Author: lending8

MicroLoan Spotlight: Yeral Caldas, Feeding the heart

Yeral was born in Chimbote, a coastal city in Peru. He has two brothers and two sisters. His mother had her own business and his dad worked in the field. After his parents divorced, he would go back and forth between them helping them work during his vacation. He would travel with his mother for her grocery business and then go to his dad who later worked in a restaurant. Yeral loved food and enjoyed working in the kitchen, preparing and cooking classic Peruvian meals.

It was there he began to dream of becoming a chef.

Yeral had a solid background to succeed as a restaurateur but coming to the United States for more opportunities brought on additional challenges. The two major ones he faced were the language barrier and not having a Social Security Number.

When Yeral would look for banks to give him a loan for his business, he was always blocked by not having a Social Security Number.

“Even though there was lot of difficulties, I was patient and had faith. I was convinced that the money would come because I had my idea of what I wanted to do,” Yeral said.

In 2011, Yeral was introduced to MAF through our staff members Joel and Doris. He credits them for reaching out to him, particularly because they both could speak Spanish with him and explained how MAF could help.

Yeral felt comfortable sharing his problems and his future plans to open his own restaurant. He went on to join two Lending Circles to build up his credit and applied for a microloan to invest in equipment and products for his business.

Yeral said his life has changed dramatically since coming to MAF. He feels more stable emotionally and economically and believes he can succeed as an entrepreneur.

His restaurant  Cholo Soy opened two years ago and he said it’s been “growing and growing.” Cholo Soy features a changing menu of Peruvian dishes like ceviche and Cabrito Norteno de Cordero (lamb shank). He cares deeply about creating a variety of dishes and highlighting the culinary offerings of all the regions in Peru to his customers.

Cholo Soy is growing in reputation. It’s on the first floor of Plaza Adelante building in the Mission District and currently only serves lunch. Once he has the capacity to do more, Yeral would like to be open all day from breakfast to dinner, hire more employees and move to a bigger location.

“My dream is to have many restaurants all over the country like a corporation and I manage them from the central location,” Yeral said.

His proudest moments have been when an article came out that gave Cholo Soy rave reviews and when senior city officials came to the restaurant and told him he served the best ceviche they’d ever tasted.

“When they say they want to eat my food, it makes me proud of my name and of my work,” he said. It’s not hard to see the passion and determination in Yeral’s eyes as he stands behind the small counter of Cholo Soy and happily passes out his food to the customers sitting on the bench in front of him. Despite the challenges of being an immigrant, he remains optimistic and even offered advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Don’t stop believing in your dreams. I believe in myself and that my food is great. There will be critics but don’t think about them. Just believe in yourself.”

Vote MAF for a better bay area

MAF is a finalist for the Google Bay Area Impact Challenge. We need your support to make the top 4!

We are excited to announce that Mission Asset Fund is a top 10 finalist in the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, a competition for local nonprofits to share their vision for innovation in the Bay Area community! We were chosen from over 1,000 local nonprofit organizations for the honor. It was a pretty crazy day at the office when we heard the news!

This is a defining moment for all of us who have been working hard to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. We’re so grateful for the recognition and this unique opportunity to take our work to the next level.

The Challenge

For the next 12 days, anyone in the world can vote for up to four of their favorite nonprofits (but only once!) from anywhere in the world, on computer or mobile phone.

The top four votegetters by June 2nd receive a $500,000 grant, technical assistance from Google and free co-working space!

Why you should vote MAF

Because we believe a better Bay Area is a place where entrepreneurs can afford to start their businesses, students can pay for college tuition, immigrants can apply for DACA and citizenship, and hardworking families can access credit.

There are 203,000 Bay Area families are struggling to get affordable loans, cash checks, rent apartments, or set up utilities. On average, 9.5% of their pay goes toward predatory lenders’ fees, trapping them in a cycle of debt and poverty. Over the next two years, we plan to partner with 28 nonprofits to offer our Lending Circles program which would give thousands of low-income individuals access to interest-free social loans and financial education. Together, we can build the financial capability of hardworking families so they can achieve their dreams.

Don’t forget to share our posts on social media to get your networks to #VOTEMAF!

We’ve got 12 days to make it to the top four.

Let’s do this!

