Author: lending8

From Partner Extraordinaire to Board Member

Follow Aqui’s journey with MAF and how she became our newest board member.

Expanding community with a new board member

I am thrilled to announce that we have added a brand new member to our family – this month our board voted in Aqui Soriano, Executive Director of the Pilipino Workers Center, as our newest board member!

Aqui has been working with the Pilipino Workers Center in LA for 14 years and is a leader in the national domestic worker’s movement.

One thing people don’t always know about Aqui is that she will keep calling until it gets what she wants for her community.

When she heard we were expanding Lending Circles to other organizations, she started calling me periodically to see if we were ready to go to L.A. Each time I would tell her “We’re just working on the Bay Area right now, but soon. Soon.”

Once the time was right, and thanks to winning the LA2050 Challenge, we brought on PWC as our very first L.A. partner. Fast forward a few years later and PWC is the only partner who is currently offering all of MAF’s programs – from Lending Circles to Security Deposit Loans.

“As a partner, we have seen firsthand the impact the organization has had,” Aqui says.

So when we were thinking about expanding our board membership, Aqui’s name immediately rose to the top because she has a unique perspective as a partner. I recently asked Aqui what her goals are in joining our board. She said “I see the value MAF has in building communities – in its lending circles as well as building broader community. I also appreciates that MAF knows how to build organizational infrastructure and systems to grow and scale.”

I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Aqui join us on the board and really look forward to your future with MAF.

A Warm Reception for Lending Circles in Minnesota

Thanks to our partner CLUES and a tight network of community nonprofits, we find lots of opportunity for credit-building in the Twin Cities

Journeying to the “land of 10,000 nonprofits” as Minnesota is known was the perfect opportunity for MAF to visit one of its strongest Lending Circles providers and host a roadshow event to engage new organizations looking to serve the financial needs of their clients.

Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1981 in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. CLUES’s programs and services focus on the Latino family, but the organization has the experience and capabilities to serve individuals and families from all walks of life including new immigrants and low income families who dream of a better future. This organization has a tremendous reputation in the Twin Cities for their comprehensive services ranging from mental health to education as well as their culturally competent client engagement.

On our first day in Minnesota, my colleague, Daniel, and I went to visit CLUES to get to know the staff and clients.

The weather was chilly but we were happy to get such a warm reception from everyone there as we got a full tour of the Minneapolis office and met all the passionate CLUES staff.

CLUES has been a partner of MAF since May 2012 with funding support by the Northwest Area Foundation.The organization currently offers Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, Lending Circles for Dreamers, and just launched a new program, Lending Circles for Homeownership. I was amazed at how many services they offer the community and the diversity of languages spoken there.

The Lending Circles program, managed by Alejandro and David in the financial empowerment team, is actually advocated to all clients who may not be aware of the importance of credit building when they come to CLUES seeking other services. The Lending Circles for Homeownership idea came out of the desire to help CLUES’ clients who want to buy a home in the next year but need to repair their credit or build their credit. After those clients complete their required homestretch class and learn the process of buying, they can join the Lending Circles for Homeownership program to access capital and build their credit. CLUES is the first organization to offer this program, so they’ll be piloting it this fall with 20 people.

Because so many of CLUES’s clients and staff are Latino, they were familiar with tandas and extremely receptive to a culturally relevant program like Lending Circles.

I took some time to interview a number of inspiring clients who were trying to pay off their debt, grow businesses and save up for a home, as part of our new campaign to share the diverse stories of our partner clients across the country. They were all thankful for their new credit scores and the opportunity it gave them to work towards their financial goals.

We also hosted a presentation at the Northwest Area Foundation, allowing us to connect with more local organizations who were all very interested in asset and credit building. Some had heard of us through CLUES and others were learning about the impact of Lending Circles for the first time. It was great to meet so many different nonprofits represented and hear what they’ve been doing on the ground to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, job seekers, aspiring homeowners and immigrants.

