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Author: Victoria Mayernick

Lesson Earned #4: (MAF) Metamorphosis

The best part about working for a small organization is the mobility that such a structure enables.

When you walk through MAF’s offices, you’ll notice the colorful walls and vibrant artwork that are so reflective of the members we work with. If you look closely, you’ll see much of this artwork integrates a very specific image: the butterfly. A symbol of the immigration community, the butterfly has a lot of meaning behind it.

It only seems natural that my time at MAF has mirrored the metamorphosis that all butterflies undergo.

In my first post, I talked about MAF’s agile nature and that things moved fast. I’ve spent the last couple of months jumping from project to project so quickly that I almost didn’t notice the transformation my role was undergoing.

It all began with the start of our BBA campaign, our efforts to expand Lending Circles throughout the Bay Area. My role at MAF changed each time these organizations took one step closer to becoming a Lending Circles provider moving from strictly a marketing position into the intersection of marketing and partnerships.

It’s in this new position where I will be best equipped to provide our partners with the tools they need to succeed.

I conducted outreach to invite them to our presentations in January (marketing), answered their questions about the program and application in February (outreach and programmatic knowledge) and reviewed their applications in March (partner success).

These large steps have brought me to where I am today: working towards creating and implementing systems that will enable long lasting partnerships with our Lending Circles providers.

Here are the pieces that will make up my position at MAF in the coming months:

  • Recruitment: Reaching out to organizations interested in becoming Lending Circles providers, explaining the benefits of the program and reviewing incoming applications.
  • Management: Helping our current partners get on-boarded and trained while providing them with continued technical assistance throughout their time as a Lending Circles Provider.
  • Retention: Building out our online Partner Resource Platform- Lending Circles Communities- while sharing provider success stories.

Partner management is the base around which recruitment and retention envelope.The three pieces together enable the butterfly to fly.

The recruitment piece allows MAF to set realistic expectations of the partnership. It also enables MAF to find organizations with a community who could benefit from the program and the capacity to see it through. Management smooths out all the bumps in the road. Finally, retention focuses on demonstrating support for the organizations we work with by providing them with the tools they need for continued success.

Being able to slide into such a role is a demonstration of why the mobile mentality at MAF works so well. As the number and type of partnerships we form grow, partners needs change. The weeks ahead are sure to include much training and learning on my end, but I’m looking forward to being in a place where those changing needs can be met.

Lesson Earned #3: Think Small

With such a heavy focus on bringing organizations to scale, we’ve forgotten the power community holds.

Growing up, Mia Hamm posters plastered my walls – I even put one above my bed so the thought of joining the U.S. Women’s National team was my last thought at night and the first when I opened my eyes. Needless to say, I had a “sky’s the limit” mentality.

As I’ve grown older, I haven’t stopped dreaming big.

I searched for ways to achieve big impact in the world of civic engagement during my freshman year of college. That’s when I stumbled across social entrepreneurship, and immediately recognized the the opportunity social enterprises had to solve a social problem and scale it to reach more people.

It was through my work with social enterprises that I latched on to the Lean StartUp Movement. Last December, I was able to snag a free ticket to the Lean StartUp Conference.  Most people associate this movement with failing fast. More specifically, this method calls for commitment to iteration. Build. Measure. Learn. The conference shed light on what makes my work with MAF so fulfilling.

In the nonprofit world, there is a tendency to expand organizations as far and wide as possible.

This makes sense, of course, because social services should be given to all those in need. The trouble is, non-profits will build, measure and learn once (if at all) and then replicate the exact same model every time they expand to a new location. Yet what works in one community might not work in another. Your expanding organization most likely has no idea how to successfully implement its fantastic solution in a completely different environment.

The Lean Startup thinking is embodied in MAF’s partnership efforts. By working with partners to bring Lending Circles to different communities, we ensure not only efficient implementation of our programs, but also effective implementation.

Expansion through partnerships enables our mission to grow deeper instead of just wider.

This philosophy has manifested itself most recently through the Better Bay Area Campaign. This initiative allows us to reach more nonprofit organizations in the nine Bay Area counties working to improve the lives of those lost in the financial shadows. The Bay Area is pretty small, but the range of communities nestled within it is vast, each one with its own nuances.

As our community grows through these partnerships, we get to see all the exciting ways Lending Circles programs can be adjusted to meet more and more needs, like access to affordable housing.

