By Juli Oberlander
Omaha 100, Inc. president and CEO Malinda Williams has always had a love for finances.
Growing up in Sumter, South Carolina, Williams often talked with her father about business and investments. After spending 20 years with the Air Force, Williams says her father became an Edward Jones advisor around the time she was in middle school. As she grew older, Williams and her father would watch the stock market and discuss the meaning of ownership relating to stocks, mutual funds and other investments. By the time Williams graduated from the University of South Carolina, she says it was a natural progression to enter the financial industry. She had already begun working for Edward Jones as an analyst, and by 24 years old, she was running her own branch in Chapel Hill, NC . For a while, Williams was a full-time travel advisor for Edward Jones, which allowed her to travel across the country serving various complex branch transitions while managing more than $1 billion of firm assets. While on assignment in Lincoln, Williams attended a recruiting event that led her to relocate to Omaha in 2015 for an opportunity with TIAA
providing guidance on institutional employee retirement plans to universities, colleges and hospitals across Nebraska. Williams says her love for service stems from her childhood, when she was a Girl Scout and volunteered at local hospitals.
“I’ve always had a heart for service,” she says. “Being a financial advisor, you’re at the service of your clients, and so it was a way to merge those two things: passion for investing and a heart for service in a career that was fulfilling.”
In her career, Williams says she enjoys helping people reach their long-term financial goals. As a Series 7 and series-66 licensed financial advisor, she has a passion for helping people understand and navigate their finances on the way to building financial capacity for their families. When the opportunity to lead Omaha 100 presented itself in 2021, Williams says she seized it to assist underserved populations with overcoming barriers and understanding their financial options. Since its beginning in 1989, Omaha 100 has helped people gain access to capital to achieve homeownership. As a community development financial institution (CDFI), Omaha 100’s objective is to generate economic growth and long-term
generational wealth by connecting people with the resources, technical assistance and capital they need to succeed. “I was really eager to step into this role,” Williams says. “Of course, I love what I do as a financial advisor, but being able to step into this role just felt like a way to have a greater impact on a larger scale, as opposed to just being one-on-one with clients, but helping
multiple people in the community at a greater level. That’s what motivated me to switch gears and change lanes over to lead this CDFI.” Traditionally and historically, Omaha 100 has focused on mortgage lending with its then parent organization, Family Housing Advisory Services (FHAS). In 2000, Omaha 100 first became attached to FHAS with a common goal of providing homeownership opportunities to the community. When Williams started at Omaha 100, she served as deputy executive director, but her role switched to president and CEO when Omaha 100
separated from FHAS in January 2023. Williams says she and her team quickly realized Omaha 100 could offer more holistic services beyond just mortgage lending. While homeownership is still the foundation, Omaha 100 launched business lending in August, and the organization also provides real estate development and debt consolidation loan opportunities. “With that transition came just a different level of responsibility,” Williams says, “then also a greater opportunity to actualize my vision of expanding services and providing more opportunities for ownership for folks in this area to be able to build financial capacity for their families. If we can’t raise the minimum wage, what we can do is have pathways to entrepreneurship that allow you to be more in control of your destiny. We now have added innovative products to support the community beyond just our 30 years of mortgage lending, which is phenomenal.”
Omaha 100 has helped almost 2,000 families become homeowners. Through partnership with nonprofit real estate development entities, the organization has also assisted in securing affordable units for people in need. In addition, Omaha 100 aids community members in becoming loan ready for a home or business, consolidating their debts, and accumulating savings. “We were able to add those additional services post-separation,” Williams says. “The need for the separation was just that Family Housing, as the name implies, is a housing-focused organization. While we know that there were decades of hard work to develop sustaining relationships and effective outreach when it was part of Family Housing, with us evolving into this new, independent organization and evolving our impact by expanding into these other services, it was just imperative that we leave the nest, and become our own organization.” While Omaha 100 is now independent from FHAS, Williams says they are still close partners and collaborators. FHAS continues to provide homeownership classes, financial education curriculum, and a post-closing class for new homeowners. As the holder of the mortgage, Omaha 100 helps people maintain their assets and works with them through challenges, whether that is securing loan modifications, mortgage assistance, or grants that can support people through emergencies. “We definitely value and appreciate the relationship with Family Housing,” Williams says, “but [we] are excited to be out on our own and bringing more and more opportunities and funding to the folks in the community.” Of the difficulties the community is facing, Williams says COVID-19 recovery continues to be the biggest challenge.
“I think recovering from COVID has been a significant challenge for many in the community,” she says. “Many families relied on credit cards and exhausted their savings, and now that we’re in the aftermath of COVID, they are picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild savings while also bringing those debt balances down. It’s hard to do when the job market hasn’t changed much and pay increases are not keeping pace with inflation. Additionally, statistics have proven this crisis disproportionately affected minority-owned small businesses for two critical reasons, they tend to face underlying issues that make it harder to run and scale successfully, and they are more likely to be concentrated in the industries most immediately affected by the pandemic. With fixed obligations still the same while clients are still trying to build emergency savings, recover from job losses, and then getting new employment, just a lot of different factors in the conditions that exist currently. So I would say getting credit and debt under control and then also increasing savings so that we can be ready to take on a new business or buy a home has been something that we are really trying to help people navigate and transcend.”
