Matthew Lee

Ashoka Fellow
United States,
Fellow Since 2001
My work: holding financial institutions worldwide accountable to the principles of ethical and community reinvestment.


This profile was prepared when Matthew Lee was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Matthew Lee leads an American movement that seeks to promote ethical business practices in international banking. Matthew¡¦s conviction is that, with the globalization of corporate finance, the same principles of ethical investment and community reinvestment that apply to American banks¡¦ domestic operations should apply to their international business as well. While the United States has laws and procedures by which citizens can hold banks accountable to their public responsibilities, notably the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), those mechanisms do not yet exist beyond U.S. borders. Nevertheless, around the world the citizen sector monitors and documents the negative effects that business sometimes has on society, everything from pollution to corruption to economic exploitation to outright violence. While companies and their stockholders have been the target of advocacy and pressure campaigns, some successful, others impotent, the banks that finance corporate operations have not yet been pulled into the spotlight of citizen scrutiny.

Matt Lee¡¦s system of accountability was launched 1992 in the South Bronx when he first used the Community Reinvestment Act to challenge the inequitable lending practices of banks. The CRA requires that banks and other financial institutions provide equitable resources (credit and financing) to all communities throughout the U.S. Matthew¡¦s challenge resulted in a $5 million lending pledge by the respondent bank. Subsequently, Matthew used this precedent to get four other banks to open new bank branches in the South Bronx (the first new branches in that community in 30 years), and to pledge $15 million each in new lending.

Building on his local success, Matthew founded the Inner City Public Interest Law Project in 1998. He expanded his project nationally, challenging banks through the regulatory process using the CRA. Banks cannot merge without approvals from their regulators. Based on the CRA, regulators establish a comment period, accepting and considering public comments on merger applications. This is a critical period: banks desire expedited review and approval, but substantive issues documented and raised can lead to a longer, and more high-profiled review. Matthew¡¦s program is two-fold. First, Matt uses his thorough understanding of the banking industry to make banks responsive to low-income communities. Matthew analyzes the application process for bank mergers, compiles convincing data on redlining, issues briefs, proposes rules, and files petitions on behalf of the local community group. In addition, he mobilizes the communities involved, uses the press and organizes hearings to bridge his constituency with the banking community.

Since founding the Project, Matthew¡¦s work has resulted in $10 billion in new lending commitments throughout the U.S., specifically in Delaware, Wisconsin, Texas, New Mexico and New York City. In addition, Matthew has trained numerous community groups in his methodology for researching data and filing comments during the merger review period.

Matthew now wants to spread his model of regulatory reform and public involvement more globally. The object of Fair Finance Watch is not to simply oppose bank mergers, but to change the standards under which ¡§mega banks¡¨ operate in a global society. Matthew recognizes the short window of opportunity to discuss and negotiate with bank executives and regulators. Through his network of organizations, domestic and global, he will leverage the CRA with human rights issues to provide low-income communities around the globe with access to credit and socially responsible treatment. In addition, he will train those groups typically involved in human rights and environment campaigns to understand the virtues of community reinvestment practice.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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