatory lending. Our approach is unique: we give entrepreneurs one-on-one technical assistance—and we build trust. And yes, we finance loans with low interest, but we also educate them to be responsible borrowers.
Now as a CDFI, we can attract more dollars to reinvest in the community. For entrepreneurs, a CDFI loan can lead to them starting a business, expanding one and hiring new employees. At FAHF we support entrepreneurs that are hard to reach and unaware of the resources available to them, including women entrepreneurs looking for a small business loan. We support them with credit counseling and in formalizing their businesses. Our service is a full–scope of technical assistance including business plan development and how to organize their financials, not just lending.
What got you started on this path of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs?
I graduated college with an accounting degree, but I was not sure what direction to take after. One thing I knew for sure: I wanted to help others. As the youngest in my family and the only girl, a lot fell on my shoulders. Growing up I remember helping my parents with paperwork, managing their bank account, and paying bills. My personal experiences helping my family coupled with my interest in numbers, led me to help and serve others to become self-sufficient. Following my graduation, I joined the FAHF team.
What does economic justice mean to you?
Those that are hard to reach or underserved, become overserved. That we eliminate the challenges and hurdles that small communities face to receive quality services, and that we provide them equally across gender and sectors. I believe investing should be done equitably and that access to funding is available to everyone. That people become economically self-sufficient, can provide for their families, and that every generation after that will be better off.
Interviewed by Adriana Saldivar, Program Manager