Author: lending8

Lesson Earned #1: MAF Moves Pretty Fast

Join me as I strive to earn 11 lessons through my contributions to MAF

Check in each month to get a better picture of life here at MAF through the eyes of a recent grad looking to discover her next career step!

MAF moves pretty fast: If you don’t stop and contribute once and a while, you might miss it.

I’m a big fan of comedies. And John Hughes. So on my first day when everyone kept telling me “things move pretty fast around here,” I immediately thought of Ferris Bueller.

Though I’ve only been at MAF for a couple of weeks, I can see how true this statement really is. From Day 1, I was “thrown into the fire”. I sat in on my first set of meetings anticipating I was meant to take on an “observatory” role.

But at MAF there’s no time to just sit back and watch. By the time we’ve come up with an idea, we’ve already analyzed how to improve it and are in the midst of implementing the new plan.

Following the MAF tradition, Aparna (another New Sector Fellow), and I carved out time to meet with every member of the MAF staff. These one-on-ones began as purely informational – how do certain programs work? who are our partners? – and soon morphed into full-fledged brainstorming sessions.

I began to envision the larger picture, examining how the different departments at MAF connected and found myself seeking ways that I could bolster their communications.

It was my first task, and a very simple one at that, but my goal changed so suddenly and organically. What at once seemed like a very passive activity turned into my first project proposal – all within just two days of being here.

For any newcomer, especially a new fresh-off-the-grid grad like myself, the thought of coming in and making a new proposal outside your project’s scope seems like a terrifying get-you-fired-pronto strategy. But at MAF, it’s not just natural; it’s vital.

As a relatively new company MAF operates like a startup in many ways, meaning there are areas in which there is no rubric for success. After all, we’re attempting to tackle the otherwise unaddressed issue of bringing the unbanked out of the shadows;  there is no beaten path to follow.

Some can see this as worrisome, and it certainly is for me sometimes. Not always knowing the direction in which you should be heading can seem like a daunting task. Yet it’s also very comforting. Without strict processes to spend time understanding, I can inject my own ideas quickly and without question.

At MAF, the answers to the difficult problem we are trying to solve are unclear, but the need to answer them great. 

In such a case, hesitation can inhibit. Often times the longer I sit on an idea, the longer it takes me to follow through with it. Once I do, the moment has passed and the solution is obsolete. Thus the need to constantly be moving makes us better employees, better thinkers and better people. The ultimate reward, though, is an instantaneous unity that inevitably arises from partaking in this mentality.

By contributing in out-of-the-box ways and with out-of-the-box thinking, I unknowingly became part of the team and one with the culture. This mindset is what makes MAF tick and if you don’t jump on board fast, you’ll miss the ride.

Product and Research Fellow joins MAF

Aparna brings a love of people and numbers to MAF’s research team

My name is Aparna and I am the new Product & Research Fellow. Basically, my job is to work with MAF’s various teams, integrating technology and data to support and enhance what they already do so well; create systems through which service providers can demonstrate the immediate and long-term impact of their work with individual clients; and collaborate on the fascinating studies the Research Team is putting out, to help push forward our understanding of the broader implications of MAF’s work. As an aspiring policy modeler, I am very excited to engage with these different systems surrounding MAF’s work and lenses into the issue of asset-building.

I believe that the confluence of the quantitative, the qualitative, and the experiential, when done effectively, can truly transform the way we think about real-world problems.

During college, I built many close relationships through extensive volunteer work with the local community, which challenged me to think about how to use my technical background (B.S., Mathematics and M.S., Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University) to make meaningful impact. To this end, I spent a year on the Reporting and Data Modeling team of one of the nation’s largest HMIS providers and then another year conducting research under Prof. Sanjay Basu, using agent-based models to study the impact of neighborhood design on the physical activity levels of residents.

Now, I am thrilled to continue exploring my interests at MAF, through my fellowship with New Sector Alliance!

I’m truly thankful to be in such an innovative and forward-thinking place, which so cleanly integrates a focus on thought leadership, policy advocacy, and direct service to local communities.