Growth and expansion
Earlier this year, Omaha 100 was awarded a $10.5 million State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. SSBCI provides match funding that allows CDFIs to offer business loans that support disadvantaged borrowers by supplying them with much-needed capital to start or expand their businesses. As part of a one-to-one match, Omaha 100 will raise an additional $10.5 million to help borrowers meet the grant match requirements. Over the next three years, Williams says the plan is to lend $21 million to SEDI businesses in Nebraska. “This award was the catalyst for Omaha 100 to expand into the business lending space and support more borrowers by removing barriers in access to other pathways to
wealth” she says. “At Omaha 100, we understand that not everyone has friends and family who can fund their dreams, and access to traditional capital can be difficult (especially for new businesses), so we built out our business lending platform and services to better meet people where they are and also assist them in navigating the numerous entrepreneurship resources that help businesses become loan ready.” Williams says people who want to start the loan process can visit the Omaha 100 website, start their application, enter the required documents, and work with a loan officer to complete the underwriting process. If people aren’t ready for a loan, the Omaha 100 team helps them prepare for becoming loan ready by connecting them with technical assistance partners. With the SSBCI grant, Williams says Omaha 100 can continue to invest in underserved entrepreneurs, which will be transformational to the community at large. “We quarterback for them to navigate those different resources,” Williams says, “and then not let them fall through the cracks of underwriting and access to capital, but make sure they know that this is the homebase they can come back to to continue to work towards that dream, so we’re really excited about this process.” Challenges and triumph Reflecting on her own path to success, Williams says it hasn’t been without its difficulties, particularly in terms of believing in herself and connecting with mentors who have been in her position before. “Being able to find mentors that look like me who have had success and are able to pass that information along and be in constant communication has probably been one of the challenges, and that’s across all of my experiences,” Williams says. “Even as a financial advisor. It was sometimes difficult to imagine or envision myself at the level of success of what I was seeing because those folks didn’t necessarily look like me.”
Over the years, Williams says it’s been rewarding to help people close on their homes ‘and achieve financial stability. Because Omaha 100 partners with different nonprofit developers, Williams says the nonprofit lending and development process can take a while due to the involvement of various agencies and the time required to put together a loan. She recalls one particularly inspiring story of a family who finally closed on their home after waiting two years for it to be built. Once they signed the paperwork, Williams met the parents and two young children at their new home to bring them their keys. She says their entire extended family was on the porch as she pulled up to the house, cheering and excited for the new homeowners
“They wanted to have a picture taken,” Williams says, “and so I got their permission to take a picture with their whole family there cheering for them, proud of this monumental moment for their family and one of the few in the family who had been able to achieve homeownership. I get goosebumps just thinking about it now because it was just such a magical moment and to know that their family is forever changed now that they have their own space, that stable, secure space that they get to have as an asset in their family and build generational wealth.” In preparation for this milestone, Williams says the family had been working to improve their credit score and eliminate other barriers preventing them from owning a house. Because of these factors, traditional institutions might not have considered them as bankable customers as soon as the Omaha 100 team did. They worked with family to ensure they met the requirements for the underwriting and approval process. “That really is the sweet spot for us. We are a bridge to the bank,” Williams says. “We’renot competition to banks. We want to be a collaborative support to help people graduate
from working with us to being able to be clients with the banks while leveraging that track record of success with us and then advance to our other bank relationship partners.” Diversity and impact As a CDFI, Williams says Omaha 100 has diversity, equity and inclusion built into its culture. “Really, it’s at the core of everything that we do,” she says. “We serve a diverse community with about 95 percent of our borrowers being BIPOC, and so it’s just in our fabric as an organization that diversity and inclusion are at the core of what we’re trying to accomplish. Then with us working to advocate on behalf of and empower community by removing these barriers in access to capital, we try to bring more awareness to the reality of the experience that the community is having when they go through traditional outlets. We also work with the different layers of legislation and leadership, whether it’s the state, the city, or other corporate and entrepreneurs. We just want to make sure that all are being considerate of financial inclusion for everyone, and so I would definitely say that diversity and inclusion is at the forefront as we develop our services and think
about our vision long term.” Williams’ commitment to diversity and financial inclusion is evident in her community involvement. She has served as president of the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, vice president of Omaha Innovation Connection Hub, a member of the Business Ethics Alliance of Omaha and as a board member of the POC Collaborative. In addition, Williams was one of the founding advisory committee members of I Be Black Girl, a collective for Black women to help them gain access to resources and reach their professional goals.With I Be Black Girl, Williams developed the Catalyst program, a 10-week curriculum that provides women with education to help them realize their entrepreneurial and business dreams. She also helped create a grant for women in the program who were building start-ups and expanding their businesses. “It’s just really exciting to see the businesses now and how they have gone on to
acquire different contracts, expanded services, added employees and just really gone on to be very successful since the showcase,” Williams says. “It was very fulfilling work and I still serve in volunteer capacities with the organization.”
The ultimate dream
On the job, Williams says her overall goal is to help increase access to ownership opportunities for underserved populations in the Omaha area, empowering people to reach their dreams regardless of their financial backgrounds. “What I’m most passionate about is investing in community and helping families achieve conomic freedom and prosperity, however they might define it while doing my part to bring those different opportunities and access to everyone,” Williams says. “Omaha 100 has the power to impact the racial wealth gap. People can truly build their balance sheet, financial capacity for their families and achieve ownership, whether it’s a home or a business and build wealth long term and on a generational level.” In addition to helping the community accrue wealth, Williams says she wants to create a more equitable society for her 6-year-old son Hughston. (Hughston is a combination of her favorite poet’s name, Langston Hughes.) “That’s going to come through education,” Williams says, “and access to capital, and then being able to impact economic development in this area in a positive way and making this community a place that I know that my own son is going to be able to be successful in when he becomes of age and is an adult working in this area and contributing to the community as I have. Just creating a world for him and for all youth where they are not having to navigate the same things that we are currently, that’s just a more equitable future for everyone.”