This interaction sparks new programs like Lending Circles for Homeownership, initiated by long-time MAF partner, CLUES, in Minneapolis. The staff at CLUES realized that as their organization offers resources for homeownership, many of their clients were using the social loan received through Lending Circles to finance homeownership costs like down payments and other fees.

Since good credit scores and sufficient savings are vital to purchasing a new home, the Lending Circles program was the perfect path for these prospective homeowners to take. Iteration on the traditional Lending Circles program came easily and CLUES has already had 20 participants join this new program.

As we take on new partners at MAF, I’m excted to see how we can tailor the Lending Circles program to best meet the needs of the communities they serve. These small leaps from partner to partner lead to big impact – nearly $4,000,000 in social loans, over 3,000 clients served and 32 partnerships formed. Such results prove that small thinking is really anything but small.

When Passion Ignites a Path

After an eye-opening experience at a cleaning service company, Reina Aguilera left to start up her own business.

As a young child in her home country of Honduras, Reina Aguilera found herself cleaning and organizing her house so often that her family used to joke about her incessant need to organize.

When she grew older, she pursued an education in international business, unaware that her childhood habit would eventually turn into a career path. After four years in college, Reina got married and decided to move to the United States after seeing all it offered during her honeymoon in the Bay Area.

Though her husband found work in the United States quickly, Reina did not have the same luck.

Feeling homesick and frustrated that she didn’t have a fulfilling job, Reina began to question their big move to the United States. She made the best of the difficult situation by exploring San Francisco, taking English classes and developing a new network of friends.

Eventually, she landed a job as a housekeeper working for a cleaning service in the Bay Area. She loved the work and was eager to learn more about the business. But there was one problem: her boss made Reina’s work very stressful and unpleasant. This job challenged her idea of the U.S. as a place where anyone could pursue his or her dreams – a place where nothing bad could happen.

She felt like her world had been turned upside down.

The harsh introduction to the cleaning services world left Reina determined to be her own boss; she wanted to start and run the best cleaning services company on her own terms. And that’s exactly what she did.

After quitting her job, she took on a position at a taqueria during the week and slowly took on houses for her cleaning service on the weekends. Reina began with one client whom she found through her church community, and Reina’s Cleaning Services was born.

Slowly but surely more and more clients came her way as word got out about her excellent services.

When she and her husband divorced, Reina had to face many emotional and spiritual battles. Overcoming three miscarriages placed a heavy toll on her and made her feel that she would never be able to bear children. After separating from her husband, she now had more time to devote to her dreams.

She soon met the man who would become the father of her child. Despite the odds against her, Reina discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in 2007. As her personal life took an exciting turn, so did her professional life.

Reina started taking business classes at Women’s Initiative (ALAS), and when time came to expand her business, her teacher referred her to MAF to get a loan. She joined Lending Circles in 2009 and used the money from her first loan towards the purchase of her first car, an essential investment that allowed her to travel to her clients’ homes. Since then, she has participated in 9 Lending Circles. She has used her loans to buy equipment for her business like a new vacuum and for repairs on a car.

Her participation in Lending Circles has enabled her to invest a total of nearly $4,000-$5,000 in her business.

Reina’s involvement with MAF has led to more than just investment in her business. She has watched her credit score increase with the scale of her business; a total of 77 points.

At age 39, Reina continues to stay active in the Lending Circles program and with MAF not just to continue building her credit, but also to pursue the other opportunities MAF offers her like business classes and new programs like the Lending Circles for Business Owners. She has also referred many of her friends to MAF’s services.

For Reina, MAF represents much more than just a place to grow her business; it’s a place where she can be empowered to grow as a person.

Reina looks forward to day she can hire her first employee, and hopes to hire those are in the position she was once in herself – those struggling to achieve their dreams. She also wants to her daughter to grow up and look to her business as a source of pride.

Reina ended our conversation by expressing her desire to inspire others. Despite all that she has been through, she has made it through and MAF is proud to have played a small part in helping her make her dreams come true.

Partner Spotlight: Henry of CLUES

An active member of the CLUES community, Henry has become an avid believer in the power of Lending Circles.

A firm believer in experiencing a product before trying to sell it, Henry was quick to jump on board to the Lending Circles program at MAF’s partner, Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) in Minneapolis. He first learned about Lending Circles while working at Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Both organizations were involved in a social innovation fund that Henry was particularly interested in. Through this connection, Henry discovered the Lending Circles program.

