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What we learned while recruiting for the 2021 Community Finance Fellowship

by | Sep 7, 2021 | News

We knew when we launched the inaugural Community Finance Fellowship last year that something like this was very much needed. We saw a need not only to break that vicious cycle of “you can’t get a job until you have experience and you can’t get experience until you have a job” (especially for our industry), but also to prove that we can hire incredible talent with diverse lived, learned, and labored experiences. So, we formed a cohort that learns the full lifecycle of impact investing by doing it—from sourcing deal flow and underwriting to portfolio management and technical assistance—all in the span of one year.

This experiment to change the face of, access to, and understanding of finance proved fruitful even during challenging months throughout the pandemic. Last year’s cohort collectively flowed $7 million into the community! 

“The Community Finance Fellowship reinforces that when you embrace true diversity, not checkbox tokenism or a post-strategy afterthought, it’s an asset to your business and your community,” says Co-founder and Chief Community Officer Lauren Grattan. “We hope others are inspired to join us in making careers, especially in finance, more welcoming because we all do better when we all do better.”


With the 2020 cohort, we learned how well we can work together virtually. So rather than fret about how and when to return to the office, we decided to embrace distributed work life with team members working where it suits them best and coming together in real life when we can do so safely. Now, nearly half of our colleagues are based outside of our hometown of San Diego, CA.

As a result, this year, we opened the fellowship application to candidates nationwide. We received applications from 13 states, Washington, DC, and even one from another country!

Alignment and expansion

At Mission Driven Finance, we are an intentionally diverse group of scrappy individuals who are passionate about creating social change and transforming the finance industry to create a more inclusive economy. We hire for mindset and attitude, not just hard skills.

For the cohort, we looked for individuals who are:

  1. Passionate in their belief that finance could be used as a tool for change.
  2. Community-focused
  3. Specifically interested in the restorative aspect of those excluded from the system 

The impressive candidates we interviewed showed us that the future is bright. 

We asked them to define impact investing in their own words. While there’s some hand-wringing by industry insiders about what is sufficient impact and what kinds of financial returns or structures qualify as impact investing, fellowship applicants were clear and confident in their responses.

Universally, candidates shared that impact investing is investing not only financial capital but also other resources like coaching, intellectual, and cultural capital. They were eager to channel that support into companies in communities that are under-resourced, especially those without generational exposure to finance, in order to build community wealth.

And they want to make that definition of impact investing a reality across the country. That beautiful optimism had interviewers feeling renewed and rededicated to this work.

“This was an extremely thoughtful and competitive pool,” Lauren says. “I have great hope for this generation of leaders!”

We present to you… 

Alas, we only had three spots available this year. After much deliberation and discussion, we are happy that Xitlali Ceballos, David Ritcherson, and Farah Velasquez are joining us for one year.

What ultimately set them apart from the other candidates were their tenacity and thoughtful responses that left an impression. One fellow’s reference said, “Whatever role they end up in, they are going to do awesome.”

We think so, too, of the fellows and other candidates we met.

Here the 2021 fellows share a bit more about themselves and why they wanted to join our team.

Xitlali is from Silver Spring, MD, and is currently living in Baltimore with their siblings. They have also lived in Colombia and Ecuador. 

Active in social movements and sovereignty work, “I want to actively shape a world that is equitable, dynamic, and just,” says Xitlali. They wanted to join Mission Driven Finance because “the mission actively seeks to thwart the damage financial firms have done to extracted communities.”

Xitlali’s happy place is a community garden before 11 a.m. in the summer.

David was born in Los Angeles though he is currently living in Atlanta, GA with family. He has also lived in San Diego and Shanghai, where he was an English teacher.

David loved being an educator “because of the meaningful and lifetime relationships that I have built with my students and their families,” he says. 

He wanted to be a part of the fellowship because “my vision and purpose is directly aligned with the goals of the organization,” says David.

When not journaling using the notes app on his phone, David dreams of doing stand-up comedy.

Farah is also from Los Angeles, currently splitting her time between Los Angeles and Riverside County. She has also lived in Orange County and the Inland Empire.

“I wanted to join the team,” says Farah, “because if I fall, I fall 5 feet, 2 inches forward in the fight for economic equity and freedom (modified from Fannie Lou Hamer’s original quote).”

When not binging on The Handmaid’s Tale, Farah can be found at the beach with her puppy Luna.

Learn more about the fellows and more new team members here.

Categories: News