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Oweesta’s 10-year ‘Commitment to Action’

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Fulfilling its pledge to invest in people, First Nations Oweesta Corporation has announced a long term plan to invest in Native communities.

As its 10-year anniversary approaches, Oweesta is making a 10-year “Commitment to Action,” promising to assist in building assets for the future and creating an environment in which Native Americans may achieve “true economic sovereignty.” Through its programs of financial education, savings, small business development and homeownership, Oweesta has endeavored to empower Native communities since 1999.

Oweesta took its name from the Mohawk word for money. Its goal has been to provide training, technical assistance, investment, research and advocacy for Native Community Development Financial Institutions, as well as other support organizations in Indian country. By bringing together a growing collective of Native financial institutions, community development corporations, financial education providers and Native assets researchers and advocates, Oweesta promotes economic sovereignty and helps to construct stronger Native institutions and programs.

Over the next decade, as part of its new commitment, Oweesta will strive to incorporate 80 new Native CDFIs; establish 400 new financial education programs in Native communities; certify 300 new financial education trainers and facilitate 100 new loans to native CDFIs and related institutions.

According to Oweesta CEO Elsie Meeks, there are four “sectors of challenge” that effectively block economic progress in Indian communities. These include physical, financial, social and cultural, governmental and legal infrastructure, making it difficult to create new jobs, support new business ventures, and foster home ownership.

Meeks said Oweesta will devote the next decade to “reaching new Native communities and people and assisting them in the development of asset building institutions, programs and systems to address poverty and education issues.” They believe they can accomplish their objectives through new loan and capacity-building programs, as well as a new array of online services.

New research, policy and advocacy programs and activities, including more information, education and support, will be highlights of the expanded programs. Oweesta also plans to develop policy, advocacy and research departments in order to encourage community development and nation-building activities. This will also help those who have had limited input in the past to share in the process and grow.

In September 2008, Meeks participated as a panelist for the Global Impact of Rural Innovation plenary session at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. CGI, the brainchild of Bill Clinton, brings together government, private sector, non-governmental organizations and global leaders in an effort to collaborate, devise and implement innovative solutions to challenges. During the session, Meeks provided her unique perspectives on poverty in Native communities and was able to offer solid strategies for change.

In part, Oweesta helps create Native community development financial institutions, including business revolving loan funds, credit unions and associations, banks, venture capital institutions and housing loan funds. These local organizations then have the capacity to assist individuals, businesses and organizations with financing and technical assistance for the development of small business, homeownership, community facilities and financial education programs, in Native communities.

Oweesta also spearheads the Native Financial Education Coalition, an ad hoc group of national organizations representing Indian communities, foundations, federal agencies, financial sector regulators and nonprofit organizations. The objective of the coalition is to increase awareness in Native communities of the need for adequate personal finance skills; to build the capacity of tribes and tribal organizations to provide financial skills training and to support efforts to promote financial management skills through information-sharing and collaboration.

Oweesta will also assess whether a CDFI is the right choice for a particular community. In addition, they work with small business loan funds, land consolidation and acquisition loan funds, housing loan funds, credit unions and credit associations.

Oweesta itself is not a federal, state or tribally-owned organization, but a private, national, Native CDFI intermediary. It is supported through income from development services and investments, a combination of private and public funds, foundations, federal programs, banks and individual donors.

Some of their supporters include Merrill Lynch, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the J.P. Morgan Chase

Foundation, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the CDFI Fund, the National Endowment for Financial Education, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Bank of America, Bank One Corporation, Citigroup Foundation, the Washington Mutual Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

“We are hoping to inspire and motivate partners to join us in our long-term effort to create change in Native communities,” Meeks said. “We have not done it alone and we cannot do it alone in the future, so our ‘Commitment to Action’ is really a ‘call to action’ to our current, new and potential partners and supporters to join us over the next 10 years to help meet these important goals.”