Partners, Volume 13, Number 3, 2003

“So What Exactly Do You Do?”

Community development has become its own industry — a multifaceted business that includes building, developing, investing, lending, funding, fund raising, marketing and mediating. And that’s just the beginning.

Community development practitioners work in a world that is sometimes difficult because of the multitude of diverse interests, in both the public and private sectors, involved in each development. The scarcity and highly competitive nature of financial resources add to the challenge. Compared with most market-based, traditional development, community development often involves extra steps, takes longer, includes more people and costs more.

So how do we describe what we do? There’s no easy answer. In my banking career, I have held a number of jobs. I have been a commercial lender, a loan underwriter, a compliance officer and a bank regulator. None of these jobs is as difficult to describe as my current line of business. The names of my former jobs conjure up a pretty good understanding of what I did; but exactly what is a community development practitioner?

Stated basically, we support effective public and private partnerships. We seek nontraditional sources of funding to help foster community and economic redevelopment in low- and moderate-income areas. We facilitate job creation programs, affordable housing projects and the generation of capital for small businesses growth. Of course, this general description doesn’t begin to convey all of the intricacies of our work.

Sometimes, however, less is more when it comes to describing this job. During the early stages of my community development career, when I was still trying to figure out the ins and outs of this business, I would sometimes provide a detailed presentation of the work we do to anyone who asked my profession. Usually it didn’t take long for the inquirer’s eyes to glaze over. Even our titles and the names of our organizations can leave a person confused. But it’s important to understand that our careers are not centered in volunteerism. The financial side of our work is crucial.

Ultimately a community development practitioner wears many hats, depending on the setting and the task at hand. In a community-related audience, I can safely describe myself as a community development specialist. But when I’m with a group of commercial bankers, I’m seen as a bank regulator involved in CRA and Fair Lending. And when I’m in the larger business world, I’m an officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Of course, there are still those times when I can’t resist going into great detail about the wonderful work we do.


Juan C. Sanchez
Community Affairs Officer

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