Skip to main content

Author: Elena Fairley

Growing Lending Circles Communities With 7 New Partners

For over a decade, MAF has developed financial programs rooted in the strengths of low-income and immigrant communities. In this spirit, MAF’s signature Lending Circles program supports people in building and establishing credit, saving money, and achieving personal financial goals.

But we didn’t stop there. We partner with nonprofits across the country so that more communities can access all the unique benefits of Lending Circles. In 2019, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, MAF launched the Lending Circles Communities campaign in search of nonprofit organizations interested in partnering with us to bring Lending Circles to their communities.

We had the opportunity to travel and connect with hundreds of incredible nonprofit leaders in San Diego, Phoenix, New York, Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte. 

“Building credit is essential for people who want to escape the cycle of poverty. But the reality is that millions of people, due to a variety of circumstances, remain credit invisible and do not have access to affordable loans, credit cards, or means to save for emergencies,” said Darlene Goins, head of Financial Health Philanthropy, Wells Fargo Foundation. “It’s been such an honor to work with Mission Asset Fund and we’re excited to help bring Lending Circles to new communities and increase access to zero-interest social loans and education to help more people overcome financial barriers and build wealth.”

On the road, we heard countless stories of widespread financial insecurity and the complex challenges that nonprofits contend with every day. What struck us the most was the unyielding dedication to community – despite differences in geography, vision, and programming, the nonprofit leaders we met all shared a commitment to uplifting clients with safe, relevant, and effective financial tools. And the current realities of the coronavirus and economic crises have only deepened the need for impactful programs like Lending Circles. 

We’re thrilled to announce that we are welcoming 7 incredible nonprofit organizations to the Lending Circles Network: A New Leaf, Casa Familiar, Chinese Community Center, Common Wealth Charlotte, Neighborhood Ministries, Refugee Women’s Network, and SER Jobs. Beginning October 1st, this new cohort will dive into a month-long Lending Circles training program. After that, they’ll start doing community outreach and forming their very first Lending Circles. Read more about the new Lending Circles providers below and stay tuned via social media for updates on their program launches!

A New Leaf
Phoenix, AZ

A New Leaf is working to address the Phoenix Metro community’s most challenging issues including homelessness, domestic violence, poverty, and mental health. Lending Circles will be integrated into a diverse array of programming by staff and trained volunteers facilitating group education classes, workshops, and one-on-one coaching, as a tool for reaching financial and asset building goals.

Casa Familiar
San Diego, CA

Casa Familiar allows the dignity, power and worth within individuals and families to flourish by enhancing the quality of life through education, advocacy, service programming, art and culture, housing, and community economic development. They serve a predominantly Latinx community in the San Ysidrio neighborhood. Casa Familiar plans to integrate Lending Circles into their Financial Opportunities Center.

Chinese Community Center
Houston, TX

The Chinese Community Center (CCC), a United Way Agency, was founded in 1979. Since then, CCC has expanded its programming to offer comprehensive, wraparound services that address the needs of Greater Houston residents from any racial or ethnic group and at any stage of life – from early childhood to retirement age. CCC operates a Financial Opportunity Center and plans to integrate Lending Circles with their financial coaching programming.

Common Wealth Charlotte
Charlotte, NC

Common Wealth Charlotte’s mission is to support low-income wage earners to achieve higher levels of financial capability, less reliance on financial assistance, and ultimately, enhanced financial security. They pursue these objectives with trauma-informed financial education (TIFE), asset- and wealth-building strategies and programs, and access to non-predatory banking and financial services. 

Neighborhood Ministries
Phoenix, AZ

Neighborhood Ministries’ mission is to break the cycle of poverty in inner-city Phoenix. They have helped low-income Phoenix residents transition from poverty to economic self-sufficiency by providing workforce development, job training, and financial education since 1982. Neighborhood Ministries plans to integrate Lending Circles into their workforce development programming.

Refugee Women’s Network 
Atlanta, GA

Refugee Women’s Network (RWN) is an organization founded for and by refugee and immigrant women. For over 20 years, RWN has worked to lift up the voices and leadership of women at home and in their communities. Lending Circles will be an excellent complement to their core Economic Empowerment Program, which supports clients in job readiness, entrepreneurship, financial education, and more.