In my spare time, I can be found volunteering with unhoused members of Palo Alto’s community, practicing Bharatanatyam (a style of Indian classical dance), exploring the Bay Area on foot, and striking up conversations with those I meet along the way.

MAF welcomes new Marketing Fellow

Meet Tori, who’s passionate about social enterprises and making an impact!

I’m so excited to be joining MAF’s team as the marketing fellow this fall. I’m a recent graduate of Davidson College (just outside of Charlotte, NC) where I studied international development. Outside of the classroom, I ran a student social enterprise called Hives for Lives which sold all-natural honey and donated all proceeds towards cancer research, while also educating the larger student population of the sector’s potential impact.

As I began my search for post-graduation jobs, I knew I wanted to continue my work in the social sector, but venture into a new industry.

That’s when I came across New Sector Alliance, a fellowship program that matches fellows with social sector organizations for a year of service. New Sector immediately matched me with Mission Asset Fund. I fell in love with the mission almost instantly! After stalking the website, reading the project scope and talking with other MAF employees, it just seemed like a natural fit.

This year, I’ll be writing my own blog series and helping MAF improve its communication streams by analyzing the data on their current strengths and problem areas. I can’t wait to learn about the financial industry, get to know MAF’s members and staff, and contribute to the growth of this incredible organization.

When I’m not serving with New Sector, you can find me at a local concert (everything from classical to indie to pop), Giants or 49ers game or wandering the streets of SF with camera in hand.

Being an Advocate for Prosperity

Lessons learned from the 2014 Assets Learning Conference

When I came to MAF last year as New Sector fellow, I knew very little about domestic economic development policies, since I was more interested and familiar with international development in college. So when the opportunity came up to attend the CFED Asset Learning Conference, I was eager to hear about all the different approaches to big problems like alleviating poverty in the U.S. and addressing economic inequality and the nation’s wealth gap along with getting practical skills on how to build a movement to achieve these goals. There was so much covered over this three day conference but I took  away 3 main lessons:

We need an inclusive platform of products

Michael Sherraden, professor and founder of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke in the opening plenary about research he conducted that shows increasing labor income is not enough to impact household wealth. Families also need additional support, and therefore the field needs to look at building their assets as a whole. One inspiring idea he offered is a universal savings account that starts automatically at birth for every child, leading to more savings and investment for children’s education. Sherraden said the product is already being tested in Oklahoma, and has a promising future.

I found the session on public benefits program really important because it touched on the numerous policy-related barriers for families trying to reach financial stability. Mariana Chilton’s research revealed how low to moderate-income people are less encouraged to save and report their full income because of fear that they will lose welfare even though they are barely scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck and working multiple jobs. Lucy Mullany from Illinois Asset Building Group shared their successful campaign in Illinois to remove TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) asset limits. It took a diverse group of co-sponsors to build enough support and push out the right messages that convinced the legislature it was a smart move.

Ezra Levin of CFED mentioned a few federal proposals to get rid of asset limits such as ABLE (Achieving Better Life Experience) Act and the CSA (Childrens’ Savings Account) Opportunity Act. There are a number of challenges in getting these proposals through, but they have the potential to help ensure hardworking families aren’t taken advantage of in the war on poverty.

Entrepreneurship is an asset for minority communities

Bill Bynum of HOPE Enterprise Corporation works in the Deep South, in predominately African-American communities, which he described as “ground zero of poverty” in our country and spoke about the need for more accessible, affordable financial products to serve the financially insecure families, aspiring homeowners and small business entrepreneurs there. Lisa Hasegawa of National CAPACD (one of MAF’s partners) shared her experience working to empower Asian American and Pacific Islander communities with financial services. I appreciated the fact that she reminded the attendees that race still matters when it comes to economic equality as does citizenship status. Communities of color are facing rapid gentrification (something I see first-hand in the Bay Area) and are less likely to have investment in business, education, access to quality food, and financial resources in their areas. The AAPI community, for example, is one of the fastest growing poverty populations in the US after the recession. She pushed us all to build relationships between the racial justice and asset-building movements in order to close the racial wealth gap.