He immediately sensed that LSS clients could benefit from the program and asked his staff to learn more by forming a Lending Circles themselves. Though his primary goal was to experience the program first-hand, Henry was also eager to rebuild his financial footing after getting a few blemishes on his credit report.

“I was 100% in from day one,” he said.

His first Lending Circle had a contribution amount of about $30. The LSS staff quickly realized just how feasible such payments were and grew even more excited when they began to notice the effects on their credit report. It was at this point that Henry began to see the value the Lending Circles program provides.

“We were all trying to accomplish the same thing and that’s really financial stability.”

As the Lending Circle cycle went on, Henry found himself setting small financial goals around the pending distribution. He chose to use his savings to buy his wife of 22 years a bracelet for their wedding anniversary. Henry has gone through two different Lending Circles, and continues to participate in order to save for a new car and build credit to get the best interest rate possible on the car loan.

Henry remembers his family as being committed to financial austerity from an early age. Even with this strong financial background, Henry saw how easy it can be to make financial mistakes. He has taken extra steps to ensure his daughter is well prepared for financial independent.  At age 8, she has a $2/week budget and has strict instructions to spend some of it, save some of it and donate what is left.

“If I had my dream, my daughter would be learning about financial literacy in elementary school”.

Henry believes strongly in the need for financial management training and credit-building opportunities within his own community. In his current role at Project for Pride and Living as the Housing and Financial Coaching Coordinator, he works with potential home buyers to build their financial portfolio in order to become strong candidates. Many members of the community he works with have a mistrust of the banking system and as a former banker, he hopes to help address this stigmatization. He feels the Lending Circles program can act as a vital step towards achieving that goal.

Doing More with Partners

MAF is partnering with the Mexican Consulate to offer Mexican DREAMers an Exciting Opportunity.

MAF is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Mexican Consulate in SF to support Mexican nationals applying to DACA through the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program. Through this program, DREAMers are offered a zero-interest loan to help finance the cost of the $465 DACA application fee while building credit history and gaining access to financial education.

MAF’s Lending Circles for Deferred Action program was created to help low-income DREAMers overcome the cost barrier of applying for three-year relief from deportation after Obama’s announcement of executive action on November 20, 2014.

The government is taking a step forward for immigration action and we are ready to help families who need the financial support to apply for administrative relief.

Thanks to the Consulate General, up to 150 DREAMers of Mexican nationality will have the special opportunity to receive a 50% match, making applying for Deferred Action through Lending Circles an even better value! Participants like Alan Santos have already benefited from the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program.

As one of the first Lending Circle for Deferred Action participants, Alan is able to pursue his education and work as an advocate for undocumented youth. He hopes to become an immigration lawyer to alleviate the confusion and pain many youth go through in the Deferred Action application process.

MAF is looking forward reaching more hardworking families and youth like Alan with the support of the Mexican Consulate.

If you’re interesting in applying for the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, visit and submit an application to MAF. Look out for enrollment and formation dates beginning this month.

For organizations currently working with DREAMers, you can learn more about how to get involved with the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program here. 

Rosa: The Long Road to Citizenship

Obtaining U.S. Citizenship brings about a new phase in Rosa Romero’s life.

After a lifelong career as a teacher in El Salvador, Rosa decided to move to the US. After her sister got her housing papers, Rosa left her sons, students and her life behind to pick up and move on July 23rd, 2009 – a date she procures without a moment’s hesitation. Nearly 5 years since that date, she is happy to say she is now living in San Francisco as a U.S. citizen.

Rosa’s childhood makes it pretty clear that she is willing to follow her dreams no matter what others may think. 

Growing up in El Salvador with her grandmother and six siblings, Rosa lived a humble life. Her grandmother owned cows and goats and made sour cream and cheese from their milk. Rosa would sell these goods to a local market.

Though her grandmother hoped she would become a nurse, Rosa realized pretty quickly that her aversion to the sight of blood might make that impossible. She, instead, envisioned a life as a teacher.

After a 25 year long career as a high school science teacher, she can say she brought her dream to life.

To this day, her former students will stop her on the street or message her on Facebook thanking her for all that she taught them. These moments have made up some of her favorite times as a teacher. Her two sons, who still reside in El Salvador, have come to love their careers as an entrepreneur and a captain in the military just as much.

Rosa found her way to MAF through her sister who was a client at MEDA getting support to launch her own business. Her sister heard of the Lending Circles program and thought it would be the perfect way for Rosa to save the money necessary for the citizenship application.