SER Jobs
Houston, TX

SERJobs helps individuals from low-income communities transform their lives through the power and purpose of work.  Through SER’s four core services of career coaching, occupational training, employment services, and financial empowerment, clients are provided support, hope, and the opportunity to achieve their career and financial goals. SER plans to integrate Lending Circles into their vocational training and financial stability coaching and mentoring.

Introducing MAF’s newest program: LLC Loan Program

Meet the community where they are. At MAF, this is one of our core values. We’re constantly searching for ways to build new programs that uplift this principle. That’s why we are excited to launch our LLC Loan program: a program that will offer zero-interest credit-building loans to help individuals cover the cost of formalizing their business as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the state of California.

What inspired us? 

Over the years, we’ve collected incredibly insightful data from our community — insights that have enabled us to think innovatively and critically about how we can continue to support the financial security of low-income and immigrant communities in a tough political environment. 

2018 marked a decade of offering the Lending Circles program across the United States. Last December, our R&D Lab released a document with 10 findings or takeaways from our 10 years serving our community. During that time, over 30% of all of our clients report themselves as self-employed, small business owners, or contractors — with an almost perfect repayment rate. To date, we have funded over 11,000 loans, meaning that we have supported thousands of entrepreneurs across the US by helping them build credit to have access to better financial products, or by providing capital to start or grow their businesses. 

Why LLCs?

We built an LLC loan program because we believe that the LLC business structure offers a flexible, safe, and accessible way to formalize and build a business. Since LLCs can be registered with a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), this business structure is accessible to a wider range of communities. The biggest benefits to being an LLC owner are a) personal liability protection and b) personal privacy protection. This means that in the case of a business emergency, personal assets not directly associated with the LLC — like your home, car, and personal bank accounts — can’t be used to collect business debts or obligations. It also helps protect individual privacy, as LLC owners don’t have to share personal ITIN or SSN with vendors. At the same time, registering an LLC can be a good option for individuals looking to take advantage of the tax benefits it offers and add prestige and professionalism to their practice.

How does the program work?

Individuals looking to formalize their business in California can take out a zero-interest loan to cover the $800 Minimum Franchise Tax that the State of California requires all LLCs to pay soon after the LLC is registered. The loan will be paid back in ten monthly installments of $80, and reported to all three credit bureaus so participants can also build their credit history. The process and requirements to apply for the loan are very simple and easy to follow. To learn more about the program and submit your application, please visit our website.

Once you have completed all requirements and the application has been reviewed and approved, we’ll mail you a check for the $800 payable to Franchise Tax Board.

What does it mean to support entrepreneurs?

We know that starting a business can be overwhelming and in many cases it requires learning new skills and processes. Along with providing accessible and safe funding, we want to continue to build resources that our communities can use throughout their entrepreneurial journeys. Over the past year, we’ve partnered with experts in the field to develop a self-employment webinar series. Some of the topics covered include how to navigate the gig economy and how to set up your LLC. (Check out the full series here)

Whether you have a business idea or are thinking about formalizing your practice, we encourage you to visit our LLC Loan page where you’ll be able to submit your application for the loan and access additional financial education resources. As always, feel free to email us.

MAFista Spotlight: Samhita Collur

Samhita Collur has held many roles during her nearly three years at MAF. Officially, she’s been a Partner Success Manager and Communications Manager, but she’s also been a storyteller, a mobile app content developer, a community advocate, a strategist for new programs, a co-chair for an advisory council, and a friend to many MAFistas. Now, she’s off to law school to learn to advocate for community members in new ways. We asked her to impart her wisdom before her last day at MAF.

How would you characterize your experience at MAF?

