Citizenship for New Yorkers


The $725 application fee is keeping one million New Yorkers from becoming citizens.

Building a wall, the Muslim and refugee ban, sanctuary cities, an uncertain future for DREAMers: under the current administration, immigrants from all walks of life are under attack.

In February, NPR reported that even green card holders are afraid; they’re now applying for citizenship at unprecedented rates.

That’s because citizenship offers protection and security.

America has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world. During the last decade, the U.S. added more than 6.6 million citizens into the fabric of our nation, with 730,000 in 2015 alone. But there are many people eligible for citizenship who don’t apply.

One of the biggest barriers? Cost.

Lending Circles can pave the way to opportunity.

In the 2017 State of the State Book, Governor Cuomo makes a commitment to protect the safety, security, and dignity of immigrants. In just a few months, nonprofits in New York State will be able to offer Lending Circles loans to people who can’t afford to become citizens or lack access to financial products.

Why is this work critical?

  • Because immigrants represent one out of five New Yorkers and contribute significantly to the state’s economy as business owners, workers, consumers, and taxpayers.
  • Nearly one million New Yorkers are eligible to become U.S. citizens, but many are unable to do so because they cannot afford the $725 application fee.
  • While some qualify for fee waivers, this cost barrier stands between 158,000 New Yorkers and citizenship.
  • MAF is proud to join forces with the good people of the State of New York to pave the way to financial security for New Yorkers through 0% interest loans.

Want to help?

  • Get informed. Check out the State of the State book (page 172).
  • Get invested. Any new expansion or effort requires new support. Help us build our Lending Circles community in New York!

Curious about our NY partners?

  • Check them out here.

Ventanilla: A Window of Opportunity

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) and the Mexican Consulates of San Francisco and San Jose have joined forces to support the economic empowerment of Mexican nationals across northern California and the State of Hawaii. This covers individuals across Northern California, including those in the Counties of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and in Hawaii. Modeled after New York City’s Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera—meaning “Financial Empowerment Window”—the program provides customized financial empowerment services and resources at the two Consulates.

Since January of 2017, MAF has provided financial presentations, workshops, and coaching sessions to approximately 2,000 individuals per month at each site. By the end of the first year of the Ventanilla program, MAF served 30,000 clients —more than doubling our goal.

By establishing partnerships in both the nonprofit and public sectors, MAF has extended a variety of financial education services to meet our communities’ unique needs.

  • We dedicate staff for mobile consulate trips once a month – making sure that hard-to-reach communities like Kona, Hawaii and Pescadero, CA are getting access to the services they need.
  • We provide on-site access to Lending Circles, a 0% interest loan program, that helps people build their credit.
  • We invite outside presenters to regularly lead workshops (talleres) on topics supporting entrepreneurship in immigrant communities, including organizations from SFEDA. We coordinated content and presentations for two Financial Education weeks in March and November.
  • Our partnership with the Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) led to the development of a handout in both English and Spanish to help clients in the Bay Area determine the best checking account options to open. During Financial Education Week, OFE brought in speakers from the IRS to talk to Ventanilla visitors about Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINs. OFE also helped us coordinate referrals to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) providers across the Bay Area, a service that offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
  • We worked closely with the San Jose Consulate, which has launched a collaboration with CONDUSEF in Mexico to provide an overview of financial education and products based in Mexico. This was immensely helpful because everyday we have families that come to us with questions about managing their finances in both the U.S. and Mexico. Because of the Ventanilla collaboration, we were able to provide clients with information through our FEAPI, CONDUSEF, and the Consulate. Without the Ventanilla, these families would have struggled to find the answers to their questions from the Consulates alone or from financial providers in Mexico.

Under the current administration, many immigrants are in emergency planning mode because they are concerned about deportation. MAF sprung to action and created a Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants (FEAPI) to help immigrants protect their finances in the case of an emergency like detention, deportation, or family separation.

We provided this toolkit in the Bay Area at the Consulates, and at mobile consulate visits throughout California and Hawaii. To capture an even wider net of people to help, our team is currently building the FEAPI into an app to increase engagement with our community.

