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Author: Nesima Aberra

Looking Ahead in 2015

We’re deepening our commitment to Deferred Action applicants and business owners with new programs.

It’s a new year and we’ve got a number of new changes in our programming in 2015 as we take steps to help more people navigate the financial marketplace and realize their full economic potential.

Origination Fee

After the enactment of SB 896 in August 2014, we now have recognition in California for zero-interest, credit-building loans as a tool for good. As we scale and expand in the San Francisco Bay Area, sustainability is a key element to MAF’s ability to reach more clients. In order for us to continue delivering the quality level of service and products, beginning in 2015, we are instituting a small origination fee of 5 to 7% for MAF’s clients in California.

Our loans will still remain zero-interest but this new fee supported by SB896 will allow us to cover the administrative costs from providing financial education, reporting the payment data to credit bureaus, facilitating transactions, and securing the private data with the best technology in the field. With this new source of funding, we plan to invest deeply in the community and ensure more people are able to participate in the Lending Circles program.

We’re also excited to share some new programs rolling out this year:

Lending Circles for Deferred Action

With President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, about 5 million more immigrants to the United States have the opportunity to apply for Deferred Action, an administrative relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants.

At MAF, we’ve offered two specific programs, Lending Circles for Citizenship and Lending Circles for DREAMers, to helping aspiring citizens and youth finance the cost of their citizenship and DACA applications. We’re proud to deepen our support for hard working immigrants with the launch of Lending Circles for Deferred Action to include anticipated applicants to the new DAPA program in the upcoming months. Expansion of this new program is made possible thanks to a PRI from the Rosenberg Foundation.

Lending Circles for Deferred Action will be kicking off in Los Angeles, thanks to a grant by the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation. The program will support 300 eligible applicants to reduce the cost of applying for Deferred Action by 33% – from $465 to $310. Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Pilipino Workers Center and Korean Resource Center are the first Lending Circles partners to offer this program to the community.

And in San Francisco, we’re partnering with the Mexican Consulate to support Deferred Action applicants of Mexican descent with a 50% match.

Lending Circles for Business

MAF has many Lending Circles members who are building or repairing their credit to invest in their small businesses, so we’ve created Lending Circles for Business. This program is specifically focused on aspiring and current business owners who have completed a Lending Circle before. Participants will get an up-front loan that helps build credit and open doors to more affordable business lending options in the future.

Check out what some of our entrepreneurial members have accomplished so far to see how important good credit is to running a successful business.

If you’re excited about these opportunities, be sure to check out more about Lending Circles and sign up to join!

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!

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.

New Latthivongskorn: From dreams to medical school

New is a passionate public health advocate and the first undocumented student to enter UCSF Medical School

It was near the end of high school when Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn realized that he wanted to make an impact on the American healthcare field. His mother was rushed to the hospital in Sacramento after fainting and losing significant blood. They soon discovered that she had several tumors to take care of. New’s parents were recent immigrants from Thailand and didn’t speak English. His older siblings were busy with work, so New had to help his family navigate a complex healthcare system from translating at doctor visits, taking care of his mother, and handling insurance matters.

“It was the beginning for me to think about what I could have done in the situation, like if I was a doctor or healthcare provider,” he said.

New’s parents had given up so much after economic and social burdens pushed them to move to California from Thailand when New was nine years old. His parents worked long hours at restaurants as waiters and cooks in order to make ends meet. Their drive motivated New at a young age to excel academically and master the English language so he could achieve the American Dream. But because New was undocumented, there were still countless obstacles awaiting him on that journey.

New applied to a variety of University of California schools and was accepted into UC Davis with the Regents Scholarship that would have covered most of tuition costs. Right before the school year would have started, the scholarship offer was rescinded because he was missing an important document in his paperwork: a green card.

Growing up, New had experienced fear of friends and the greater community finding out about his status, but this was different. “That was my first time coming up against an institutional barrier,” he said. New was prepared to go to community college instead but his family came together to support one year at UC Berkeley.

After that, he would have to find the funds to continue on his own. “In my second year of college, I started getting desperate,” he said Luckily, in 2010, he received a scholarship from Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), nonprofit that supports low-income immigrant students in their pursuit of a U.S. college education. That was a gateway for New to becoming active in organizing for immigrant rights.