On our second day, we held a staff training on Lending Circles and I got to interview the staff about the partnership experience.  I met with President Ruby Lee and VP of Programs, Karla Bachmann, who shared CLUES’ inspiring mission and strategic approach to community development. The four pillars that guide the organization’s work are: Health and family well-being, economic vitality, educational achievement, and cultural and civic engagement. Lending Circles fits perfectly into the economic vitality category and serves as a vehicle for integrating communities and providing opportunities.

I hope we’ll be able to build off of the enthusiasm and creativity of nonprofits like CLUES to open more doors for financial inclusion and empowerment.

Our schedule was definitely packed over the two days with all our events and meeting, but we did get to squeeze in some time to grab lunch at the Midtown Global Market and explore the enormous Mall of America! This was my first time in Minneapolis so I didn’t know what I’d expect, but thanks to the fantastic staff at CLUES and the Northwest Area Foundation, I’m inspired to come back to explore the offerings of such a welcoming place to so many different communities.

Meet Karla Henriquez: MAF’s Program Coordinator

Find out how Karla Henriquez, MAF’s brand new programs coordinator, injects her fun-loving and warm personality into everything she does.

Unlike many MAF staff members, Karla became part of the MAF community well before she had walked through its doors. Her friends and members of her family had participated in tandas when she was a child in El Salvador, so she understood the benefits and drawbacks of informal lending circles.

While in college at SF State, Karla helped with the research behind MAF’s programs. With an understanding of their effectiveness, Karla decided to take a chance and join a lending circle. Through the experience she came to know and love MAF’s mission and its people. In short, she was hooked.

When word of an opening on MAF’s programs team made its way to her, Karla thought “this is my chance” and she jumped to apply.

With such a strong grounding in MAF’s model, she was the perfect candidate for the job. As the Programs Coordinator, Karla spends her days directly interacting with our members. She walks them through our services and the services of our partners. To accomplish this, she does much more than listening to their financial history; she listens to their life story.

“That’s really rewarding, to know that people trust us to share their personal struggles.”

In this way, Karla represents so much of what we do here at MAF. Our clients aren’t just looking to improve their credit score, they are looking to move forward with their lives by starting businesses, gaining citizenship or securing stable housing.

What’s so inspiring about Karla is how she has come to see her role at MAF and the world. Growing up, she never thought she’d end up in the financial sector.  “I was always told, ‘finance is a man’s world,’” she says.

At MAF, Karla talks to many women without a checking account and with little financial independence. She loves that MAF’s programs enable them to take control of their finances and motivate her to do so as well. She explains, “the more I learn, the more empowered I feel.”

The time Karla has spent here has also made her reflect upon her high school and college careers. Though she was involved in all types of community outreach, the one commonality she found was the community need for financial stability.

“If people had the financial resources to have a better life, then maybe they could move out from the violent neighborhoods or find a better job,” Karla says.

Outside of the office, Karla finds herself often chatting about MAF and successfully recruiting several of her friends into Lending Circles. But she’s not all about work. She loves her zumba classes and uses them as a way to unwind and let loose with friends.

Her favorite part of the MAF philosophy is that we “embrace what our community already has.” We transformed a tool the community has used for centuries, and in so doing we enable our members to build brighter futures for themselves. That’s something Karla can relate to.

Diving Deep into Member Culture

In an effort to better understand our member culture, the staff decided to take time to learn about the upcoming holiday, El Dia de los Muertos.

Here at MAF, we feel it is important for us to connect with our members on a deeper level. In gaining a better understanding of where they are coming from, we can help them better reach their goals. With a majority of our members being of Latin American descent, we felt there was no better way to strengthen this connection than to celebrate one of the most loved holidays of that region: El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The holiday is practiced in many Latin American countries and most festively celebrated in Mexico.

I had learned about the holiday in grade school but upon doing research for a staff presentation, I learned so much more. The reasoning behind the occasion was really great, beautiful even.