The decision to join the Lending Circles program was relatively easy for Rosa.

She was familiar with the concept having taken part in informal lending circles back in El Salvador with her fellow teachers. It was even easier to join a Lending Circle at MAF when she learned of the strong history of success for its members.

Rosa believed so much in the power of Lending Circles that she joined another before even finishing her first and has been part of 5 in total in an effort to continually build her credit.

The Lending Circles program eases the financial burdens of becoming a US citizen by allowing participants to build their credit while making monthly payments towards the high $680 application fee. Once participants are ready to apply, they receive a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For Rosa this meant she could focus her attention on all the other difficult aspects of the process; the largest of which was the language barrier. Rosa studied for the English exam for over a year. All of this effort was for an interview that would last her only about 10 minutes.

Immediately after the interview, Rosa learned that she had passed and was to become a citizen. Upon hearing the news, she thanked God for this opportunity and felt a wave of happiness come over her. With her US citizenship, she can now travel freely to El Salvador lessening the strain on her visits to family.

Rosa’s story perfectly exemplifies the character of our members. We showed her the door, and she had the strength to walk through it.

Lending Circles for Deferred Action Expands in LA

Bringing financial support to immigrants seeking Deferred Action

With President Obama’s recent announcement on Deferred Action, the need to focus our attention on the financial needs of immigrant communities is greater than ever. New reforms enable an additional 5 million immigrants the potential to apply for Deferred Action. Having already harnessed partnerships in 10 states and D.C to offer credit-building opportunities, MAF is ready to do the same for those now looking to apply for this new program.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, MAF will be partnering with the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), Korean Resource Center and Pilipino Workers Center to expand its award-winning Lending Circles program for individuals seeking Deferred Action in the Los Angeles area.

The Lending Circles for Deferred Action program will allow 300 eligible applicants access to zero-interest loans to finance the cost of the Deferred Action application fee by 33% (from $465 to $310) while also building their credit.

MAF has already seen the impact of getting Deferred Action with our own clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. In our seven years of operations, we have assisted over 300 clients in successfully applying for Deferred Action. Members like Itzel and Jesus have used Lending Circles to move towards their goals of accessing an affordable education and becoming advocates in the community.

“MAOF is excited to expand its current relationship with Mission Asset Fund by offering the Lending Circles for Dreamers Program,” says Martin Castro, President and CEO of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.

“As a distinguished agency serving the Los Angeles Community, MAOF is looking forward to offering a program that will assist people who have arrived into our country as children and are looking to pursue their dreams. The Lending Circles for Dreamers Program brings needed assistance to residents of Los Angeles who would like to apply for deferred action but have not due to financial hardships.”

Tune into the National Immigrant Integration Conference in LA today at 11:45 a.m. to hear the formal announcement by our Director of Engagement, Mohan Kanungo, and CEO, Jose Quinonez.

Welcome Alyssa: MAF’s Partner Manager

Alyssa’s passion for microfinance and community connections brought her to the MAF team.

Alyssa’s steadied approach to discovering a place at MAF speaks to her thoughtful nature. She knew about and believed in MAF’s work before even submitting her resume. In fact, Alyssa began talking to MAF staff out of pure interest in our Lending Circles program. Having majored in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Notre Dame, she became interested in learning more about international development issues such as the informal lending circles in Bangladesh through the Grameen Bank.

Financial services give a person the “power to choose,” she notes.

It was this belief in the power of financial inclusion that encouraged her work with microfinance. In addition to exploring the subject in college through many different projects, she worked in the field while in DC for Accion’s Smart Campaign. As she began to look for new opportunities, Alyssa knew she wanted to build off of all she learned while in this position.

As soon as Alyssa heard about MAF, she reached out to start a conversation.

After discussions with MAF staff members, she came to see just how deep MAF’s community roots were and she fell in love with the organization. Soon after, a position on the partnerships team opened up. When she inquired about the role, she began to see how she could contribute to the MAF team.

After just a few days in the office, there are a number of things Alyssa is looking forward to. One of her favorite parts of MAF is its focus on collaboration through partnerships. That’s why the partner manager role seemed like the perfect fit.

“I’m excited about being able to be creative in the new leads we engage,” she says.

She sees a great opportunity to enhance the work of partner organizations by injecting the Lending Circles programs into their portfolio. Alyssa finds MAF’s method of building a sense of community through technology very appealing. Her time in DC gave her an “understanding of just how pivotal technology is in creating greater access to financial services” and she can’t wait to implement this philosophy into her work!