First of all, my experience at MAF has really shaped the way I now think about working with a community. I was originally drawn to MAF for the values of the organization: meet, build, and respect. Throughout my experience being on the programs team, I’ve seen those values carried out. I’ve seen it in who MAF hires. I think we hire people who are true community leaders. You see how important it is to see those community leaders at the forefront of the work. What’s made my experience so special is seeing the relationships that staff build with community and the way those values are implemented. I want to take these values with me in law school, where I’ll be in a more academic setting, and the community may feel distant at times.

You mentioned seeing MAF’s values in action. Do you have an example of this?

One of the things built into our values is trust. We need to earn the trust of our community. One example that comes to mind is these three blog posts I wrote about MAF clients: Connie, Boni, and Rosa. These three people were actually hesitant to tell their stories. But they had trust in MAF. Boni had trust with Diana, a Financial Coach. Connie had trust with Doris, a Client Success Manager. With Rosa the trust she had with MAF was built through the DACA grant program. These are just a few illustrations of how MAF engages and interacts with the community. You never want to assume that someone is willing to tell their story. People’s stories are complicated — they’re filled with ups and downs. People want to tell an accurate story that shows resilience and lessons learned. Not one that’s super fluffy. I found that there is a way to write someone else’s story, and do it on their terms.

What are you proud of?

Even playing a small role in the DACA campaign is something I’m very proud of. That really made me reflect on what I wanted to do next. It inspired me to pursue law school as a next step. Seeing this small team really shift gears and work so well together to implement this large scale initiative. During this time, I observed what it means for MAF to be at the intersection of financial services and immigration. We end up being an entry point or gateway to other issues. Observing that and seeing how MAF continued to respond to the injunctions that were issued after the initial rescission allowed me to reflect on, how various approaches fit together. That was a big learning. MAF allowed me to see how different organizations can work together to do something really great. It can’t just be one organization. I saw that evidenced through our partnership model, the DACA campaign, and partnering with legal service organizations for referrals.

I’m also proud of being a part of the programs team. I’ve really appreciated the relationships I’ve built with partner organizations. It’s really special to see how they tailor the program to their unique community. Partners like Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI) that really embody what it means to be a community organization. And every organization we partner with is so rooted in the community.

What’s next for you?

This fall, I’ll be going to law school. Something I realized that I really do enjoy here is communicating and writing. This idea of communicating with different audiences and taking information and finding ways to tell a compelling story. I hope to build on that skillset. I want to use this legal knowledge as another toolset to continue telling stories that support and uplift a wide range of communities. The law, at the end of the day, is a really powerful tool that can be used in the right or wrong way depending on who is telling the story. I want to pair love of communications with that knowledge set to continue doing this work in a slightly different arena.

What will you miss?

I want to give a shout out to MAF staff. The programs team is the best team I’ve ever worked with. Just seeing the way that we have a diverse set up of perspectives, and seeing how that plays out in the conversations we have as a team. When we’re brainstorming, seeing different view points adds a really unique element. This is something I hope I continue to get in law school. I’ll miss the dedication on the part of the staff. The way everyone understands the work, and how to work respectfully with the community.

Pilar’s Story: An ode to Prince and homeownership

Pilar celebrates her one-year homeownership anniversary this year. Her home is a beautiful, cozy, and peaceful place in South Minneapolis. She recalls the warm and loving home her mother created for her when she was young, and feels a sense of pride in the home that she has been able to create for herself.


A bold and passionate young girl growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Pilar and her mother had a very close knit relationship and relied on each other for support. 

Pilar’s mother struggled to make ends meet as a single parent working a number of factory jobs. Despite the financial hardships, she provided Pilar with a warm and loving childhood. She made sure that her daughter was given every opportunity. When Pilar showed a passion for dance, her mother signed Pilar up for ballet lessons and sent her to a performing arts school.

In high school, Pilar was a cheerleader, a dancer, and a musician. She was never afraid to express herself – from sharing her opinions to dressing how she wanted to dress. She was a child of the ‘80s who adored the movie “Purple Rain” and the musician Prince. She saw parallels between herself and Prince: both were Minnesotans who never quite fit in and had dreams to make it big.

“Prince came from poverty, and was able to accomplish so much with so few resources. He gave people hope that they could make it too. He had a big influence on my life, and I listened to his music to get through hard times.”

