Inaugural RCB Fellow connects resources for community advocacy

As the first Rohrer College of Business MBA Fellow in Innovation and Impact, Michelle Martinez M’22, is applying more than a decade of financial experience to tackle social issues.

“I want to focus on advocacy in building capacity for community-based organizations, as well as making connections through engagement,” Martinez said. To do so, she will network and provide support services to community development financial institutions.

Nationwide, more than 1,000 CDFIs serve individuals and organizations located in economicallyphoto of Michelle Martinez in Business Hall distressed communities. CDFIs provide education, credit, capital and other financial services to individuals that are often unavailable from mainstream financial institutions. Some examples of a target demographic for these institutions include individuals or businesses with little to no credit history or higher than normal debt-to-income ratios or individuals who may not have a strong employment record.

Historically, there are many reasons why mainstream banks have excluded potential borrowers, including gender, race or a lack of previous business experience. However, none of these factors indicate future financial performance.

Last year, the Blackwood resident worked with Dr. Colleen Kendrick, lecturer, Marketing and Business Information Systems, to present a webinar for business owners through the borough of Collingswood. “We collaborated with the school, community and community development financial institutions to help small business owners understand how they could leverage social media to increase foot traffic within their businesses,” said Martinez.

“I really like Michelle’s vision and focus on using finance as a way that she can start to make things better in society, in her local communities and beyond by bringing finance as a tool for social justice,” said Associate Dean Jennifer Maden.

The RCB MBA and MS Finance Fellowships were established to attract and support change agents who are entering the graduate programs from numerous disciplines and heading into various career paths, Maden explained. Funding for the Fellowships is provided by the William G. Rohrer Charitable Foundation. Other MBA Fellowship specialty areas include engineering, medicine, education, data analytics, military and others, and RCB also offers an Innovation and Impact Fellowship for students pursuing a master’s degree in finance.

“We want to draw in some of the most talented, bright, driven individuals in our region and beyond to come into our MBA program because we are interested in diversifying the student population and growing our impact out in industry,” Maden said.

While finance professionals often, as one might expect, have a reputation for focusing on earning money, many RCB graduates also find meaningful careers in the non-profit and government sectors, Maden said. “We are certainly in support of prosperity and lucrative careers for our students and alumni, but the broader mindset is more aligned to the concept of the Triple Bottom Line: people, profit and planet,” she said. “Michelle’s idea of what she would like to do in finance with regard to social equity fits perfectly into that — using finance as a tool to make things better for everyone.”

“On a professional level, what lights my fire is my ability to connect people, mission and organizations together,” Martinez said. “I’m usually in a for-profit capacity, but in my heart, I always want to circle back to this deep-rooted need to do community-based building and not-for-profit work.”

Michelle Martinez in front of Business HallEventually, Martinez said, her goal is to be president of a small community development bank. “I see myself continuing to grow in this space. I do not see community development finance as much different than finance within a for-profit space. To me, it’s about reorienting our goals to be more inclusive, more strategic and more accountable. Responsible citizenship is about the collective, but everyone has their individual roles. In the future, I’d like to see more CDFIs involved in all asset and security categories,” Martinez said.

“CDFIs are the organizations within the communities that I feel are the unsung heroes of this pandemic and are on the frontlines of pushing a lot of issues forward such as gender parity, racial equality and expanded access to financial services for people with disabilities.”