Panelists from Chicago, D.C. and L.A. shared positive stories and initiatives taking place in their cities to spur entrepreneurship and business development for communities of color.  Some of their innovative projects include a small business center with special trainings, business accelerators, and youth IT ambassadors, open co-working spaces, consulting for small business ideas, and accelerated education programs with local universities.

Coalition building is key

I got the amazing opportunity to go to Capitol Hill with a group of colleagues from Northern California to visit the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Barbara Lee to advocate for issues like payday regulation, child savings accounts,access to financial products and tax reform. I shared our recent success passing SB 896 and how it could be used as a model for other states to expand credit-building opportunity as well as the impact of Lending Circles on members’ credit scores and debt. Even though we all had different agendas, we were able to tie them together and present a cohesive narrative that showed we were on-the-ground experts on asset-building that could be a resource for the representatives. In total, there were 400 participants from 45 states that met with policymakers, which is sure to send a strong message about the urgent need for federal policies to expand economic opportunity. 

Members of the Assets and Opportunity network got together for some leadership intensives on advocacy and op-ed writing. I gained a lot of useful strategies to implement into my daily work, such as writing an effective story pitch and who to send it to, crafting op-eds that are one part description of the problem and two parts prescription to the problem, including engaging anecdotes and tying stories to timely current events.

We also talked about how everyone could leverage the network more effectively to share best practices, learn more one another’s struggles and support any policy or advocacy campaigns taking place. Some ideas we came up with were creating virtual coffee hours, webinars and regional working groups within the network. It was great to hear how everyone was so motivated to help empower their communities economically whether it was regarding home ownership, financial education, citizenship, small business and credit-building.

My goal attending the Assets Learning Conference was to come out with more confidence and skills to be a more informed advocate for our clients and to elevate the need for investment in asset-building. I’m thankful for the opportunity to network with colleagues in the field, learn more about the various innovative research and programming available as well as have my first Capitol Hill experience!

MAF wins prestigious Community Leadership Award

The San Francisco Foundation reveals the winners of the 2014 Community Leadership Awards

This week, The San Francisco Foundation announced the winners of the 2014 Community Leadership Awards, recognized for their outstanding contributions to the Bay Area community.

“Our work is to lift up the best practices and leaders who are building opportunities for Bay Area communities to thrive, both today and for generations to come,” said Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation. “This year’s awardees are a beacon of that promise.”

Removing barriers and creating opportunity for economic growth are essential for our region to thrive. This year’s Community Leadership Awardees, as individual and organizational leaders, are addressing some of the most pressing issues in our region: ensuring that no one is left on the brink by creating pathways to financial security and academic achievement, and by preserving cultural programs and supporting artists and in the Bay Area.

TSFF celebrates people who are rolling up their sleeves, taking initiative, and solving problems in their neighborhoods and communities.

Javier getting interviewed by Citizen Film

The Community Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations whose leadership has made a significant impact in their specific Bay Area communities. This work may confront societal or civic issues, address health or environmental concerns, or promote arts and humanities. The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) is the community foundation serving the Bay Area since 1948, granting more than $808 million over the past ten years.

Out of the four award winners this year, there are only two organizations being honored with a prize of $20,000 each:

  • Mission Asset Fund – Awarded the John R. May Award, made for organizational initiatives in response to a significant contemporary problem.
  • Headlands Center for the Arts – Awarded The San Francisco Foundation Award: a community choice award made to an organization demonstrating exemplary commitment to creating greater equity and opportunity in the Bay Area.
Sophie interviews Jose on Mission St.

The remaining two awards of $10,000 will be given to notable individuals (Linda Tillery and Luis Granados).

MAF’s long-time board member, Santiago Ruiz, the Executive Director of Mission Neighborhood Centers was responsible for nominating MAF for the award. Thank you, Sam! And a big thank you to the San Francisco Foundation!

As part of the award, last week I got to spend time with Sophie Constantinou from Citizen Film in the cool offices at Salesforce downtown, right on the corner of Mission Street with our CEO Jose, and at the construction site of one of our amazing clients, Javier. They’re currently editing the film that will be unveiled at the ceremony on the 7th. We can’t wait to see it unveiled!