Come by and visit us! We have staff on-site in San Jose and San Francisco, Monday through Friday:

The success of MAF’s Ventanilla programs help us deliver on our promise to “meet clients where they are.” We’re planning on exceeding our own expectations, as we look to serve thousands of low-income and immigrant individuals through our Consulate sites in the upcoming year with financial education, coaching, tax-time savings, and 0% interest loans.

José Quiñonez named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow


The visionary Lending Circles program brings low-income communities out of the shadows.

Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows. Among the short list of esteemed awardees is José Quiñonez, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Asset Fund (MAF). The announcement has been covered by news outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The LA Times.

The MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant,” recognizes those with exceptional creativity, a track record of achievement, and the potential for significant contributions in the future. Each fellow receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 to support awardees’ pursuit of their creative visions. Since 1981, fewer than 1,000 people have been named MacArthur Fellows. Fellows are selected through a rigorous process that has involved thousands of expert and anonymous nominators, evaluators, and selectors over the years. Past fellows have included notable individuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alison Bechdel, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“This award is a high honor that recognizes the ingenuity of people who live in the shadows, who come together to help one another to survive and thrive in life. The award lifts up what is right and good in people’s lives – the trust and commitment they have for one another,” says Quiñonez.

According to the Foundation:

José A. Quiñonez is a financial services innovator creating a pathway to mainstream financial services and non-predatory credit for individuals with limited or no financial access. A disproportionate number of minority, immigrant, and low-income households are invisible to banks and credit institutions, meaning they have no checking or savings accounts (unbanked), make frequent use of nonbank financial services (underbanked), or lack a credit report with a nationwide credit-reporting agency. Without bank accounts or a credit history, it is nearly impossible to obtain safe loans for automobiles, homes, and businesses or to rent an apartment.

Quiñonez is helping individuals overcome these challenges by linking rotating credit associations or lending circles, a traditional cultural practice from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, to the formal financial sector. Lending circles are typically informal arrangements of individuals pooling their resources and distributing loans to one another. Through the Mission Asset Fund (MAF), Quiñonez has created a mechanism for reporting individuals’ repayment of small, zero-interest loans to credit bureaus and other financial institutions. MAF participants are able to establish a credit history and gain access to credit cards, bank loans, and other services, and lending circles focused on youth provide individuals with fees for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival applications and apartment security deposits (which are particularly needed by youth aging out of foster care). All participants are required to complete a financial training class and are provided with financial coaching and peer support. Since the lending circles were established in 2008, participants’ credit scores, collectively, have increased an average of 168 points.

Quiñonez has established a network of partnerships with the financial services industry to enable other organizations to replicate his approach. With Quiñonez and MAF providing the technology necessary to disperse and track loans (a significant hurdle for many nonprofits) and assisting in securing local partners and investors, 53 nonprofit providers in 17 states and the District of Columbia are now using this powerful model in their communities. Quiñonez’s visionary leadership is providing low-income and minority families with the means to secure safe credit, participate more fully in the American economy, and obtain financial security.

Felicidades, José!

6 Reasons You Won’t Want to Miss the Lending Circles Summit 2016


Members of our Partner Advisory Council share why they’re excited to converge on SF for #LCSummit2016

This October 26-28, MAF will host the first ever Lending Circles Summit in the city where MAF began – San Francisco. With a mix of networking, interactive design thinking workshops, and panels featuring Lending Circles clients and experts like Experian and FICO, the Summit has something for Lending Circles providers everywhere.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s why members of our Partner Advisory Council are excited to join us at the Summit:

1. “My reason for attending the Lending Circles Summit is two-fold: I am interested in meeting and talking with the various other partner providers to discuss successes and challenges and I am also interested in seeing how the lending circles model and platform can grow and expand in the innovative ways that MAF is known for.” —Leisa Boswell, SF LGBT Center, PAC Co-Chair

2. “I am attending the Lending Circles Summit to connect, share and learn from the many others that trust and recognize the financial capacity of those that are invisible to traditional lending institutions.” —Jorge Blandón, Family Independence Initiative, PAC Member