Leveling up with new social loan sites

Today we are thrilled to unveil a brand new website. But to us, it’s really more meaningful than just a new look.

Welcome to our new digital home! Today we are thrilled to unveil a brand new social loan website.  But to us, it’s really more meaningful than just a new look.

It may look pretty, but it’s more than a new coat of paint

For a lot of organizations, a new website represents a new visual style. But for MAF, this is more than just a fresh coat of paint. It represents a new, bigger vision for our organization. From our first Lending Circle in San Francisco over six years ago to partnering with 25 nonprofits across 6 states, we’ve been able to help hard-working families lend and borrow nearly $3 million dollars. With visionary funders and a networked approach to partnership, we’re working together to bring hardworking people out of the financial shadows. That’s why it was time to rethink our logo, introduce a new blog and tell more stories. We worked with UX design experts at Digital Telepathy to bring this new site to life.

Our new online home will be a place for participants, partner organizations, and supporters to go for things they need. Potential participants will be able to find local providers and supporters will be able to stay up-to-date with the launch of our new blog, Credit Matters.

A new house, with new features

From our logos to mobile-friendly design, our site has new features:

  • Branding – our new logos represent inclusiveness and diversity embodied in the values of MAF 
  • Design – we’ve adopted a continuous scroll design, allowing us to show and tell our story better on laptops and mobile phones
  • Videos – visit our homepage to check them out some brand new videos
  • Credit Matters Blog – publishing fresh content of behind-the-scenes interviews to policy insights

With more improvements coming soon

In the next few weeks, we’ll keep you updated as we launch new features like zip-code searching (to help match members with social loan providers), online applications (that can be completed on a smartphone!), guest blog posts from leading researchers in the field, and even more stories.

Our new sites will help us level up

This site is part of what will allow us to achieve our vision of creating a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. With wealth inequality increasing, hard-working families across the U.S. are struggling for an equal shot. Fair access to credit and banking services plays a big part in building brighter future. That’s why it’s our job to make it easier for nonprofits to offer Lending Circles in their communities. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out a brand new loan servicing platform that will make it even easier for Lending Circle providers to bring financial products to underserved communities, everywhere.

So what do you say, do you like our new home?

You can help give us the best housewarming present ever! Share your love on your favorite social media site.

Building momentum in Chicago

Senior Account Manager Daniel Lau shares his experience on bringing Lending Circles to Chicago

I open an email from our CEO Jose: “Daniel, save March 31 and April 1 – we’re going to Chicago for a Lending Circles presentation!”

All right! I love traveling and haven’t been to Chicago for a few years. With generous support from Chase, we are now on the search for more Lending Circle Partner Providers in Chicago. It’s one of our target service areas and the first of a series of roadshows for 2014 to expand our programs and bring the savings, credit-building, and financial empowerment benefits to more low to moderate-income and recent immigrant communities across the United States.

It’s already been a week since I was in Chicago, but I’m still buzzing with excitement. The presentation went well – we even had people in the audience who are doing an informal Lending Circle help explain how it works! There is a ton of interest and potential from nonprofit groups. I had so many people come up to me at the reception that I didn’t even realize there was a whole other side of the room with more food!

The day after I was able to spend time with one of our newest Lending Circles Partners, the Chinese American Service League in Chicago’s Chinatown.

I sat in on their financial education workshop (my Mandarin listening skills were put to the test), strategized about Lending Circles implementation, got a tour of their offices and Chinatown, and had a delicious dim sum lunch!

Afterwards I moved over to the Pilsen neighborhood to visit The Resurrection Project. A beautiful mural greeted me as I entered the building. I learned about the many hats they wear in the community as a nonprofit property manager, financial education provider, and homeownership extraordinaires. Lending Circles would be a great complement and enhancement to their amazing work.

The Chicago roadshow led to the start of so many great relationships, I can’t wait to see how they grow and build the momentum for Lending Circles and financial capability for our communities.

Next up – Miami!

The Credit Catch 22

There’s always a catch. With credit, there’s a Catch 22! It’s too easy for hardworking people to get stuck in this Credit Catch 22. For example, if you want to build a great credit history, you have to have lines of credit. But in order to be approved for lines of credit, you have to show a history of repaying credit. Thus the credit catch 22!

Without a long credit, residential or banking history, you’re more likely to get stuck in this Credit Catch 22.

