Our History

historyCommunity Financial Literacy (CFL) began as an idea in 2007, when members of various refugee and immigrant communities in Portland gathered to participate in GROW (Generating Real Opportunity for Wealth and Work) organized by Portland’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. The program was designed to help various ethnic communities identify their greatest needs and create a plan to meet them.

Members of the Central African community (originally from Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda) were grouped together, and Claude Rwaganje led their discussions. The group mapped a wide range of issues, from transportation and child care to understanding American financial institutions and tax structures. Ultimately, the Central African group agreed that financial literacy – including banking, tax returns, personal budgeting, home ownership, saving for college and retirement – was the highest priority for their members.

Claude conducted a survey in 2007 concerning knowledge of financial planning at a local church where most Central African community members meet. He found out that most of those surveyed knew nothing about savings, investment, retirement plans, saving for children’s education or buying a house. They also had little access to capital that could help them start a business. Only 2% of the one hundred surveyed invested in a 401k, 0% had saved for their children’s college education. Few people knew the importance of a credit report, and none understood the idea of an emergency fund. The lack of understanding and access to U.S. financial tools interfered with the integration and stability of refugees and new immigrants.

In 2008, when Mr. Rwaganje left his position as a general accountant trainee with Parker Hannifin Corporation, he began to explore the possibility of starting a nonprofit organization to address the financial literacy needs of the refugee communities in Portland, Lewiston, and Westbrook, Maine. Knowing the need for financial literacy courses, Claude founded CFL in 2008, and the organization has grown dramatically since then. Community Financial Literacy is now a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, with a dedicated Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and many volunteers.