Pilar worked hard and won a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University, making her mother immensely proud. 

She dedicated her professional life to public service, and she eventually moved to the Twin Cities after she was offered a job at Project for Pride in Living (PPL). PPL is an award-winning nonprofit organization in Minneapolis dedicated to empowering low income individuals and families to become self-reliant. Pilar is now the face of PPL. She works the front desk at PPL’s Learning Center, and she’s the first point of contact for anyone who walks through the doors. She hears intimate personal stories on a daily basis.

“I always wish that our clients only knew what they were capable of when they first walk in to the office. When I hear stories of people coming into PPL, I understand their stories and their background. I can relate. This is much more than a job for me – it’s a mission.”

PPL has employment and training programs, and holds graduations for participants who complete their programs. It’s common for graduates to express their thanks to Pilar at their graduation ceremony, saying that it was her encouragement and smiling face that made them sign up and stay on track.


Pilar first heard about Lending Circles from Henry, a fellow staff member at a Project for Pride in Living. PPL first started offering Lending Circles in 2015, and so far, they have served over 40 clients and generated a loan volume of a little over $13,000.

Henry encouraged her to sign up for a Lending Circle so she could both better explain the program to prospective participants and work towards her own financial goals. At the time, Pilar didn’t have any credit — she wanted to avoid credit cards because she’d heard stories about people spiraling into debt. Her only experience with credit was her student loans, and this wasn’t enough credit history to provide her with a credit score.  

She met with a credit counselor and, for the first time ever, realized that homeownership was within reach as long as she could build her credit score. Motivated by this news, Pilar signed up for a Lending Circle. Her group decided on a monthly contribution amount of $50, and she felt closer to the group after each member shared information about their financial goals. When it came time for Pilar to receive her loan, it was the end of June in Minnesota and the heat was sweltering. She used her loan funds to purchase a much needed air conditioning unit. Pilar was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and she could not have afforded the unit without the Lending Circle funds. It was not only a relief to her, but also her two dogs — brother and sister rescues —  who were suffering from the heat. She described the financial education videos that accompanied her Lending Circle as “eye opening.” For the first time, Pilar felt comfortable managing a budget.

“This might sound crazy, but I honestly didn’t know that I had to pay my bills on time.”


Pilar is now a proud homeowner. “If it wasn’t for the Lending Circle and meeting with Henry, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” she says as she reflects back on the process. Pilar’s whole demeanor lights up when she talks about her home. She describes the house as a place that “lets me be who I want to be. After a stressful day at work, it provides a wonderful reprieve.”

But there is an additional bonus for Pilar. Her house is right next door to a very special house – known as the “Purple Rain house” to locals – the house that appeared in the iconic 1984 film featuring Prince.

Pilar knows her home purchase was meant to be. On the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing, fans poured into her neighborhood in the rain and congregated at the Purple Rain house. Even though Pilar never ended up as Prince’s neighbor, she still feels like the magic of his presence and his legacy in her neighborhood. Laughing, she says, “at night, I think I see purple lights coming out of the basement. It’s really something.”

On the topic of of homeownership, Pilar says “I thought it wasn’t possible. So know that it is possible, regardless of where you find yourself.”

Lending Circles at the Brown Boi Project

Building Credit & Confidence in LGBTQ Communities of Color

Carla’s first experience with a lending circle came long before she began working with Brown Boi Project, and long before she’d heard of MAF.She knew them as “cundinas,” and she first encountered them at the Los Angeles clothing factory where she started working as a teenager.

She and her coworkers formed the cundina to support each other in saving money. They each agreed to make a weekly contribution of $100.

It wasn’t an easy amount to save. Carla worked overtime to ensure she could make each payment. Eventually, she saved enough money through the cundina to finance a trip to Mexico, where much of her family was living.

Carla had taken the factory job knowing that her ultimate goal was to continue her education, and soon she enrolled in night classes at a local community college.

Money was tight, and the classes were expensive, so she took on heavy debt to finance her studies. She didn’t realize that she could have qualified for financial aid.