This is a real problem our clients run into when they want to get an apartment or a credit card but have no file or a very thin one. When a lender does an inquiry to find out if a person qualifies for a loan, that actually lowers the chance of being approved.Without a long credit, residential or banking history, you’re more likely to get stuck in this Credit Catch 22.

We want to help everyone get over feeling stuck, strapped or invisible.That’s why MAF offers products that give clients a responsible line of credit with our social loans and the financial education to finally escape and live a secure, empowered life. The infographic below lays out how the credit catch 22 works and some evidence of the phenomenon from our own members’ experiences.

Is a new logo like getting a new uniform?

When a new nonprofit is founded, it’s usually someone’s cousin or friend who gets the task of designing the new logo. They do the best job they can and the organization eagerly eats it up, grateful that one more thing is done. Even if they don’t realize it, the staff quickly adopts a brand identity created around that logo. With flyers and websites and presentations all using the same fonts and color schemes, they strive for making everything look like it has a sense of belonging. But after a while, the organization usually comes into its own and that old look just can’t keep up. Who the organization is now no longer matches the colors, fonts and visual style that it needs to represent itself to the world.

MAF, the nonprofit in San Francisco where I work, is no exception. About seven years ago, we were started by an amazing group of community advocates. When the Levi Strauss Company, a long-time neighborhood employer, closed its last factory in San Francisco, community leaders and the company forged together to imagine a new kind of future. With proceeds from the sale, they would create a new nonprofit to help low-income residents of the Mission District. And so Mission Asset Fund was formed. And a spouse of one of those community leaders created our first logo. When I look at the first logo, I imagine our members looking at the growth of their bank accounts over time, meeting various milestones along the way.

Our 2007 logo

But that was seven years ago, when the nonprofit had two employees, a few dozen clients and brand new programs. Now it’s seven years and several awards later and our social loans can still be found in the Mission District, but also in six other U.S. states. The old look with rigid building blocks has broadened into a larger tapestry of people, communities and nonprofits working to build a fair financial marketplace, together.

What colors your organization wears are meaningful.

Pink, a color that in the 19th century was reserved for the clothing of young boys, is now “only for girls,” according to my five-year-old son. Pink is also now associated with a nationwide network of breast cancer advocacy. For MAF, the dark blues of our first logo indicate knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness. But as anyone who knows us, we’re also agile, community-based and not afraid to change the conversation.

If a brand is everything someone says or knows about your organization, a logo is like a team uniform.

So year after year, even as your body grows and your mind matures, you can still be stuck wearing a uniform stitched together in 2007 back when the Sopranos faded to black. This time, we know where we’re going and we know how to get there. So we worked with the amazingly creative team at Digital Telepathy to come up with a uniform that fits who we are now.

Our new logo

We’ve traded the rigid shapes and dark blues for vibrant Pantone colors of varying sizes, energetic aqua blues, bright grass greens, rich purples.

We think our new look does a better job of showing the world what our vision for change is all about.

What does it say to you?

Shifting the focus on social lending

Jan Stürmann, a videographer based out of San Francisco, produced four awesome new videos highlighting MAF’s programs and how social lending really transforms people’s lives. He was gracious enough to share his thoughts with me on capturing our story and what he learned from the experience.

What is your process like when you begin a new video/storytelling project?

The first part is trying to get some sense of the story the client is trying to tell (which the real story is often only emerges in the editing process.) Then it’s identifying the key people who can tell this story. Before an interview I try to let my curiosity be my guide in generating a list of questions to ask. I find writing a script is generally not very helpful. It’s by engaging in a conversation, whilst trying to ignore the camera, that the surprising details emerge. Once I have the interview, I get it transcribed and from there build a first draft script. Then, ideally, I go back and shoot b-roll footage, which is what I lay over the interview.

Community and relationships are two important values for Mission Asset Fund. How did you try to capture those concepts in the videos?

I try to work as unobtrusively as I can, normally alone, so what ever interaction can happen as naturally as possible. My direction is never going to be as good as some surprise happening spontaneously. My job is to be attentive to those moments.

Was there a particular video you had the most enjoyable or interesting experience putting together?