The thought behind those who celebrate the holiday is that death is only another part of life and shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated as your loved ones have in a sense graduated from this stage in life to the next. El Dia de los Muertos is the one day a year that our loved ones are allowed to return from their eternal slumber and spend time to celebrate the reunion with their living loved ones. Much of the decor may be seen as morbid or macabre to those unfamiliar with the holiday with the skulls, skeletons, alters, and cemetery visits, but this is due to a difference in cultural understanding.

We wanted our office’s Dia de los Muertos decorations to be as authentic as possible so we visited a store in the heart of the Mission District called Casa Bonampak, which ships its products from Mexico. We special ordered Papel Picado from Mexico, a traditional decorative streamer used for all types of festive celebrations. It included the MAF symbol and was made with the traditional chisels. Tracie, one of the store’s employees was able to assist in gathering the appropriate decorations for the occasion.

One of the most notable aspects of El Dia de los Muertos is the sugar skulls. We decided to buy blank skulls from the store and have the MAF staff decorate them. They were made in Mexico by a man who used clay molds that had been handed down to him for many generations. Before we began decorating, I gave a brief presentation on the holiday to the entire staff, so that everyone would have a better understanding of what the decorations meant.

The sugar skulls are representative of the loved one they are gifted to and the size of them is meant to represent the age of that person. The traditional way of decorating the sugar skulls, or calaveras de azucar, is not easy, and we learned that the hard way! Putting in the effort of decorating the skull shows dedication to the person you are gifting it to, whether that person is alive or has passed.

The skeletons, or clacas, are always seen as whimsical by families rather than sad. They are meant to represent the spirits that are happy to be able to see their loved ones again. As someone with a few relatives who have passed, I admire the idea of thinking happily of them, rather than mourning them.

Families also create altars where they leave offerings of food and gifts from the living in order to feed the spirits after their long journey from death to the world of the living. My favorite tradition is placing marigolds all over the altars and grave stones, sometimes leading from the cemeteries to homes. The sweet smell is said to be strong enough to bring the spirits back and they can follow the smell to the homes of their living loved ones.

The whimsy, joy, and love displayed on this holiday is really something to be appreciated. Our office completely transformed once we finished putting up all the decorations. The hope is to create a positive and trusting environment for our members in every Lending Circle formation, financial management training class and every conversation they have with our staff. Making these reflections enables us to see the role MAF plays in the long arc of each member’s life as we acknowledge and celebrate their past while also watching them build their own brighter futures.

Financial Pride through Lending Circles

Find out how MAF & the San Francisco LGBT center have allied themselves to help all families gain financial stability to thrive.

The San Francisco LGBT Center, as part of it’s 7th annual bi-coastal LGBT Economic Justice Week, awarded three exemplary community members and one community organization for their work in ensuring the economic stability, and mobility of the LGBT community.

MAF was honored to be chosen as the winner of this year’s Ally Award.

MAF has been talked about a lot lately. We’ve been recognized by various groups in many ways for the work that we do. The national recognition has been tremendous, but accepting the Ally Award at the LGBT Center on behalf of MAF was a particularly special moment for me.

Bank of the West representative Justin Knepper presented the award with the following introduction, “The partnership between MAF and the Center has served as a crucial resource for the local LGBTQ community, granting clients access to secure, affordable and socially responsible capital – opening doors that previously were far too often slammed shut. Participation in a MAF-powered Lending Circle at the LGBT Center has helped more than 150 clients to save money, develop their credit histories, boost their credit scores, and improve their overall financial health.”

For seven years the San Francisco LGBT Center has been creating visibility around the financial shadows that many LGBT people find themselves in.

In San Francisco alone less than 50% of economically stable LGBT couples own property. LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to find themselves homeless or in a state of economic uncertainty. We’ve worked with many LGBT couples who have been living in the financial shadows. I shared the story of Edgar and Gustavo, a couple who experience financial instability because they are undocumented and LGBT.