Shortly after beginning her studies, Carla suffered a back injury at work. Her employers stopped giving her hours, and she eventually went on disability and became a full-time student. She transferred to UC Santa Cruz, and a professor assisted her in applying for financial aid. Carla loved her coursework in Feminist Studies and Sociology, but the burden of her growing debt lurked in the background. She began skirting calls from debt collectors. She scraped by this way for years.

She spiraled deeper into debt. Her strong credit score of 720 plummeted, dipping below 500.

From Cundinas to Lending Circles

Shortly after graduating from college, Carla came across an job opening announcement with Brown Boi Project, an Oakland nonprofit that brings together masculine-of-center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen and allies to change the ways communities of color talk about gender.

She knew right away – this job was for her. Brown Boi’s mission and values echoed her own identity and experience. She applied without hesitation. Competition was steep, with over 80 applicants vying for the position. But Carla was right about her fit for the role. As she tells it, she and the staff at Brown Boi “just kicked it off well.”

She’d landed her dream job. But her debt and damaged credit continued to limit her.

She struggled to find housing in Oakland that would accept her low credit score. Fortunately, Carla had a friend who helped her find an apartment. But without a credit card, she couldn’t afford to furnish her new home.

“All of those things are so emotionally draining and stressful. I was feeling depressed. Your credit score can almost feel attached to your own worth.”

It was at Brown Boi that Carla learned about the Lending Circles program that MAF manages. She was familiar with the concept from her earlier experience with the cundinas. The promise of improving her credit score through participation lifted her spirit – she began to imagine the relief she would feel if her life were no longer controlled by debt, her options no longer curtailed by her credit score. After so many years of financial exclusion, Carla appreciated that Lending Circles were open to her regardless of her credit score.

Carla brought the same discipline and dedication to her Lending Circle that she had brought to the cundina years before. After Brown Boi became an official Lending Circles provider, Carla seized the opportunity to become the lead staff organizer for the program.

Carla finished her Lending Circle with 100% on-time payments. She paid down her debt and even managed to build up savings.

But despite her perfect track record, she was nervous to check her credit score. She had come to equate a credit score with feeling disheartened, discouraged, and stuck.

For almost a month after the Lending Circle ended, Carla delayed checking her credit. The same month Carla completed her Lending Circle, she was invited to attend a summit for innovators of color at the White House. She took herself suit shopping, comforted by the fact that she now had enough savings to cover the costs.

Carla found the perfect outfit: a grey suit with a red tie. At the register, the cashier offered her an application for the store credit card. Carla was accustomed to declining these offers, knowing she would likely not qualify. But this time, she applied.

And to her shock, she qualified.

“I qualified at a $500 limit! I was super surprised. I said, wait… What? I qualify?!”

Buoyed by this news, Carla finally pushed herself to check her credit score. She checked: it had risen 100 points to 650.

She paid off the store credit card and applied for a different card that offered airline miles. Again, she was approved – this time for a $5000 limit. Her next goal is save enough money to fly her mother to Europe next year.

What the Future Holds

Financial stability has transformed Carla’s outlook on life.

“I’m gonna be real,” she says. “I feel good. I have a credit card in case of emergency. I’m less stressed knowing that when I need the money, it’s there.” She adds, “I feel more grounded, like my life is coming back together.”

Carla feels passionate about starting more Lending Circles and encouraging more open conversations about financial exclusion with people of color in the LGBTQ community:

“There’s a lot of shame. It’s often taboo to talk about financial struggles in our community… Sometimes we think we don’t have these types of problems, but we do.”

She now keeps her spending under 25% of her credit limit and pays off the full balance of her cards each month. These skills are practical, but they have a larger significance to Carla. She sees financial education as a powerful way of mastering an economic system that so often excludes and disadvantages people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

“No one has taught us how to play this game,” Carla explains. “But with financial education modules, we learn the rules.”

