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Michaela Nee

Finding Courage in Crisis

As the nation’s first guaranteed income program for immigrant families, MAF’s Immigrant Families Recovery Program (IFRP) has been laser-focused on holistically supporting families in their financial recovery while learning about what is good and working in their lives. It takes courage to persist in the face of exclusion and ongoing financial hardship, but we’ve been hearing incredible stories of courage and resilience during crises from clients. In particular, the importance of entrepreneurship and self-enterprise has surfaced as a key financial strategy for many immigrant families hit hardest by COVID-19.

Paving their own way

Taking IFRP one step further as a program, we embedded evaluation to research and truly understand what it will take for immigrant families to recover faster. While many families are still actively participating in the program, early trends in the data are already showing us how they weathered the pandemic with grit and determination. Shut out from government relief programs, immigrant families found many savvy ways to make ends meet, like negotiating rental payments, selling possessions, and leaning on friends and family.

Immigrants are also investing in themselves, their families, and their futures through entrepreneurship. 1 in 5 immigrant families turned to self-employment to forge their own pathways to recovery and financial stability. Of these families, entrepreneurial income made up 75% of their household incomes–a significant influx of income that helped keep many families afloat in crisis.

People behind the numbers

The trends we’re seeing tell us part of a story about how immigrant families are innovating to survive, but numbers aren’t enough to understand the full breadth of their experiences. Over the past few months, we’ve spoken directly with many immigrant families across the country to hear their stories of courage during an unprecedented crisis. In our most recent webinar, we were honored to uplift stories from Luisa and Isidora, two women who took leaps of faith during the pandemic by starting their own businesses to provide for their families.

It takes immense courage to start a business during an economic crisis, but that’s exactly what Luisa and Isidora did. When turned away from other financial relief, these women took a leap of faith to support themselves and their families during incredibly uncertain times. While caring for her children during COVID, Luisa turned trash into treasure by collecting recycling from her neighbors for extra income. From selling fruits to flowers, Isidora embraced multiple avenues of entrepreneurship to fight for her family’s well-being. Both faced many barriers in their business journeys, but persisted nonetheless.

Immeasurable Love

A common theme we hear from many clients, including Luisa and Isidora, is how love and family is the motivator to push through the hardest days. Efrain Segundo Orozco, MAF’s Financial Education & Engagement Manager, summarized it perfectly during the webinar:

“Something that isn’t data-driven, something that we can’t measure, is the amount of love that drove these mothers to do what they did. The love that they have for their families was the spark that lit the fire that propelled them to do what they did, and that’s gonna continue to propel them to do what they’re gonna have to do. And that same fire is in a little spark that you could just find within them. It’s the same fire. It’s like sharing a candle that you could find across communities nationwide.”

While these sparks of love that keep people going are admirable, we must also acknowledge that it doesn’t mean the tough times are easy. Luisa shared with us that while starting her recycling business was great for her family financially, it also greatly improved her mental health in a difficult period of isolation due to COVID-19 and economic stress. In the words of Mariel Hernández, MAF’s Program Communications Specialist:

“People are strong and resilient, but being tough is tough. It takes a toll on people. But if we can find these moments of self-empowerment, then maybe it makes the tough journey a little bit easier.”

Our work continues

Every day, we’re learning more from the immigrant families we serve about what it will take to help them rebuild from COVID-19. It’s a long road ahead, but we’re in it for the long haul as we make strides towards a world that is equitable and just for the families we serve. We invite you to watch the recording of our most recent webinar, Finding Courage in Crisis, to get the full scoop on MAF’s emerging research and hear Luisa and Isidora’s full stories.

If you missed part one of our webinar series, check out the blog and event recording here to learn more about our IFRP research design.

Champion Spotlight: Monica Issar

Every weekend growing up, Monica watched her parents take out pen and paper to track all of their week’s expenses. As an immigrant family paving their way in the U.S., balancing the books enabled them to save for little joys like ordering pizza on a Friday night, and eventually send Monica to college. 

“[My mom] came to this country for education. It wasn’t just for hers, it was for ours. She realized that education empowered her to be able to make decisions on their own, to own a home by themselves, which they’ve never done before… I saw that growing up, and she wanted to give that gift to me.” 

College was a far-fetched dream for most of Monica’s childhood, but the financial strategies her parents learned while adapting to life in the U.S. were key in bringing that dream to life. When she got to university, Monica fell in love with her investing class and quickly understood the relationship between numbers, markets, and implications on people’s well-being.

“It wasn’t about the math. It was about what the math was helping people do… It was an enabler of more dreams for people.” 

Decades later, the gift of education from Monica’s parents is one that keeps on giving — her own daughter has already taken her first investment class in high school, marking the third generation in her family taking on key financial tools to bring their dreams to life. 

“I’m a testament to how important these [financial] skills are to get into the hands of all families…”

“I’m a living proof of how education, access to learnings of financial markets and how they work, has led me to get a better education, to work at this incredible company, to have the opportunity to partner with a place like MAF, and my daughter has lived through seeing me do that. At this point, we’re going to have the three generations of people who realize that education and access is a really important toolkit to carry around in their backpack.”

Today as Managing Director and Global Head of Multi-Asset & Portfolio Solutions at J.P. Morgan, Monica leverages financial tools and strategies to bring her clients’ own dreams and joys to life. We’re thrilled to welcome Monica to MAF’s board of directors, bringing her lived experience and financial expertise to help create a more equitable world for the families we serve.