For me, standing on this stage with Celve Jones, Miss Major, and Dr. Kortney Zeigler, people who have fought hard for their communities, and have become icons of movement building and empowerment is an honor. Just being mentioned with these amazing community leaders is a testament to how Lending Circles are building bridges toward brighter futures for communities across the nation.

MAF will continue to work closely with the LGBT Center, to be an ally to all families, no matter what form they take. MAF will continue to bring our voice to highlight the issues of financial invisibility and uncertainty among the LGBT community. MAF will continue to help all communities out of the financial shadows and create pathways toward the financial mainstream.

We want to help everyone move past just surviving, we want to see them thrive. The stronger our families are, the stronger our communities become.

A Time to Celebrate MAF 2.0

A community comes together to mark the next phase in Lending Circles

Last Monday, October 20th we opened our doors to over 150 members of the MAF family in celebration of MAF 2.0: the exciting new phase of our organization. Everyone from funders to clients and friends came to discover our new space and learn about the launch of our social loan platform.

The evening was full of excitement as the room was abuzz with thoughts on MAF’s continued growth and development. The incredible catering from some of our favorite credit-building clients (Alicia’s Tamales, D’Maize and Delicioso Creperie) only added to the jovial atmosphere. It was a time to reflect on how far we’ve come and how what was born in the Mission District is now resonating throughout the country.

With the launch of our new platform, we are empowering other organizations to do similar work in their community.

Shweta Kohli, a Lending Circle client, shared her story recently chronicled in the New York Times. Her journey beautifully exemplifies the strength and resilience of all our clients.

Kari Dohn Decker, Executive Director of the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Responsibility for the West Region spoke to the current status of credit-building efforts, expressing that “this is a national issue”. She praised MAF’s partnering efforts which are bringing help to people in need across the United States. She capped off her speech by announcing MAF as the recipient of another round of funding from JPMorgan Chase of $300,000.

San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros closed out the program. He presented MAF with an award from the city making sure to point out that MAF has “really moved the needle” on the credit building issue.

“You’re building a stronger community. You’re building a stronger San Francisco. And now I’m confident that you will do the same across the country,” said Jose Cisneros.

Every day we meet more and more individuals and communities eager to use our services. To meet our growing needs, we took two steps: The first, finding a bigger office and the second, improving and expanding our technology. Our new location means bigger meeting spaces and easier access so we can better serve our clients.

Technology has been essential to everything we do at MAF from loan management and accounting to communication and fundraising. Over the past five years of using Salesforce, we learned and observed where there were bottlenecks in our application and enrollment process, especially in our Lending Circles partner provider experience, so we wanted to address those areas with our new Social Loan platform. Our guests got to see a demo of the platform’s features during the party and learned more about our deepened commitment to partnerships in the Bay Area and beyond.

Looking ahead, we are rapidly expanding our programs and bringing on new organizations to partner with us, so we needed a new system that would enable us to handle working with many more organizations and individuals.

The MAF 2.0 Launch Party marks a step in a new direction for our organization and we were thrilled to be able to celebrate with members of our community. Everyone who walked through our doors is an important part of our family. Their support and energy make us who we are and we are grateful that we were able to include them in our efforts to bring more hardworking families out of the financial shadows.

Javier: Striking Gold by Building Credit

An entrepreneur finds the secret to lifting up his business

Javier began his entrepreneurial career in the United States with a carpet business. Now, as a licensed contractor, he renovates old rental properties to manage or resell. After spending nearly a year working on the first property he bought, when he sold it at a profit, he was thrilled. He had found his American Dream. Javier thought that “flipping houses” was going to be his most lucrative business strategy yet. But when the market took a turn for the worst, he borrowed as much as he could from friends and family to pay his mortgages, but ultimately lost two of his properties and filed for bankruptcy.