When she’s not making connections between MAF and its partners, Alyssa likes to get creative in the kitchen.

She’s also come to appreciate exactly what diversity means here in San Francisco. While out exploring her neighborhood (Excelsior), Alyssa says she was pleasantly surprised by all the different languages spoken. These make for a vibrant and unique restaurant scene that Alyssa enjoys exploring in her free time.

Give Credit where it matters

This December, support the credit-builders in your community.

Here at MAF, we’re lucky to have the chance to watch incredible people use our products to reach their financial goals. This year, we’ve seen a lot of people come through our doors and leave as credit-builders. We’ve served close to 1000 members, formed 13 new partnerships with a total loan volume of nearly $710,000.

As we look toward the future, we’re excited to celebrate our members’ successes and welcome many more. We’re looking forward to scaling up our solution, so we can work with new partners and reach even more members.

We’ve launched our Annual Campaign and ask you to “Give Credit” to those working to get out of the financial shadows. Whether it’s a single parent, a new business owner or an aspiring DREAMer, credit matters in everyone’s life.

To highlight our incredible members, we’ll be sharing new stories each week through email, social media and right here on our blog.

There are so many ways to get involved and support credit-builders:

1) Donate here

2) Buy your Christmas Gifts on AmazonSmile – a portion of your purchase will go towards MAF!

3) Spread the word. Share our social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, so your friends can  learn too.

4) Ask your employer if you can get a matching contribution

With so many ways to contribute to our growing community, will you Give Credit today?

Blanca: Building her Beauty Salon Business Dream

Blanca’s come a long way from her days braiding her sister’s hair.

Blanca’s childhood wasn’t always happy. Growing up in Mexico, her family was not supportive of her drive to learn, and constantly told her that she would be better off learning how to clean and be a wife. The happiest times that she had with her family were the days that everyone would line up and ask her to cut their hair. For Blanca, haircare was an outlet for her creativity that she learned from her uncle, one of the few people in her family supportive of her talent.

As she grew up, she knew that she wanted to own a salon. After discovering that her uncle had his own barber shop, she quickly swept up his scissors and found herself  eager to give haircuts to family and friends. But after she got married, the time spent raising her family made her lose touch with her passion. It wasn’t until she came to the United States to get better care for her daughter’s medical condition that she began to entertain her dream once again.

After coming to the United States, Blanca realized her first step to achieving her dream was going to beauty school.

To accomplish this, she needed to save money for the expensive tuition fees. After working two jobs for several years, she finally decided it was time and enrolled in California Beauty School. But Blanca could not transform into a full time student over night; she still had to work eight hours each day on top of her studies.

“I was working, working, working; but I never gave up,” she said.

Upon graduating, Blanca went in search of salon jobs. She worked for little or no pay to learn everything she could taking jobs at different salons throughout the Bay Area, even though they were hesitant to train her.

“At every single salon, I learned a little something new.”

Once she built up her list of clientele and had accumulated a great deal of expertise, she saw her opportunity to move to salon owner. Opening up a new salon often requires taking out loans, so Blanca was determined to build up her credit to access them.

Though she sought advice from local credit-building and finance organizations, Blanca left these conversations “depressed and confused.”

Mission Asset Fund soon connected her to several business classes where she gained a better grasp on what it would take to get her business up and running, and she slowly began mapping out her business plan. Through MAF, she accessed business loans so when the chance to purchase a salon came knocking at her door, she was prepared. The owner of the salon she was working in was ready for retirement and looking to sell, so it was a prime opportunity for Bianca.

Though the transition to salon ownership was by no means smooth sailing.

Like every other stage of her life, Blanca had to fight hard to get the right documentation to establish ownership. Mountains of paperwork and licensing agreements delayed the process. Finally on October 1st, 2014, the salon became hers. Now Blanca can finally turn her focus on expanding her dream. Knowing all too well the difficulties that arise as a new employee of a salon, her goal is to attract people with a drive to learn and pay them well as they are trained. “I want the best for them and the best for the business.” She recognizes that certain employees may learn faster than others and may have strengths in specific areas.

“Like the fingers on your hand, all of us are different.”

The salon is now a family affair. Bianca and her daughters all manage a piece of the business. In the future Blanca wants to expand her business to include a beauty store, make up salon, and multiple hair salons. And with her drive and motivation, it’s hard not to believe in her success.