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The Future is Indigenous Women

Celebrating International Womens’ Day with Native Women Lead

Character-Based Lending

It’s no secret that we’ve been fans of Native Women Lead (NWL) for many years now, partnering on co-created projects and cheering each other on as each of our organizations has grown and flourished. Since 2017, Native Women Lead has revolutionized systems and inspired innovation by investing in Native women in business. 

Most recently, we teamed up with this incredible organization when we launched our joint 2020 character-based lending pilot—built to show that we can successfully shift power alongside shifting capital. Native Women Lead turned that pilot into the Matriarch Fund, which aimed to mitigate racial and gender bias and challenge traditional frameworks in finance.

Now, Native Women Lead is at it again with a new financial waterway: The Future Is Indigenous Women—in which they have partnered with New Mexico Community Capital and Roanhorse Consulting to support over 3,000 Indigenous women and meet them where they are in their entrepreneurial journey by 2024. In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Native Women Lead Co-DirectorJaime Gloshay, New Mexico Community Capital Executive Director Liz Gamboa, and Roanhorse Consulting LLC CEO, Vanessa Roanhorse to chat about this new initiative. Their edited answers are below:

Common Future (CF): It’s so good to hear from you again. Can you give our readers a bit of context about our history working together? What do you think have been our organization’s greatest joint learnings together?

Jaime Gloshay (JG): Our history and relationship with [Common Future CEO] Rodney Foxworth and [Common Future Director of Capital Strategies] Eric Horvath goes back before the rebrand, before Eric was even part of Common Future—when Vanessa and I met with thought leaders looking to empower communities. We shared what we were building in the ecosystem, and with Native Women Lead. 
Our organization’s greatest joint learnings have been about building trust first and foremost, then understanding how to leverage our unique offerings, expertise, and commitment to innovation to deploy capital to the communities we serve.    

Vanessa Roanhorse (VR): First and foremost, that relationships matter. What most people do not see is the years of trust and relationship building that happened behind the scenes—defining what we believe the right relationship looks like between our organizations, and as individuals. In my experience, working with Common Future has been the culmination of that trust—being bold, courageous, authentic and willing to show up with deep commitment to action. 
As a result, when the opportunity to build this fund came about, with Eric’s leadership and vision, we were ready and able to sign on. From the onset, we were 100% on the same page for why this fund mattered and why character/relationship-based lending mattered.

CF: Can you paint a picture of the local economic landscape in New Mexico? 

JG: New Mexico is known as one of the poorest states in the United States. Native people are often referenced as having the highest poverty rates and Native women have some of the highest violence rates. It was estimated that nearly 64% of predatory lending exists near Native lands and oftentimes, that’s the only access to capital families have. I grew up in predatory lending, I remember my grandma going to payday loan lenders to just have enough to get us through the week. She also worked for the Federal government in healthcare and was a single mother, a breadwinner. 
Many in our NWL network say that the biggest barriers are discrimination based on race and gender. Many say that they are declined funding, uncapitalized, not taken seriously, have limited options, high interest rates, or simply that financial institutions are not easy to work with. They do not trust banks and have debt aversion as they do not want to continue or worsen cycles of poverty through increased debt.
When I was a lender for a CDFI, it was hard to fund Native entrepreneurs using the 5 C’s of Credit, because it could not and does not take into account 500+ years of economic exclusion. I had to advocate to people that had no lived experience or reference of what it meant to be an Native person in this country today.  

Liz Gamboa (LG): New Mexico Community Capital serves all entrepreneurs, not only Native women, but in general we see a majority of women reaching out to us interested in our programming, mentorship, and community. The folks we see are urban, rural, and tribally based, with a generational mix of business owners. 
They appreciate and seek community, and our best classes include “kitchen table” dialogues where anyone can weigh in about the struggles or successes they’ve had. The underbanked community is subject to many obstacles and competing priorities, and we find a general distrust of commercial lending institutions. 
Due to previous predatory behavior, we’ve had to ask borrowers to reimagine what borrowing could be and how it could be a lifeline to their work. How can we support them to grow in a healthy way? It’s by building relationships and trust, and providing terms and an application process that doesn’t make them feel bad or beholden to bad actors in the lending space. 