The awards will be presented on October 7 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Will we see you there?

SB 896: A Special Policy Briefing

Join MAF’s CEO, Jose Quinonez, in a discussion on the historic passing of California’s SB 896

Mission Asset Fund warmly invites you to our SB 896 Policy Briefing webinar on Monday, September 29 at 10:00 AM PST. MAF’s CEO, Jose Quinonez, will lead the discussion on the historic passing of California’s SB 896 from its initial conception to finally becoming law on August 15th, 2014.

Gov. Jerry Brown, signs the state budget surrounded by Assembly Speaker John A. Peréz, D-Los Angeles, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, right, on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif..

This event is open for all nonprofit staff, policy advocates, and anyone interested in advancing the financial advocacy and asset-building fields. With this law, credit-building becomes the next frontier for asset-based policy.

This is a momentous occasion for us, but an even bigger moment for the asset-building field.

On August 15th, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 896 into law, making California the first state to regulate and recognize credit-building as a vehicle for good. We will be talking about how MAF and it’s supporters worked to get this new law written, supported, and signed into law.

We encourage you to check out our SB 896 fact sheet prior to the webinar and be ready with questions!

Our discussion will cover the barriers we faced in creating the law, the vital support we received from our partners and community leaders to create momentum for this significant legislation. Finally, we will dive into how SB 896 will pave the way for more hardworking people to access 0% credit-building loans.

Please sign up today to join us on September 29th! REGISTER NOW

Donor Spotlight on Robby Pinkard

Robby is passionate about energy and sustainability. Find out why he was inspired to be a MAF donor.

Introducing our Donor Spotlight series, where we share a little about one of our Social Investors and thank them for taking action to support the financial empowerment of communities through credit-building.


A Trinity grad, Robby works in energy research with the Royal Bank of Canada. Last year, he and his wife moved from Austin to San Francisco. Robby has come to love San Francisco’s staircases on hills, food and culture.

Even as a new resident, he started to notice how rapidly San Francisco’s neighborhoods are changing and gentrifying. Because of this reality, he knew that it would be imperative to invest in the right kinds of support for the city’s lower-income individuals.

Every year, Robby and his wife pick different local organizations to support and get involved with. His interests in finance, policy and the environment motivate him to think constantly about how to make positive change. After he heard about MAF on Marketplace and walked by our old office on Valencia, he did something unusual.

Before he decided to invest, he wanted to meet us first. So last year, we had the opportunity to sit down with Robby, find out about where he grew up (DC), share with him our favorite neighborhood events (Dia de Los Muertos) and talk about our vision for the future.

A few months later, we got word that Robby decided to donate to MAF (and was able to double it with the Royal Bank’s employee matching program!). He told us that he felt Lending Circles was a great antidote to a growing citywide problem.

We recently gave Robby a call to ask him – “Wait, why did you donate to MAF?” He told us: “When I think of charitable giving, I want to make a sustainable impact.”

Because the idea of building people’s credit, helping them start businesses and taking care of their finances so that they can give back to the community is something he believes will make a lasting impact.

When we talked to Robby last year, we were knee deep in a website redesign. Now, with an active blog (and editorial calendar to match), we just had to ask him for some feedback.

Out of curiosity, we asked, “Wait, can you tell us what you think we are doing well? Or what do you want to hear more about?” Robby didn’t hesitate.

He said he loved hearing about how members are using Lending Circles and checking out our website for statistics on our program impact. We invite you, our readers, to check out his favorites today.

Thank you Robby for the talk and for choosing to invest in MAF and in the future of hardworking families in San Francisco and beyond.

Join Robby and Give Credit today!

SPUR of the moment

MAF explores the connection between urban planning and financial access.

It’s mid afternoon on an exceptionally warm summer day in San Francisco as people begin to file into a sun-drenched room at SPUR’s offices on Mission and 2nd Street waiting to hear about creating a new path to financial empowerment. Unlike the usual groups of people (banks, tech companies, nonprofits, asset-builders) who usually come to hear Jose talk about MAF, all of the people in this room are urban planners.