It’s always a privilege to be invited into a world I’m unfamiliar with and to be trusted with people’s stories. On the surface a topic like money and credit seems boring. But talking honestly about money is one of the last taboos in our culture. Personally I’m very interested about how we interact with money. So being able to indulge that interest professionally was very gratifying for me.

Did you find it difficult to visualize financial concepts like credit and loans in an engaging way?

What I did not want to do going into this project was create a boring video filled with a lot of graphs and charts. The trick was to figure out how to find the stories behind the graphs and charts. We all grapple with money daily with varying degrees of awareness.

You can view the videos to explore the communities and projects that MAF is involved with at following links: The Power of OpportunityEveryone Deserves a Shot at Success, Creating a Fair Financial Marketplace, and  Building Credit, Building Communities

A dream no longer deferred

Edgar did something a few weeks ago that he had been dreaming of for the past two years. On a sunny day in San Francisco’s Mission District, Edgar walked into the Social Security Administration Office and began to fill out an application. You may remember Edgar and his partner Gustavo from when they were first profiled in the Bay Area Reporter. Mission Asset Fund and The Bay Area Reporter have been closely following Edgar and Gustavo’s two year journey.

Edgar and Gustavo had been chasing the American dream for most of their lives. A dream, that until recently, they thought could never come true. As children, they immigrated with their parents to the United States seeking opportunities and a better life. When they arrived they joined 11 million other undocumented immigrants living in the United States trying to get by.

Edgar and Gustavo at the Mission Asset Fund Office (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Chasing the American Dream

Two years ago, Edgar never thought he would one day be on track to realize his American Dream. Gustavo and Edgar’s lives had been severely limited by their undocumented status.  Edgar’s childhood dream of being a teacher had been put on indefinite hold after high school. He had been accepted to U.C. Berkeley, but was unable to enroll because undocumented students cannot access conventional loans or federal financial student aid.

Once joining the working world, Edgar was an exemplary employee, earning the respect of his coworkers and was recognized by his supervisors for his strong work ethic. All of this fell apart when he was offered a promotion. Edgar was unable to produce the documentation that the company requested and he was forced to leave

Gustavo was also unable to attend college and could only secure work after high school cleaning people’s houses, laboring for long hours and little pay.

Another challenge Edgar faced as an undocumented immigrant was being separated from his two young children. Without documentation, neither Gustavo nor Edgar can get on a plane to bring them home to San Francisco. Gustavo has only been able to talk with his children periodically on the phone. Gustavo and Edgar wait for the day that they would be reunited with the children to make their family whole.

A New Opportunity

In early 2012, Edgar and Gustavo’s lives would change forever when the Obama Administration announced a new program that would offer protection from deportation and permission to work for some undocumented youth living in the United States who had arrived before they turned 16 who had not yet turned 31.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was the opportunity they had been waiting for. Like many of the other undocumented people living in the United States Edgar and Gustavo were living unbanked and under constant financial hardship. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, and the four hundred and sixty five dollar application fee was seemingly out of reach. Edgar and Gustavo were determined to find a way to cover the costs.

Joining a Circle

Through friends and the SF LGBT Center, Edgar and Gustavo learned about the Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circle for Dreamers program. Lending Circles for Dreamers program provides zero-interest loans that allowed Edgar and Gustavo, and many other like them, access the four hundred and sixty five dollars they needed to cover the application fees. Over the course of the ten month program, participants take online financial training classes and build credit as they repay the loan. When participants are ready to apply for DACA, Mission Asset Fund gives them a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The two year journey to the Social Security Office for Edgar and Gustavo was filled with mountains of paperwork and miles of red tape. A now resolved paperwork issue forced Gustavo’s application to be put on hold for weeks, while a filing error forced Edgar to restart his application. Through it all, Gustavo and Edgar have always had each other for support. Now they have documentation, community, and credit history.

With their new ability to access the financial mainstream, they are one step closer to achieving their goals. The Lending Circle for Dreamers program and DACA have opened up the possibilities for Edgar and Gustavo. Edgar will now be able to go back to school, unite his family, and find stable work. As the ink dries on his Social Security application, Edgar’s dream is finally becoming reality.

Clearing the path for Lending Circles

Last month I joined Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) in Sacramento to introduce an important piece of legislation that will elevate the work of nonprofits who create pathways to the financial mainstream for underserved communities. Senate Bill 896 recognizes 501c3 nonprofits in California that offer affordable, credit building loans for individuals.