Taking Financial Learning Beyond the Classroom

Lending Circles round out the Game Theory Academy Experience

Jasmine and Pasha’s friendship began during childhood, when the two girls were elementary school classmates. Eventually they were assigned to different middle schools, and they lost touch. But the two young women shared a deep commitment to their educations and their futures. It was this quality that would reunite them and that would ultimately lead them to join Game Theory Academy’s first Lending Circle.

Their reunion was unexpected and unplanned. In 2015, when Jasmine and Pasha were in their senior years at two different Oakland high schools, they both enrolled in “Make Your Decisions Count,” a class on financial decision-making with the Oakland nonprofit Game Theory Academy (GTA). They resumed their friendship as if no time had passed and began parallel learning journeys that would prepare them for lifelong financial security.

GTA’s mission is to equip young people with the decision-making skills and economic opportunities needed to achieve financial stability in adulthood. In “Make Your Decisions Count,” Jasmine and Pasha practiced slowing down their decision-making process and carefully considering the pros and cons of each step. They cultivated the habit of pausing before acting and considering the questions, “What’s in my best interest? And what do I need to know before I decide?”

Jasmine and Pasha knew these skills would aid them tremendously in important future decisions, such as selecting the best bank or making a plan to pay for college. But a key to Jasmine and Pasha’s success – and their ongoing engagement with GTA – was the opportunity to put their newly acquired financial skills into practice. They did this first through GTA’s internship program, and eventually through Lending Circles.

After completing Make Your Decisions Count, both Jasmine and Pasha became interns with WOW Farm, GTA’s urban farming and business program. They were eager for the chance to apply their new skills to a real business. And on a practical level, they both needed the job experience.

Pasha spoke to the value of learning and doing:

“By getting the GTA paychecks, we experience how to save it, budget it, take out $40 each time you get a check. You can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Jasmine and Pasha successfully completed their internships and graduated from high school. But their learning wasn’t over: they both immediately enrolled in GTA’s “Crash Course in Job Readiness.” While many young adults who do not go directly to college get caught in a chaotic web of disconnected or stagnant activities, these two impressive young women refused to lose focus. They remained committed to their goals and took advantage of all GTA had to offer.

Jasmine and Pasha were skeptical of Lending Circles when the program first began at GTA. Jasmine, for example, was uneasy with the emphasis on credit. The only way she knew to build credit was with a credit card, and she wisely thought of credit cards as risky for young people without steady incomes.

But Lending Circles provided her with a way to build credit that she trusted. She described her comfort with the program: “You don’t have to worry about going over your credit limit since it’s always a set amount.” Pasha was similarly wary of credit cards. But at the same time, she recognized that not having a credit score would prove to be a barrier:

“You need a credit score to get a car, to do a lot of things. When you turn 18 and you’re about to go to college, all the banks send you credit card offers and sometimes the APR is really high and that can you mess up.”

For many young adults without much experience with formal financial transactions, the Lending Circles commitment can seem intimidating (a regular monthly payment!) and its value abstract (credit score, what?). But Pasha and Jasmine drew on their strong foundation in financial education to consider the benefits of the program. And more importantly, they had built a trusting relationship with GTA over the course of their participation in programs. So they took a chance and joined a Lending Circle.

The program was a success. Both Jasmine and Pasha began with no credit history at all — not uncommon for 18-year-olds. Now they each have a credit score over 650, which is 30 points higher than the average Millennial.

But a Lending Circle is more than a credit-building tool — it’s akin to a crash course in money management: participants have to save for a goal, repay a loan, plan ahead, and manage auto-pay transactions.

Thanks to Lending Circles, Jasmine and Pasha do not have to learn about credit the common way– by making mistakes that are hard to reverse. They’ve been able to build their credit safely, and with it, to build the foundations for a future of financial security.

Game Theory Academy’s ultimate goal is to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate what are often mystifying and high-stakes financial decisions.

Lending Circles are still gaining traction with GTA’s youth. But in a short time, the program has already gone a long way to deepen the organization’s financial capability services. GTA’s existing financial education modules expose young people to topics they don’t learn in school, and Lending Circles provide the opportunity to put what they learn into practice.