VR: In the past few decades, many of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States have made great strides to diversify their economies and improve the quality of life for their people, but challenges remain. Even as legal sovereign nations, tribes have not been afforded the same authority and rights as states, counties, or other municipal governments. In the absence of a tax base, market, and infrastructure, and an unwillingness by banks to invest differently, tribes have had to become more entrepreneurial in creating sustainable economies to support their communities and provide basic services to their people. 
And, as the economy continues to transform after the debilitating COVID-19 global pandemic, the question remains whether or not there is a robust infrastructure to support tribal nations, Native people living both on and off tribal lands, and their unique needs. 
With unprecedented federal funding earmarked for Tribal nations, villages and pueblos as well as entrepreneurship and creative capital, the opportunity today is to invest in this infrastructure; in particular the people infrastructure who will be the ecosystems builders designing and rationalizing their networks that is culturally and economically relevant to them and where they live. 

CF: We’ve spoken at length about how credit scores are racist. In your community, you’ve seen limited pathways for Native women to become investment ready. Can you talk about Native Women Lead’s 5 R’s of Rematriation or combat the 5 C’s of Credit?

LG: I think we have a real opportunity to think outside the paradigm of conventional lending. The 5 R’s of Rematriation—Relational, Rooted, Restorative, Regenerative and Revolutionary—is the guiding basis and underwriting framework for Native Women Lead’s work around lending. The 5 R’s recategorize the framework of lending, setting aside the 5 C’s and using a relationship-based model instead. I heard Jaime speak about this a few days ago and she reminded her audience about the aligned and overlooked ROI that is not considered in conventional lending such as the safety of women, the need for them to protect and shelter their families, and the laser focus of providing for seven generations forward with everything we do. 

JG: The 5 C’s cannot account for 500+ years of economic exclusion. How do you measure character without a relationship built on trust and reciprocity? How do you expect capital (injection) from someone who has no intergenerational wealth? How do you measure market conditions in informal economies? How do you expect to leverage collateral when someone lives on a sovereign Nation that does not own their land? How do you measure capacity when you’re working with a community that has high poverty and pay inequity rates? It really makes no sense. 
The 5 R’s of Rematriation are an alternative framework from the lens of us, Indigenous women where design and decision making process and power are spearheaded and intentionally protected for Native women to mitigate racial and gender bias. The 5 R’s is taking another approach to challenge and change a system while proving Native women are investable and there are matriarch-led businesses that are aligned with our values that we want to catapult so they can continue to be of service to our communities.   

VR: The entire system needs to be recreated. The 5Rs is our intention to do that. 

CF: We last teamed up to launch character-based lending together. What has that pilot meant for your community? What businesses have flourished since then? What services have come to the community?

JG: This pilot has been about increasing the amount of capital that Indigenous women can access. Through our first two pilots, we were only able to pilot microfinancing. [The CBL pilot] allowed us to increase amounts, and refine our 5 R’s framework to serve social entrepreneurs. 
What we’ve learned about are the kinds of businesses the 5 R’s uplifts, the deeper relationship we need to cultivate with entrepreneurs. We funded businesses in sectors such as consulting, health care, and beauty—all demonstrated they were molded by and serving or representing Indigenous communities and worldviews.
Two businesses provide health care offering to rural communities and specialized expertise in trauma therapy. Two bring unique power building consulting services to Indigenous entities such as tribes and nonprofits. Three are building beauty brands from Indigenous plant medicine knowledge or to increase representation of Indigenous people in the beauty industry.    

