Spotlight: Robert Villarreal, Chief External Affairs Officer
Welcome to our Spotlight series where we highlight members of our new enterprise between CDC Small Business Finance and Capital Impact Partners.
This Spotlight is on Robert Villarreal. Robert is our Chief External Affairs Officer.
He has more than 20 years of economic development and nonprofit experience. Robert is responsible for leading policy and government affairs, forming strategic partnerships, developing grant and capital opportunities, and marketing and communication.
Take a moment to watch the video or read the transcript below to learn more about Robert’s background, his role with our new enterprise, and some fun facts!
Q: What is your role?
A: I am the chief of External Affairs in our combined companies known as the Alliance. And in that four, I think, critical programs are part of the External Affairs team. One is marketing and communication. Two is fundraising, also known as, as grants. Three is strategic partnerships, and then the fourth is policy and advocacy. A lot of folks also refer to it as government relations.
Q: What excites you about our new enterprise?
A: There’s a lot of things that excited me about our, our alliance and our enterprise, but I think to me the most important one is just our ability to be at the center of helping transform the way the economy works, particularly for underestimated communities, and for BIPOC communities. I think that, you know, those of us in the business knew that the economy didn’t work for BIPOC and underestimated communities, pandemic showed it, and so there’s a lot of attention to it.
So I think there’s an opportunity for us, while that attention is on it, to help leverage resources and work with those communities, not tell them what they need, but listen to them, and partner with them and help harness the ability that we have combined as the alliance and be that intermediary matching the demand that the communities have and the supply that impact investors provide of capital, but they’re not going to talk to some of those communities or some of the CDFIs or small organizations that are in there, but we have that ability to be that very critical bridge. And I think that’s the thing that most excites me about it because once we have that impact, we’re going to have our long-term goal of bridging that racial wealth gap.
Q: What are your top priorities for policy and advocacy?
A: Yeah. So a great question. The long-term goal is that we play more offensive and not defensive, we be proactive and not reactive. And we have a great example of being proactive with our colleague, Scott Berman, and the great work he’s done with his colleagues with other organizations in the Community Revitalization Fund, which will bring, hopefully, about $7 billion into the industry. So that’s a good example of playing some offense. There’s a big portion of about $200 billion, we think, toward the SBA and the Reconciliation bill. So that’s a little bit of defense, but trying to twist that and playing some offense with that and how we can partner with them. So, really over the next 90 days, we’re going to work a lot on that Community Revitalization Fund, really build a strategy around SBA and how we can be supportive and taking advantage of some of those opportunities that are coming up.
And there’s two other important initiatives. One is our ability to influence the Community Reinvestment Act, which essentially is doing a re-do due to a lot of the work of the advocates who did not like what was proposed under the previous administration. So there’s an opportunity there; we’ll be working as an industry. And then there’s an important initiative going on called 1071, which is part of the Dodd-Frank Bill, on Wall Street reform 10 years ago. And it’s our ability to make sure that we start collecting, or that financial institutions start collecting, demographic information on small business loans from financial institutions. So we’ll be working on that over the next 90 days.
Q: How are we applying the learnings from our place-based work?
A: As the reminder, our place-based work launched in Los Angeles, or South Los Angeles, Detroit, and the greater Washington D.C. area known as the DMV. And in particular, we learned in Detroit while we were able to triple the amount of Community Advantage lending done there in the previous five years, we still left a lot of small businesses underserved, and we knew that one of the primary reasons was the product that we were using.
The SBA Community Advantage was probably not the best product to meet the needs of the community. So, we listened to the community and put a team together of the alliance, and came up with a new product, really driven with a racial equity lens, and got rid of some of those traditional hurdles that small businesses – particularly small businesses of color – had met. So that actually just launched this week, it’s called ACTIVATE, and this one’s called ACTIVATE Detroit. And, I’m happy to say that in the first 48 hours, first two days, we’ve received 12 leads from that. So, really excited to learn about that. And then how, how can we iterate that and then take it to our other place-based cities.
Q: If you could be an athlete for a single day, who would you be and why?
A: Yeah, I’m a huge baseball fan. And, and my first player that I loved, and that drove deeper my love for the game was Willie Mays. Played for a majority of his career for the Giants. Although I’m a big Potters fan, just adore Willie Mays, the way he approached, the way he played the game, and just the talent that he had. And I’m a proud owner of – if you’re familiar with Willie Mays in baseball, the catch – I got a picture of that and a signed copy of that.
Q: We know your love of beer. Share with us three of your favorite breweries.
A: Yeah, well, in San Diego, I’ve a number of breweries that we can choose from, but there’s a couple of new breweries that are, maybe five, six years old or less. One is called Pure Project. Great, great beer. Everything they’ve put out, I’ve loved. And then there’s another one called Bergeon, a great little tasting room in little Italy. I go through phases of beer, and I’ve been on a long pale ale kick, and, you know, Sierra Nevada being the classic, but they’ve got a couple of really good pale ales that I really enjoy. So those are two San Diego ones.
There’s one in Alameda called Faction that I really enjoy. It’s an old airplane hangar on the Navy base and has this great view. You sit outside, you can look across the bay and see San Francisco. And then a sentimental favorite back in San Diego, there’s one called Rough Draft. We financed it a number of years ago via our CDFI. It’s done well. It’s got a tasting room in Miramar and they just opened up a tasting room brewery in Miramar, and they just opened up a tasting room in Del Mar and something called the Skydeck, where there’s another brewery there. And you can sit there, enjoy their beer here, and have this wonderful view in the Del Mar area.