Jasmine now studies Mathematics at Chabot College, works at a popular restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown, and interns with a bookkeeper. Pasha has a role in community affairs with a construction company and studies at Merritt College. They are graduating from Game Theory Academy with what every young adult needs and deserves: strong skills in financial and strategic decision-making, extensive job readiness training, solid work experience, and a fantastic credit score.

Like most of us, they don’t know exactly what’s next. But they are well-prepared for whatever it may be.


Jasmin Dial, the author of this post, ran student engagement at Game Theory Academy from 2014-2016, including the launch and implementation of Lending Circles. She holds a B.A. from University of California at Berkeley and currently studies Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Strengthening the Voice of our Lending Circles Partner Network

MAF’s first Partner Advisory Council will provide an exciting opportunity to harness the insights of our partner network

From our early years serving families in the Mission District, we believed that Lending Circles could benefit communities far beyond our San Francisco neighborhood. Knowing that organizations with deep ties to their communities are best equipped to serve local clients, we set out to partner with fellow nonprofits, first in the Bay Area, then across California and — eventually — the country. Looking back today, it’s hard to believe just how quickly this vision was realized: the Lending Circles Network now has 50 partners and counting.

We know that with growth comes big opportunities. As a means to strengthen and deepen the experience of being a Lending Circles provider, we are proud to announce that we have formed a Partner Advisory Council.

The members of this Partner Advisory Council (or, as we like to call it, PAC) will offer their insight, smarts, and on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider. They will provide advice and strategic thinking, all in an effort to elevate and strengthen the Lending Circles Network. They will also play an instrumental role in planning and hosting the Lending Circles Summit, a national convening of Lending Circles providers and other experts
in related fields.

So, who did we select? Eight outstanding staff members at partner organizations that provide Lending Circles. These eight PAC members represent the diversity of the Lending Circles Network — in regard to geographic location in the U.S., communities served, organizational size, and experience.

  • Jorge Blandón, Vice President, FII-National at Family Independence Initiative in Oakland, CA
  • Leisa Boswell, Financial Services Specialist at SF LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, CA
  • Madeline Cruz, Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project in Chicago, IL
  • Rob LaJoie, Director, Financial Empowerment Program at Peninsula Family Services in San Mateo, CA
  • Gricelda Montes, Asset Building Programs Coordinator at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, WA
  • Judy Elling Pryzbilla, Community Coordinator at Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, MN
  • Paola Torres, Small Business Program Coordinator at Northern Virginia Family Services in Falls Church, VA
  • Alejandro Valenzuela Jr, Financial Empowerment Services Manager at CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio in Minneapolis, MN
PAC Co-Chair, Leisa Bowell

Here’s what co-chair, Leisa Bowell, has to say about joining PAC:

“In my work at the SF LGBT Center one of our focuses is on creating a more equitable world which is why the Lending Circle program is so important to us. I am invested in seeing that program grow, not only at the Center but also throughout the various LGBTQ communities across the nation. I think joining the Partner Advisory Council will allow me to help that growth come to fruition.”

The first PAC meeting took place on April 29th and allowed PAC members to get to know each other, and get to know the group they just joined. We learned fun facts about PAC members and discovered we have quite the talented group! Madeline knows some Arabic, Jorge was part of a poetry duo that performed in New York subways, and Paola loves dancing and has been part of a musical group. The group offered up some insightful feedback on MAF’s upcoming Lending Circles Summit, and engaged with our tech team to learn more about the new tech developments on the horizon.

We’re tremendously grateful that these PAC members have stepped up to make the Lending Circles Network even better. Their insight into the on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider is invaluable to us, and will help guide MAF’s direction for years to come.

The Power of Community: Expanding Opportunities for AAPI Immigrants

A community of nonprofits is building the financial capability of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants across the country.

When you bring together families, friends, and neighbors to help each other achieve their shared financial dreams, you’re leveraging the power of community. This practice of lending and borrowing money in family or social groups — a practice that inspired the the Lending Circles program — is common in communities around the world.

At their core, Lending Circles are about community.