LG: The Matriarch Restorative Fund provided loans to 7 deserving businesses. These individuals are incredibly hard-working, visionary changemakers and leaders in their industries and I know they’ve inspired many who believe they cannot borrow funds. Representation matters, and the success of these entrepreneurs is a powerful symbol for those starting out and just considering the loan as a viable option.  

VR: The pilot is part of our larger plan to create a scaffolded approach to capital that fosters and nurtures our community, while also collecting important data to demonstrate not only the investability of Indigenous women, but to show that this has never been done correctly for our people. 
Each business has increased their own exposure, one business recently locked a deal with Macys, with her product being now available online nationally. Another has been able to expand virtual and tele-mental health services, and hiring more therapists with goals of expanding into surrounding states. 

CF: That’s amazing. We’d love to hear a bit more about these individual human stories.

JG: Absolutely. We can share a story from one of our Restorative Fund borrowers. In the pandemic, she had to care for her nephew when they suffered a loss to COVID. She was a therapist providing care to her clients on a 1:1 basis. 
But when her family needed her to care for her nephew, she was forced to grow. She hired a few more counselors and has now grown her business by 300%—providing jobs, meeting client needs and market demand—offering a unique and needed trauma therapy (EMDR) to her community. 
When she applied for the loan and accessed technical assistance through New Mexico Community Capital, we learned the deeper story at play—an Indigenous woman providing care to her family and community with a push to grow and scale to increase access and opportunity for more. 
As we’ve followed up with her, we now know she’ll actually need investment from $1-2.5m as her business is primed to expand nationally. It’s amazing to see such growth and innovation—but the reality is she is one person and she needs a team to realize this vision.    

LG: There are so many stories. I first think of Melody Lewis of Indigenous Community Collaborative—a Restorative Fund borrower. I resonate with her words about representation and know that many decisions are made about Native communities without Indigenous representation. She speaks and attends various conferences and brings this message to those who don’t consider bringing in Native thought leadership.

VR: We have women in our network who contract with the NFL, and Macy’s, negotiating big deals while also living on and off their tribal lands. We see our women ready for big growth, needing land, buildings, warehouses and access to international markets. We also see our women standing in their power to be authentic to their culture and to ensure they and their partners give back to their communities. 
I recently connected with sisters who started a search and rescue in the four corners (NM, AZ, UT, CO) to help families searching for lost relatives. We spent an hour on the phone laughing and crying, talking about some of the hard searches they have had and how they got started—a young Native girl went missing and needed help. With no desire for making money, the sisters went out and worked to find the young girl. Sadly, the young lady became another Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women statistic, but it was the ability for closure they could provide to this family while also understanding cultural protocols that they realized how important this work is. 
Over the next few weeks, I plan to bring them into our network, connect them to our incredible community because at the end of the call their only comments were, “You all see us, even though I know I am not a good business leader, I know that this business is needed and necessary. For the first time I feel like we can breathe a bit and maybe even make some money to pay our bills.” 
My only goal is to be accountable to that hope and try our best to get them to where they want to go, and thankfully we have this network and team to do it. We ourselves are not alone anymore either, and that is how this all began. 

CF: Powerful. Looking forward, you’ve just launched The Future is Indigenous Women—an initiative co-lead by Native Women Lead, New Mexico Community Capital and Roanhorse LLC. What does success look like for this initiative? 

JG: For the traditional financial folks, it looks like jobs created, healthy profit margins, sustainability, and a solid repayment rate. For NWL, it looks like Indigenous women closing their own racial wealth gap, thriving in their lives, increasing their agency and overall safety. 

LG: The grant funds us for five years. By the end of that, we hope to have supported 3,000 Native women entrepreneurs/business owners. For me, those 3,000 act as the ripple—their success will inspire 3,000 more to start their business, step into careers in finance, know where to go for support, and join a thriving and growing community of powerful matriarchs.  

VR: We will have served 3000 women in our network for ECW at the end of our 5 years.  

CF: That’s incredible. Thank you for your time.

JG: Thank you for your continued support and partnership. We are grateful to work alongside you.