Getting involved with groups like the E4FC, ASPIRE, and groups on the UC Berkeley campus opened up New’s eyes to a community of undocumented students who were facing the same struggles. As he neared his graduation from Berkeley, New refocused his goal to going into the medical field but he still had so many questions as an undocumented person. “Is it even possible to go to med school? Where would I apply? How would talking about my immigration status affect my chances?” New said, remembering the confusion he felt.

“We didn’t know anyone who had gotten in to med school as undocumented but people said they had heard of someone who had heard of someone…It was like trying to find a unicorn.”

To solve that lack of structure and support, New co-founded Pre-Health Dreamers with two colleagues from E4FC, a group that two years later is growing across the country to empower undocumented students in their pursuit of graduate and health professional studies. After graduation, New interned at organizations relating to healthcare access and policy, which caused him to become interested in public health alongside the practice of medicine. “My parents and friends are undocumented and when they get sick, they don’t have access which is ridiculous.

I want to change that.” Shortly after DACA passed, New heard about Lending Circles and other programs that helped finance the cost of the application. He had already applied for DACA but he was interested in learning about credit-building. Now that he and his friends had SSN numbers, joining the Lending Circles could help them get started on a path of financial stability. New used his loan to build credit and pay for his medical school applications. “It has been very helpful. Now I have good credit and learned a lot after going through the financial trainings at MAF about managing money,” he said. All of New’s hard work paid off because he is now the first undocumented medical student accepted to UCSF School of Medicine.

With one week away, he is anticipating the start of an exciting journey and passing the Pre-Health Dreamers torch to the next generation of leaders. His main piece of advice for other undocumented youth is to speak up and seek help. “I got here because I had organizations that helped me come to term with what it meant to be undocumented,” he said. “As an Asian, undocumented youth, the fear was so much more pronounced. I know what it’s like to have silence define my life and my family’s.” New believes in finding mentors and advocate to help find opportunities. Perseverance is also key for him when making decisions.

“There is so much uncertainty but never take no for an answer. You don’t know until you try. I am living proof of that. If I hadn’t tried, I would not have had the opportunities I have had–I would not be here today.”

Welcome Ximena, Financial Services Manager

She brings her passion for business and community to the MAF team!

Ximena Arias joined MAF as a Financial Services Manager in May 2014. With her passion for entrepreneurship and her multicultural upbringing, she was a perfect fit for the job.

Born in Colombia, Ximena moved to the US at age 12 with her parents and younger sister. After the family settled in Miami, Florida, Ximena struggled to adjust to middle school. Luckily, her English as a Second Language classmates became a support group for her.

“We all related to each other being bi-cultural and gained an understanding of how to relate to others,” Ximena said.

Back in Colombia, Ximena’s parents ran a dental product supply business. Her father was the strategy behind the business, overseeing the operations, while her mother was the face of the business, working to bring in clients and build relationships with dentists in the area. Ximena believes she is a combination of her parents and picked up invaluable skills from both of their experiences.

Ximena loves being surrounded by diversity and describes Florida as a “big melting pot of Latin American immigrants.”

She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and some German. She attended the University of Florida and received a BA in Linguistics and Business Administration and later a Masters in International Business. After she graduated, Ximena taught English and worked with international students.

Coming to the Bay Area, Ximena wanted to give back and follow her passion for connecting people with the resources they need to make better, informed choices. She worked at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment before coming to MAF. She appreciates the Lending Circles model because it is familiar to immigrants and practiced all over the world. In her role as Financial Services Manager, Ximena oversees small business coaching, the microloan program, financial education and local client management.
“I love the way MAF sees a bigger picture, which is critical to make a difference. It’s really accessible and replicable in a way that works with communities and partners, ” she said.

“Replicating this program is an example of how nonprofits leverage technology and I am looking forward to seeing the organization grow.”

Working in the Mission District gives Ximena fond memories of Latin America from the food to the businesses and art. Outside of work, she loves music and hopes to one day compose her own songs. She’s also really great at whistling any song you tell her! Ximena enjoys exploring the thriving community and culture of Oakland, where she lives with her husband.