Today, we’re highlighting one in particular: a unique group of partners providing Lending Circles to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants across the US. In the Philippines, the practice is referred to as paluwagan; in some parts of China, it’s called hui. With traditions like these to draw from, many AAPI immigrants are familiar with Lending Circles as a source of savings and credit.

In many parts of Asia, Lending Circles are an age-old tradition.

What’s often unfamiliar is the complicated financial marketplace discovered upon arriving to the US. This comes at a real price: 10% of AAPIs do not have bank accounts and many more are “underbanked,” meaning they must turn to fringe financial services like payday lenders and check cashers. According to the FDIC’s 2013 Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, 19% of Asian Americans and 27% of Pacific Islanders turn to fringe services to meet their financial needs.

To bridge the gap between the modern financial marketplace and cultural traditions like paluwagan and hui, we can tailor Lending Circles to meet the unique needs of AAPI communities.

We can start by meeting AAPI immigrants where they are, on their terms.

In this spirit, we offer loan agreements into seven Asian languages: Chinese, Burmese, Nepali, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, and Hmong. But this is only a beginning. We can also open-source solutions — so that other nonprofits can build on the lessons we’ve learned in San Francisco and bring them to cities all over the country.

No two communities are alike. And local organizations know best how to handcraft their services to meet their clients’ needs.

That’s why nonprofits across the nation are custom-fitting Lending Circles to their local communities.

Take Asian Services In Action (ASIA), for example. This Lending Circles provider in Cleveland, OH, provides culturally relevant social services to Nepali and Burmese immigrants and refugees, many of whom don’t encounter the concept of a credit score until they’re ready to buy a car, rent a home, or start a business.

Through Lending Circles, these clients are able to build credit with people who speak their native language — oftentimes their friends and neighbors. This system of mutual support provides a sense of security that sets Lending Circles apart from other loan models. It can even help refugees build a new community in the U.S. after leaving their home countries.

“I love seeing our clients’ eyes light up as I explain the Lending Circle model,” says Lucy Pyeatt of the Chinese Community Center (CCC).

“‘Yes, we know that!’ they often reply.” Many of Lucy’s clients are intimately familiar with the concept of Lending Circles: “They’ve participated in them informally with family and friends for years, and they feel so relieved to have a product that they already trust. They feel that their heritage, and their models of financial security, are being respected. It’s a great bridge for them.”

By drawing on their traditions and adapting to their needs, Lending Circles put the power in the hands of the communities themselves. Our partnerships with organizations like ASIA and CCC are the real engine that powers the success of Lending Circles, so that local leaders can create local solutions.

It all started with a collaboration between MAF and National CAPACD.

National CAPACD is an advocacy group on a mission to improve the quality of life for low-income AAPIs. Two years ago, MAF joined forces with National CAPACD to launch a financial capability project with eight AAPI-serving organizations:

Together, we set out to answer a question: Can we boost the financial capability of new immigrants by incorporating Lending Circles and financial education into the existing immigration resources that community organizations are providing? Our new partners started to marry traditional services like language classes, citizenship education, and workforce training with our innovative Lending Circles program and financial coaching.

In just two years, the National CAPACD cohort has formed 56 Lending Circles, with 344 participants.

It’s amazing to think that these participants have generated well over $150,000 in loan volume, all from lending and borrowing with their peers. And the repayment rate is astonishingly high — over 99%. This means that participants are opening checking accounts, establishing credit scores, and entering the financial mainstream for the first time.

Some have been able to rent apartments. Others have used Lending Circles has a source of peer support in a new country. And for many women who moved to the U.S. to join their husbands, Lending Circles offer a chance to exercise their financial independence.

After two years of successes, we’re excited to continue working with this impressive group of AAPI-serving organizations.

Our partners have ambitious plans to deepen their Lending Circles programs and bring them to even more hardworking immigrants across the country. And we have plans of our own to strengthen our network by forging new relationships and improving our tools for partner collaboration, like our online “Lending Circles Communities” knowledge-sharing platform.

We know that the key to success lies in the power of community. That’s why we’re working together with our partners to build even stronger resources for our Lending Circles clients — who, in turn, work together to support each other’s growth.