These are the people who work to make the city’s streets navigable, the buildings impressive and unobtrusive, the parks green and inviting, and the traffic flowing smoothly. So why would urban planners – people who are interested in the tangible aspects of city planning –  be interested in financial empowerment? Simply put, a strong vibrant city needs an economically empowered base.

A city is like a living organism; when its residents get stronger, the entire city gets stronger.

Jose started with talking about how important economic empowerment is for creating a sustainable urban environment. It’s not an argument we often talk about because we’re usually in a different sort of crowd. So we weren’t entirely sure how this would go over, but to our surprise the crowd was in full agreement.

We used this opportunity to dig deeper into the meaning of financial empowerment and its immediate impacts upon communities and cities. We talked about innovative approaches to creating financially empowered communities that no longer have to resort to subsisting on payday loans and other high cost debt.

One of the SPUR members asked, “I’d love to see an effort made to make credit unions feel more accessible… by emulating Check Cashing stores.” Jose replied, “ While on the surface that may seem like a constructive idea, to create a familiar space for individuals. Emulating pay day lenders would encourage and reinforce the cycle of debt as well as the subsistence patterns that we are trying to move people away from.”

By emulating a pay day lender, we are not modeling positive financial behaviors. We want to move people from those groups towards lower cost, mainstream financial services.

It was at this point the crowd fully understood what MAF was about. When we meet people where they are, we recognize the financial aptitude of our members as well as how they navigate the financial pain points of their lives.

We see the financial savviness they have developed and we use it to transform them. For us, neither subsistence nor replacement is the goal. We don’t want to replace a broken system with another system. We want to move our members to a functional and formalized pattern of saving, investing, and credit building.

Economic planning goes hand-in-hand with the financial stability of an entire city. That’s just as important as creating bike lanes that are wide enough or buildings that are up to code. It’s about taking a longer view of sustainability of a city, its culture, and the quality of life for everyone. Urban planning does not end with the sidewalk; it begins with the people who use that sidewalk.

Leonor Brings Sunshine to the Community

Find out how Leonor used Lending Circles to launch a business to promote good health in her community

For as long as Leonor Garcia can recall, the driving force in her life was to support her community. Even when she was a little girl in El Salvador, Leonor says she always had a keen sense for business, but would use her savviness to help the people around her.

She grew up on a sprawling tobacco farm which her father and mother were in charge of. On the side, her mother owned a small shop that sold food, beverages and other items for the men working in the field. Leonor would spend all of her time tagging along with her father as he inspected the fields, managed the workers, and tended to the crops. When the growing season had ended, she would go with her mother and watch her negotiate sales prices and contracts with various companies and stores that wanted to purchase the tobacco.

Leonor learned a great deal about business and the relationship between products and money, but she also learned that working for the community yields the greatest rewards.

Leonor went on to become a teacher in a local school. For her, teaching children was a dream job. She worked her way up to become the headmaster of the school. During this time, Leonor kept her dream of entrepreneurship alive by owning and running a highly successful grocery store. After she retired from teaching, she decided that it was also time to sell the store. Leonor needed a new adventure and she knew just where to find it. She knew that in the US she would have more opportunities and more freedoms to grow a business.

After moving to the US in 2001, Leonor wanted to start her new business immediately, but she was blocked. Whenever she went for a loan, she was denied because she had no credit. For Leonor, that was a slap in the face. She had run a highly successful business in El Salvador while running a school. She also grew up watching and learning everything she could from her parents.

Leonor wouldn’t give up, but she needed a reliable way of getting money and building her credit. That’s when she found out about Mission Asset Fund through one of her friends. She was able to get a micro loan and build up her credit for future investment. The loan helped her purchase a generator, display shelves and other medical equipment to open up her business, Leonor’s Nature Sunshine.

Leonor’s Nature Sunshine is a business built upon Leonor’s desire to help people live healthier lives.

She provides the latest natural health products, supplements, diagnostic tests and homeopathic remedies for people’s needs. A few minutes in her chair and Leonor will know exactly what ails you and how to fix it! Leonor believes in finding affordable products that treat the root of the problem and the whole system. Her most popular products are for digestion, chlorophyll and probiotics.

