Dave Glaser speaks on community investment

Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Executive Staff

The Babson Center’s Humphreys Entrepreneur in Residence Dave Glaser’s first real international experience was in Israel. Despite not being Jewish, he spent nearly two years on a kibbutz, a farm managed by a group of families. He was the only U.S. citizen within a few miles.

“The thing that really swatted me in the face is how similar people are in the world,” he said, referring to the lessons he learned in Israel. “That our differences are very minor and our similarities are vast, and we don’t have it all figured out.”

That is a lesson Glaser applies to his work as president of MoFi, a community development finance institution (CDFI) based in Montana. Founded in 1986, MoFi serves as a non-bank lender that provides capital to people often deemed nearly bankable or unbankable by larger financial institutions. The purpose of CDFIs is to provide capital for typically unbankable individuals and small businesses so that they can make changes in their communities.

Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

The concept of microcredit, which eventually came to the U.S. on a much grander scale as CDFIs, was established in Bangladesh by Dr. Muhammad Yunus in the late 1970s. His belief that unbankable individuals pay back their loans at rates equal to or better than bankable individuals granted him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Today there are about a thousand CDFIs in the U.S.

Glaser, MoFi’s second CEO, said in an interview with The Purple that “the idea [is] that we are trying to kick open doors of opportunity for people who have traditionally had those doors slammed in their faces.”

Glaser was recruited to MoFi in 2007, becoming CEO in 2010. Before that, he worked in three different science firms in either a start-up phase or a turnaround phase, when companies dedicate themselves to recovering financially. He started at MoFi when they were managing approximately $4 million in total out of a single city. Under Glaser’s leadership, today they manage $500 million and operate in five states.

“But I’m not a finance guy at all,” said Glaser, explaining that his was a more scientific background. “[My] dream job would be if NASA called and said they needed a new director. Luckily, that’s not going to happen.”

In his capacity as the Humphreys Entrepreneur in Residence, Glaser spoke at an event in the Torian Room at duPont Library, entitled Money Matters: How Access to Capital Builds a Stronger, More Inclusive America. He began his talk with a photograph from his trip to Iceland, stating, “It started with a story.”

He went on to recount a trip he took with his family to Reykjavik, Iceland. On their way to the renowned Blue Lagoon, his daughter turned to him and remarked, “I haven’t seen a destitute person here,” which inspired him to converse with his taxi driver. To his question concerning the lack of poor people in Iceland, his driver responded, “Why would I let another Icelander suffer?”

Glaser felt a twinge of jealousy. What would the U.S. be like if they fostered that same mindset?

As if in answer to that very question, he explained his work with MoFi, warning the audience against predatory lenders as well as speaking on HomeNow, a program that provides down-payment assistance to help working people  buy homes. Additionally, they also provide consumer loans to people living in mobile homes so that they can make fundamental repairs.

MoFi offers small consumer loans, ranging from $500 to $3,000, as well as large-scale financing, which includes loans as large as $50 million, for business expansion in low-income areas to create jobs with benefits for larger groups of people. MoFi also caters to nonprofits, community centers, health centers, and recreation facilities in low-income areas so that the necessary services can be provided as needed to residents of such communities.

“What we do is incredibly rewarding, very challenging,” said Glaser. “Identifying people who are traditionally not seen as financeable is a never-ending and rewarding challenge.”

In an interview with The Purple, David Shipps (C’88), director of the Babson Center for Global Commerce, stated that one of the Babson Center’s goals “is to bring speakers to campus that represent a variety of industries and work in a variety of different capacities to help illuminate the whole Sewanee community on unique trends and developments in the world of commerce.”

Shipps decided to bring Glaser to the Mountain for two reasons: Sewanee’s location in one of the poorest counties in the South, and the relevance of the fact that Tennessee is home to BetterFi, a younger CDFI that is akin to MoFi. BetterFi was born out of a collaboration between the Vista and the Babson Center, headed today by Spike Hosch (C’12).

“It seemed like there was a high level of applicability and interest in the topic,” said Shipps. “It aligned well with a lot of our values and our vision.”

MoFi has hosted Carey Fellows as interns in the past, but not in the last few years. Shipps, as the director of the Carey Fellows program, Sewanee’s business honors program, stated that he seeks topical diversity in terms of different industries, as well as geographical diversity when it comes to internships for students.

“MoFi meets both of those criteria pretty nicely,” said Shipps.

Glaser noted that students with a liberal arts background tend to be better equipped for the workforce than students with only a technical degree.

“Just because you don’t know finance doesn’t mean you can’t work in finance,” he said. “Communicators are eminently important to us and to other financial institutions as well.”

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