Back in the Spotlight: CDFIs, Starbucks & Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz’s new book, From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America, shines another bright spotlight on CDFIs, and to the Create Jobs for USA campaign that brought unprecedented attention to their work and more than $100 million of new CDFI financing to community businesses in 2011 and 2012.

Released today, the book is timed to coincide with Howard’s announcement last night on 60 Minutes that he is seriously considering running for President of the United States as an Independent.

The book describes in detail Starbucks’ decision to reach out to me in August 2011 in my role as President and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network (OFN).

“When I learned about [CDFIs], I was skeptical,” Howard writes.

“The names–OFN, CDFIs–were unfamiliar. Would our customers trust them? Could we trust Mark? It felt safer to engage a high-profile non-profit whose leaders I knew. But we were moving too fast to reject any option out of hand. We invited Mark to Seattle.”

It was a remarkable trip that changed the course of the CDFI industry and, based on what Howard writes, his ideas about business, government, and society. Howard’s recollection of the events and conversations is spot on. (The trip also involved me tumbling down a flight of stairs at Starbucks’ offices, fortunately with no lasting harm despite great embarrassment.)

Howard explains the internal process Starbucks went through focusing on its goals–jobs–and its strategy. He describes how he came to use the red, white, and blue wristbands that symbolized the campaign. He tells how he decided to launch Create Jobs for USA earlier than planned with a 60-second commercial during the 7th game of the 2011 World Series, including the considerable challenge of explaining CDFIs.

The ad, which Howard worked on personally, worked brilliantly. “When something seems so simple,” Howard writes, “that’s when you know it started out very complicated.”

A few days later, when we started media outreach we reached more people than CDFIs had ever dreamed about. “The media coverage gave CDFIs a level of national recognition the lenders had never received, but deserved,” Howard comments. “They were local heroes boosting small businesses.” Create Jobs reached more than one billion media impressions in its first month, I learned.

The book also reports on some aspects of Create Jobs that I did not know about. “After Create Jobs launched, a few of Starbucks’ investors called me to say they saw it as a diversion,” he writes.

“I tried to explain why to Create Jobs was a good thing not just for the country, but for our company, and why, like providing comprehensive healthcare benefits to all of our partners, it was not an expense, but an investment.”

Ultimately, Howard says, “Create Jobs made me feel optimistic because the country had other sources of salvation, aside from government programs or politicians. We had what President Lincoln once referred to as our country’s ‘better angels.'”

He credits several CDFIs that made the campaign successful just by doing what they do–lending outside the margins of conventional thought.

He concludes with a short list of sources of his inspiration–from Bill Gates, Sr., to his wife to “our Starbucks partners, and the men and women working at CDFIs” as proof “that better angels were among us today, people willing to step up to help others.”

Howard is stepping up now in a way that he knows is controversial. And to think that CDFIs played a part in leading him to consider a run for President…

 

 

 

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