Javier suddenly found himself at the bottom of a hole that banks and lawyers couldn’t help him get out of.

He opened one credit card before but after losing his properties, his score plummeted. He tried to apply for loans but the banks wouldn’t touch him. Not having credit was particularly difficult for Javier because it meant he couldn’t even rent tools from Home Depot.

Javier wasn’t sure what to do next. He had heard of Lending Circles and was familiar with the concept from growing up in Mexico. His mom would participate in tandas very often and buy things for him and his five brothers and sisters. Now as a father of three and the only source of income, it was critical for Javier to pay off his debt and take care of his own family. He decided to join a Lending Circle to build up his credit and learn more about financial management.

“Cash is good to buy, but credit makes it easy in the United States. Credit is gold. You don’t have credit, you don’t have anything,” Javier says.

With three years left in his bankruptcy program, Javier balances running his remaining properties and construction business and paying off his debt.

After finishing his Lending Circle, Javier now has a repaired credit score, which makes him more confident about going to banks and applying for credit cards. He is happy he has taken the first step towards improving his financial health and changing his life. Javier was even featured in a video for MAF’s 2014 Community Leadership Award, where he shared his story and how proud his family is for what he’s accomplished.

After working so hard, his goal is to take his family on a well-deserved vacation to Puerto Vallarta and Cancun to celebrate overcoming a difficult challenge and looking positively towards the future.

Meet Jennifer Tse: MAF’s Curious Finance Associate

As MAF’s Finance Associate, Jennifer asks the important questions.

Jennifer is one of the most inquisitive people I know. Though she works on the Finance Team as the Finance Associate, I’m lucky enough to sit across from her every day. Despite the fact that our job descriptions vary so much, since the first day I met her I got the sense that she wanted to get to know me. She constantly expresses interest in my life both in and out of the office and makes it easy to share a conversation.

When sitting down in the kitchen for lunch, she always looks to see what others are eating in hopes of discussing what each type of food says about a certain culture or region in the world. We were all surprised to discover that she was once an avid Yelp reviewer, so she can dish out the best and worst Bay Area restaurants at any moment.

The reason she’s so curious about other people and other cultures probably stems from the fact that her own story is so interesting.

She credits her family and faith as the tools that shaped her as she spends her weekends at church and with family and friends. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and always encouraged her to get an education. It was her family’s difficult financial transition that convinced her of the importance of understanding economic policy, and what brought her to study the topic in college and enter the field upon graduation.

Having gone to high school and having spent a lot of time in the Mission, Jennifer came to know the area well. She saw a neighborhood full of life, but sadly found that the “community is neglected in terms of social services.”

“People try really hard to achieve the American dream, but there are so many barriers to success,” she explained.

Having received the benefits of non-profit services growing up, Jennifer had always wanted to work in the non-profit world. With the position at MAF, she saw the opportunity to support a community she knew well while also applying her financial set.

“I was interested in working for a nonprofit because I wanted to be able to use my accounting skills while contributing to a greater purpose”

A typical work day doesn’t just involve Jennifer asking questions about her fellow staff members and sharing her life story, she spends them asking questions about her work. As I type this, she’s asking about a potential oversight with a client’s account. She works with John, our Finance Manager, to ensure the smooth operations of both MAF’s finances and its members.

She sees each day that “every client is unique and each has her own financial situation.” Though she loves working on Excel spreadsheets, her favorite part about her job is asking the right questions in order to meet every members’ needs.

Meet Isis Fleming: MAF’s problem-solving master

As MAF’s “People, Fun and Culture” Manager, Isis helps MAF run like a well-oiled machine.

Isis has a calm and steadied presence about her that can be felt all the way across the office. From what few office environments I have been in, I’ve come to see that the office manager rules all, and Isis is no exception. She interacts with everyone on the team everyday. So when she is out of the office – whether its for vacation or just going out to lunch – she’s greatly missed.