I brought with me Alicia Villanueva, Lending Circle member and entrepreneur, who was eager to share her success story. Alicia loves to say that her tamales are stuffed with love, and the best people are stuffed with her tamales. When Alicia first started her business, she and her young son Pedro would walk door to door, rain or shine, to sell their tamales. On a good week they may have made two hundred dollars in profit, barely enough to pay their rent. Alicia believed in her business but because she had accrued debt, traditional lenders wouldn’t take a chance investing in her.

Sn. Lou Correa, Alicia Villanueva, Jose Quinonez, Marisabel Torres, Jorge Blandon

Creating access

Alicia was not alone, fifty percent of Latino immigrants in the Mission did not have a checking account, and forty-four percent of mission households had no credit history. No mainstream bank would be willing to give a loan to someone without a credit score. When a family is living paycheck-to-paycheck they have little to no opportunity to build good credit, save money, or access the mainstream banking system.

People like Alicia, are forced to obtain high interest pay day loans or cash advances from predatory lenders. By establishing a licensing exemption within California’s Finance Lenders Law (CFLL), SB 896 will recognize and uplift nonprofits that have created highly effective programs by providing financially excluded communities’ greater access to affordable small-dollar loans and other services that create pathways into the financial mainstream.

Alicia’s experience as one of our Lending Circle participants was the turning point for her business. She accessed a thousand dollar, zero-interest, social-loan to purchase cooking equipment and to put a down payment on a food cart. What started as a labor of love has evolved into a thriving business, with eight employees who produce more than three thousand tamales a week. Alicia frequently caters events, and her tamales will soon be featured at the hot bar at the local Whole Foods.

Gathering Support

We are thrilled to announce that sixteen organizations have joined us to support SB 896. We have received letters of support from groups including Opportunity FundNCLR and the Center for Asset Building Opportunities. San Francisco Supervisor David Campos has also written a letter of support.

Without programs like Lending Circles, Alicia’s dreams of running her own business would have been impossible. Alicia was able to access capital safely and build her credit and confidence through our financial management training. She also received support from another nonprofit organization, La Cocina. SB 896 will provide more people with the opportunities they need for a fair shot at success.

Alicia is working hard on a business plan that will transform her bustling food cart into a brick and mortar restaurant. With the support she received from Mission Asset Fund she are moving towards achieving her goal. With the successful passage of SB 896 we will see more low-income Californians, like Alicia, accessing loans and building their financial stability to realize their dreams.

This is what 5 years of social lending looks like

Five years ago, we never could have imagined releasing this publication. When MAF first started it’s social lending program, Lending Circles, we had no idea where it would go. We were just trying out a new idea. But then that idea grew its own legs. It growing and expanding – all the way from one neighborhood in San Francisco to five U.S. states.

We’re excited to release this online magazine taking you through a tour of five years.

You can read for the first time our founder’s story. Jose Quinonez, our CEO, has an amazing story in this booklet about a young boy’s journey of opportunity and growth starting with a job at a flea market.

You’ll also find inspiring stories of lives that were changed by social lending. Read about one of our members, Christina Ruiz, who runs the amazing fashion truck in San Francisco called TopShelf Boutique (and be sure to visit her when you’re near San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria). Isa Hopkins wrote about her in the Grist Magazine article “Peer to Peer Lending Cuts out the Wall Street Middlemen“. For Christina, her first career as a bartender meant her finances were “cash-only”.

But what happens when a cash-only bartender wants to launch a fashion truck and needs a business loan from a bank?

You can also read about Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the dynamic Executive Director of the Pilipino Worker’s Center in Los Angeles. Everyday she helps low-income live-in domestic workers find ways to save money from their paychecks so they’ll be OK if a job ends unexpectedly. The staff PWC is a tight-knit community who gets serious stuff done. They are our only partner who runs all of our social loan programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Dreamers, Lending Circles for Citizenship and Security Deposit Loans. Their members affectionately call “Lending Circles” by its Filipino name, “Paluwagan”.   

But as everyone knows, great stories aren’t everything. Results matter, too.

That’s why you’ll also find great infographics showing how many millions people are saving by reducing high-cost debt. You’ll see average credit score increases and see what kind of a growth trajectory we’ve been on.

Where do you think we will go next?



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