Welcome to the team, Ximena!

Microloan Spotlight: Elvia Buendia, Cupcake Boss

Elvia loved desserts, so she followed her heart and opened her own cupcake shop!

Elvia Buendia grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. As the youngest of 6 children, she was raised in a protective, loving, moderate-income family. She had a passion for desserts which stemmed from spending time in the kitchen with her mother who would use farm-fresh ingredients to whip up delicious homemade pastries and cakes.

Elvia studied computer programming for three years and then got married. After a few years, she and her husband decided that they wanted their family to have more opportunities and moved to San Francisco.

Elvia thought that she would be able to stay at home with her children and work from home as a computer programmer. She found it hard to find stable work and decided that it would be better to focus on raising her children.  One day, her son asked her what she loved to do most, she answered: “Baking.”

And that’s when everything changed.

The first cake Elvia made for her family afterwards didn’t turn out well because she mixed up using Celsius and Fahrenheit cooking temperatures in the recipe.

“ I remember dumping the cake out on the the plate and it fell with a thump. My son then exclaimed, ‘Look, Mommy made a tire!’” she recalls, with a laugh.

After that, Elvia signed up for cake decorating and baking classes as a hobby. Once she began taking her cakes to friends and parties, people wanted her to bake them cakes as well.

“That’s when I thought, oh I can start a business!” Elvia says.

But starting a business was not simple. Elvia had a lot of debt at the time but after coming to Mission Asset Fund for help, she was encouraged to apply for a microloan. She used the $5000 loan to invest in a fridge, business license and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes.

Baking homemade desserts may seem like a luxury to most people, but for Elvia, it’s an essential part of her day and something she believes anyone can do if they truly enjoy it.

She believes in using fresh, natural ingredients for her cupcakes and cake pops just the way her mother taught her.

Red velvet, mocha chocolate, honeymoon cranberry orange, are just a few of the delicious flavors Elvia offers. La Luna Cupcakes started as online orders only and worked out of the La Cocina incubator. Elvia would deliver the orders and cater special events herself.

In 2013, La Luna Cupcakes was able to move into a physical store in the Crocker Galleria in downtown San Francisco. Elvia also has hired 4 employees to work with her, including her husband who joined last December!

Elvia’s life is very different from what she dreamed of.

Running a business can be stressful financially with the challenges of sales and promotion, but she says she has a simple and easy life. She’s been married for 25 years and has two kids- a 22-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Even after all these years, her favorite thing to do is open the oven and smell the fresh cupcakes.

“It makes me think of all the time I spent with my mother in her kitchen,” Elvia says with a smile.

This December, Elvia will have paid off her loan and looks forward to expanding La Luna Cupcakes. Her goal is to open up stores in two more locations and she cites her children as her motivation to continue her business.

“I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”

Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at

Welcome Carmen Chan, DREAMSF Fellow!

Carmen, a Dreamer from Venezuela, shares her story and dream to help undocumented youth.

Carmen Chan recently joined the MAF team as an Outreach Fellow through the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs’ DREAMSF Fellowship. The DREAMSF Fellowship is an opportunity for DACA-approved youth to serve San Francisco’s immigrant communities while gaining valuable professional experience and training. We’re excited to have Carmen work with us and want to share a little bit about her through an interview!

1.What inspired you to apply to the Dream SF Fellowship?

I was looking for something to do over the summer and then my academic adviser send me an email about the Dream SF Fellowship. I also wanted to do something for the undocumented community because I wanted to find out what kind of a leader I can be. I applied and I was accepted!

2. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Venezuela. I just graduated from San Francisco State University double majoring in History and Spanish. I attended Everett Middle School and Galileo High School in San Francisco. I came to San Francisco when I was 12 years old with my parents. My parents stayed for one week and they decided to leave me and my sister in the care of my uncle.  It was difficult for me, because I had to start over again. I wanted to stay in my country, because the majority of my family members and friends lived there.

I considered myself a person of two worlds because growing up the Chinese culture was in my surroundings and once I went to school, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent.  At home, my parents spoke Chinese to me and the customs and religion were very important growing. For example, on Chinese New Year my mom would wake up early and start preparing food. My favorite thing was waking up and smelling my mom’s cooking, the red envelopes, and the fireworks. Also, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent because I spend a lot of time in my neighbors’ houses. I remembered eating Arepas, Cachapas, and Sancocho. At school, I played with kids from the barrio. I also learned a lot of Venezuelan street slang.