Leonor’s store used to be located in a flea market in Richmond, but after her surgery, she moved it to the comfort of her home which was also more private and confidential for clients. She is so client-centered that if they can’t pay her upfront, clients are able to pay her in installments for their purchases. Leonor has become so popular that people come to her house daily to have a meeting with her.

After she appeared on local TV last year, Leonor said she was inundated with calls as soon as the interview was over.

“People said ‘it’s such a blessing to have your phone number!’,” she recalls with a laugh.

Through her successful business Leonor has been able to focus on healing her community and she’s got big dreams for her future. “ I want to have more capacity and more recognition to help people have a satisfied, healthy life,” she says. Leonor also wants to challenge herself new trends in her field, attend conferences and become savvier with social media. She hopes to improve her economic status and begin training others as health promoters.

Right now, Leonor is training her husband, a welder, to work with her in the business. Her interest in nonprofits motivated her to be an ambassador and funder for A New America’s first entrepreneurship class as well as donate funds and time to various nonprofits around the Bay Area. She says that without MAF, none of this could have ever happened and she is thankful every day that she has been given this amazing opportunity to be Mother Nature in her community.

SB 896 passes! CA becomes first state to recognize credit-building

It took just 13 months to build the future of nonprofit credit building

In June of 2013, we started laying the groundwork for a piece of legislation that would change the way the state of California thinks about credit-building. Just last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed our bill, SB 896, into law. This is momentous for Mission Asset Fund, but an even bigger moment for the asset-building field. Nonprofit organizations and advocates throughout the state joined SF Treasurer Jose Cisneros and CA Controller John Chiang in support of the bill early on. The bill received unanimous bipartisan support throughout the legislative process, receiving zero votes in opposition.

The passage of SB 896 makes California the first state to regulate and recognize credit-building as a vehicle for good. With this law, credit-building becomes the next frontier for asset-based policy.

Our nation has a long history of legislating policies that help low-income families build assets – from home ownership and investment tax benefits to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and Individual Development Account (IDA). But until now, credit-building has been largely missing from the discourse around poverty alleviation.

What the 90’s taught us about the need to accumulate savings among low-income households was important; liquid savings is now widely understood to be one of many indicators of the financial resilience of a hardworking family. But when we started Mission Asset Fund, we quickly understood that it would take more than savings to build financial capability in the long run. During the 2007-2009 recession, in a time when mortgages went underwater and personal debt for the lowest income Americans soared, our nation learned even more about credit and debt. 64 million Americans don’t have credit scores right now. That means they don’t have equitable access to things like low-cost bank accounts or prime-rate loans. In fact, many of them can’t even qualify for IDAs, affordable apartments or sometimes even jobs. Their choices are limited to fringe and predatory financial services that entrap them in a cycle of high cost debt.

That’s why our vision was to create a new law that – for the first time – would establish and regulate innovative credit-building approaches so that nonprofits in California could band together to change the financial marketplace for the better. Key elements of SB 896 include:

  • The State of California declares that nonprofit organizations have an important role to play in helping individuals obtain access to affordable, credit-building loans
  • A licensing exemption within the California Finance Lenders Law (CFLL) for 501c3 nonprofits facilitating zero-interest loans of up to $2,500
  • Nonprofit organizations will be able to apply for exemption to provide zero-interest loans, as long as they meet other criteria like provide credit education, report to national credit agencies, open books to the Department of Business Oversight upon request, and annually report lending data to the DBO
  • Recognition of partnerships between nonprofits as an effective strategic way to scale reach and impact throughout the state

SB896 provides regulatory assurance to programs like MAF’s Lending Circles, a social loan program which has provided over $3 million in zero-interest loans to clients nationwide. We are extremely grateful that Governor Brown recognized the enormous potential of the nonprofit sector in helping millions of underserved Californians realize their true economic potential. The enactment of SB896 means that more nonprofits will work with low-income Californians by providing them access to responsible loans, loans that will set them up for success and set them on a path to financial security.

California is now the first state to recognize credit-building loans as an important community-based solution to creating access for the underbanked.



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