After a quick look at the job description for the People, Fun and Culture Manager, Isis’ interest was peaked. She’s worked in admin before and was therefore well acquainted with the multidimensional nature of admin work. So from a pure job description view, MAF’s “People, Fun and Culture manager” position seemed like a clear fit.

She loves “being able to pinpoint whatever this issue is and fix it”

And at MAF she wastes no time getting to it. She reflected on her first couple of weeks expressing her gratitude for the fact that she did not go through weeks of training. Instead she was able to apply the “I do it, I learn it” approach because thats the type of culture MAF embodies.

The nature of her job doesn’t allow time for training since she’s responsible for making so many of MAF’s wheels turn. Her tasks include everything from watering the plants to managing MAF’s move to helping with all of MAF’s event logistics. The upside to jumping into these wide-ranging projects from the start is that Isis came to see how much she connected with our mission.

“Having been raised in Watsonville where the majority of the community is immigrants…driving off the freeway [I saw] all the workers in the field unable to build credit because they are being paid under the table and below minimum wage.”

She has a deep appreciation for MAF’s role in credit-building especially in regards to immigrant populations. Her aunt participated in a Paluwagan, an informal lending circle in the Philippines. Her mother was an immigrant herself, so Isis knows first hand the challenges that arise when trying to become a citizen and acclimate to the United States.

“That aspect is what touched me initially,” Isis said.

Isis’ personal and professional life have blurred at a more basic level than this familial connection to MAF’s mission.

She laughs about restocking items in her own home well before they run out; the best occupational hazard I know of. But her life is much more than checking the pantry, of course. Isis loves hiking and has become a bit of a foodie since coming to SF for college.

Looking forward, she can’t wait to watch MAF continue to progress because it ensures that she never “knows what [her] day is like until [she] gets here.” Without a set routine, she sees the opportunity to grow along side such an innovative organization building its vision for change from the ground up.

A New Mindset: The John R May Leadership Award

An award recipient reflects on the meaning of success

This week, the San Francisco Foundation presented MAF with the 2014 John R May Community Leadership Award for addressing an issue that has particular relevance to the present time and place.

The SFF Community Leadership Award recognized our many accomplishments in helping hardworking families improve their financial lives. The award lifted up our cutting-edge technology making our Lending Circles Program efficient and scalable, it acknowledged our partnerships that amplify our impact nationally, and our advocacy for policy change that led California to becoming the first state to recognize credit-building as a force for good.

An awards ceremony is just the right moment to pause and reflect on our journey.

Over the past 7 years, we have been hard at work finding creative ways to break the barriers keeping millions of families in the financial shadows, with little access to mainstream, middle-class financial products and services. Early on, we knew that our clients were stuck with very bad financial options, making it that much harder for them to improve their financial lives.  From day one, we had the sense that hardworking people needed much more than another lecture from another do-gooder nonprofit on how to manage their money, or yet another brochure on how to balance their check book.

They needed actual tools that were responsible and relevant to their daily lives, tools that could actually breakdown barriers keeping them from accessing a world of possibilities in the financial marketplace. Understanding their perspective, appreciating their struggles and respecting the magnitude of their challenges, we set out to do just that with launching Lending Circles. And without a doubt in my mind, it’s working. But for MAF, it doesn’t end there.

Success is not merely to scale Lending Circles and serve more and more clients in communities through the Bay Area or even across the country. Success is actually about changing hearts and minds, especially in the nonprofit sector.

From program practitioners and policy advocates to funders and policy makers, we all need a new story about what is possible in the fight against poverty. We want to encourage and inspire others to move away from creating programs based on deficit models that belittle people. We need to create programs based on the inherent value of human beings — programs that recognize their dignity and strengths. We need bold policies that honor people, especially during their time of need. We need policies steeped in empathy, policies that recognize that everyone is deserving of help at one point or another.

We are grateful for the recognition and celebration of our work, validating that we are on the right path. And yet we know that our journey is far from over.



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