Venezuela is always in turmoil. My country is divided still even today.  I remember when I was a kid I missed school a lot due to protests and confrontations between the Hugo Chavez party and the opposition. My parents thought that the best option was to come to America, study and improve my education. The political situation right now is worse than when I left. My parents do not even have toilet paper to use or chicken to eat. I feel really bad about how the country is right now.

3. What are some activities or projects you’ve been involved with that you are really proud of?

When I was an intern at Pact, Inc, I helped an Asian student with her financial aid. By doing that I found out that she was AB540 and she was so surprised because her parents did not tell her about her status.  AB540 was an assembly bill that was passed in 2001, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees. Many undocumented students refer themselves as AB540 to specify their status.

The student reminded me a lot of myself because my parents also didn’t tell me that I was undocumented. I found out about my status in high school, when my high school counselor told me that I did not qualify for FAFSA. My counselor did not know what to do with my situation because I was probably the first undocumented student she knew at that time.

The next day, the student came and told me that she didn’t want to attend to college because it was too expensive. I told her that there were many ways to get help like through scholarships. I kept encouraging her to apply for all the scholarships available and she did. When I found out that she got a four year scholarship to attend City College, I was so happy for her. I still keep in touch with her on Facebook.

4. Why were you interested in working at MAF as an Outreach Fellow?

Having the work permit has been an eye opening experience for me. I made mistakes and I learned some important big lessons. For example, filing taxes was so confusing and I made some mistakes in my W-4. I didn’t know why the IRS needed to take money out of my paycheck.  Some of my undocumented friends started to talk to me about signing up for credit cards, because it was important to start building a credit score. I was lost and little confused. The reason I wanted to join MAF is because I want to provide that support and guidance for many undocumented youth about their finances.

5. What are you looking forward to doing during your fellowship?

I am looking forward to learning many skills, especially in outreach, because I believe outreach is a powerful tool that can influence and empower the community that we serve. Also, networking and building connections.

6. What are some of your goals in the next five years?

I hope in 5 years to have a job that I enjoy, especially working with youth or the low-income communities in the Bay Area. I hope in 5 years I have the possibility to bring my parents to live here with me. I haven’t see my mother for about 10 years and I really miss her.

7. What are your hopes for the Dreamer community and undocumented Americans?

I hope that soon we have immigration reform that will benefit everyone equally, a reform that will benefit not only the youth, but the hardworking parents. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has so many limitations, such as you have to have come to the US before age 16 and you have to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012, so it does not benefit every Dreamer. One of my closest friends could not apply for Deferred Action because she came here in July of 2007 but to qualify you must have been residing in the U.S since June 2007. Because of one month difference, she couldn’t apply for the Deferred Action.

We can’t give up now. There is still hope. It is never too late to fight for our dreams. We are not alone in this fight. Our struggles make us stronger and make us who we are.

Training our partners for success

We travel to LA to form MAOF’s first Lending Circle

Watching a group of people form their first Lending Circle is an inspiring experience, especially when that group will go on to form more Lending Circles in their own community. My colleagues, Mohan, John, and I trained staff members at the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP) in Los Angeles, two new partners who will be offering our Lending Circles program.

These partnerships have been almost eight months in the making after Mohan first met with Andrew Chang from the Center for Asset Building Opportunities (CABO), who introduced Lending Circles to his network of 10 asset-building nonprofit partners.

“My goal was for MAF to come and expand their products and services to the populations and communities we serve in LA,” Chang said.

MAOF, based in Montebello, California, is one of the largest Latino nonprofits in the country and is celebrating its 51st year of supporting the socio-economic betterment of Latinos in California. MAOF offers programs in education, asset-building, youth education and senior services. Lending Circles’ credit-building opportunity fit a tangible need for the organization’s clients. Many of MAOF’s clients have been living in the US for more than 5 years and are somewhat acclimated to the financial system but still find it hard to completely access.

CCNP is a nonprofit collaborative working to provide social services for children, families and communities in LA to break the cycle of poverty. The organization has been involved in a number of community economic development campaigns such as Bank On LA to connect unbanked residents to affordable financial services and Lending Circles is a great example of a program that clients can use once they have opened up bank accounts.

Seven staff members came together with different financial goals from paying off debt, improving their credit, saving for a house and preparing for retirement.

Many of the them had participated in an informal lending circle or were aware of their existence from their cultural experiences. The credit-building aspect was intriguing for the members and they all were looking forward to the ability to improve their scores.

During the training, Mohan explained the enrollment, recruitment and formation process for Lending Circles and guided the staff through scenarios they could encounter when facilitating the program with their clients. Moving forward, our partner trainings will be done online through webinars and presentations in our Lending Circles Communities platform, but it was really great to have an in-person connection with the MAOF and CCNP staff members and share best practices together. I also got a chance to talk to MAOF’s marketing director to plan future storytelling and engagement opportunities to spread the word about the program.

The Lending Circles program has been operating in in LA for two years through our partnership with the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California. We’re excited to welcome these two outstanding organizations to the Lending Circles network.

Working with MAOF and CCNP will allow us to reach new communities of aspiring car owners, citizenship applicants, entrepreneurs, students and families who want to tackle their debt and lay the foundation for increased financial capability.

Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at

Behind the design: interview with Digital Telepathy

Check out the design thinking behind the creation of our new website!

Our new website has been a labor of love for us at MAF, but we couldn’t have delivered the product without the brilliant design team at Digital Telepathy. Nate, Brent, and Eduardo were nice enough to take time out of their busy schedule to share their perspective on what the design thinking behind MAF’s rebrand and the importance of the user experience in furthering our mission to create a fair financial marketplace for all families.

What are some current design trends that inspire you and the team?

Lately design has been moving towards minimalism. Trendy designs are flat and have more white space than they used to have.

This trend is very much in line with our formula for “betterment” of our designs.

Betterment = Simple + Compelling – Friction

What was the process like for coming up with the new MAF and Lending Circles logo?

Very collaborative – for the MAF logo we started with the core concepts of the organization and worked with company stakeholders to sketch our initial ideas in a workshop format. Each of us, MAF stakeholders included, contributed a number of sketches for consideration. We collectively decided on a direction and our designs moved from there.

How did you incorporate storytelling and infographics into the user experience?

MAF has so many inspiring stories to tell; the success of the organization can easily be seen by looking at its members.  We were able to partner with a photographer to produce compelling imagery that does a great job of telling the story of MAF.  We worked to create designs that would showcase these images and also created some supporting illustrations to highlight some of the statistics that support MAF’s cause.

How do you approach Objective Based Design for nonprofits like MAF?

The answer is in the name of our service – Objective Based Design. At most place, projects are begun with the end in mind… the team works furiously to build “something”. Our service is unique in that our primary focus is on achieving a specific objective.

In MAF’s case, we knew one of the reasons they are successful is their ability to meet people where they’re at, speaking to them on a person to person level. We kept this in mind going into design, looking to create something visually appealing and at the same time speaking to the audience in a very approachable and direct manner.

What was a memorable or challenging part of the MAF or Lending Circle website design process?

Our kickoff design workshop for the Lending Circle site was really great.  We had stakeholders from MAF and members of their development team come to our offices. We were able to cover a lot of ground because we had all the right people in the same room.  It was a ton of fun, everyone got involved in sketching out ideas and we were able to get alignment between all parties on our work for the next couple of months.  We had such a good time that we actually wrote a blog post about it!

What do you want users to come away with when they visit the new sites?

We want website visitors to feel connected to the cause. Putting actual stories of neighbors helping neighbors through lending circles (social loans) helps a website visitors understand how they can make a difference in someone else’s life.

How do you measure the success of a website?

That’s a complicated answer. A website is a tool for marketing, communication, PR, etc. So much of a website’s effectiveness is influenced by the rest of the ecosystem to which it belongs. For MAF, there are both quantitative metrics (how many visitors became donors) and qualitative metrics (effective application of brand messaging).

We hope you’re as wowed by Digital Telepathy as we are. Get in touch with them here!

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!