3. “I am attending the Summit to learn from others on how they effectively “get the word out” about Lending Circles in their community. I also want to discover ways to more efficiently scale the program so we can serve more people without increasing our headcount or expenses. And, most importantly, it will be great to build new connections with people who have the same passion for the work that we all do!!” —Rob Lajoie, Peninsula Family Services, PAC Member

4. “By attending the summit, I’m looking forward to being inspired by other LC organizations who will share their best practices and gain new insight on delivery/marketing techniques to engage new clients and increase the follow through of our financial capabilities clients to improve our outcomes for Lending Circles and our financial capabilities program.” —Judy Elling Pryzbilla, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, PAC Member

5. “I am attending the LC Summit to learn from other asset builders around the country. I am excited to learn from others who have the same passion as me of helping our community members improve their financial stability.” —Gricelda Montes, El Centro de la Raza, PAC Member

6. I am attending Lending Circles Summit because I am happy to join other providers in celebrating our clients’ achievements and accomplishing of their goals through their participation in Lending Circles. It is only fitting we all get together to share our experiences, celebrate the success of such a great initiative and discuss ways to increase its impact. —Madeline Cruz, The Resurrection Project, PAC Member

Ready to join us this October?

Building Better: 2015 Annual Report


Take a look back on what you helped build in 2015 – and get a sneak peak at what’s next!

MAF’s 2015 Annual Report Building Better tells the story of what’s possible when we continually challenge ourselves to build better partnerships, better technology, and better programs.

In 2015, we’re proud to have built a diverse network of 53 nonprofits in 17 states and D.C.

With new partners, we’ve expanded our hubs in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the Northwest. And we’re thrilled to celebrate over $5 million in zero-interest social loans that are helping thousands of hardworking students, parents, and entrepreneurs build brighter financial futures.

That means an entrepreneur like Sandra can get a zero-interest business loan to grow her inventory and reach new clients — all while building her credit. And a college student like Kimberly can secure Deferred Action to gain access to financial aid and attend the school of her dreams.

We did not do this alone.

Thanks to our funders, donors, board, and clients across the U.S., together we’re building better solutions to unlock the full economic potential of communities living in the financial shadows. Thank you for building with us to make that possible.

We couldn’t have created this report without extensive support from Dan Massey of Google and Billy Roh of Opendoor, who generously volunteered their time and talents to build an ever better annual report for us.

Find out what’s up next for MAF in 2016 by checking out our Annual Report here!

It’s who you ask that matters


A conversation with a founding member paints a picture of what a new member-driven council will contribute to the Lending Circles program.

It’s about keeping it real. As we grow and evolve, we know that engaging real people will be key to gathering feedback that improves and informs programs and products. With this in mind, we set out to form our very first Member Advisory Council (MAC) earlier this year.

The goal? To encourage dialogue among clients who use our programs and take a closer look at their experiences. The Member Advisory Council will provide advice on new programs, the client experience, and will help shape our strategic goals.

Last month the Member Advisory Council, made up of 8 of our clients (a.k.a. members) representing the diversity of our community met for the first time. We sat down to get to know one of those members, Santos, and to hear what MAC means to him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in the heart of District 9, most commonly known as “La Mission”, at 26th and Valencia Streets, where the intersections saw me grow and become who I am now. Growing up in La Mission, it gave me perspectives that you don’t get to see or experience in other Districts in San Francisco. La Mission is full of cultures from every corner of the world. We have locals that are very outspoken, that are not afraid to speak against injustice.

What do you do for a living?

Growing up with some of the La Mission ideals, I wanted to do something for my community, something that could teach – or how we say it here in the Bay, “Speak some game” – to the younger generations. So I started working for the Bay Area Urban Debate League. As the regional coordinator for San Francisco, I am in charge of all the programs that the League has here in San Francisco. I work primarily with the High Schools such as Mission High School, Wallenberg High School, Downtown High School, June Jordan School for Equity, and Ida B. Wells High School.

Why did you join the Lending Circles program?

I joined a Lending Circle because my mother thought it would be a good way to start generating some credit. At first I was skeptical. I knew what a Tanda was but those were sometimes sketchy and didn’t always work out. Fast forward to 2016 and I have done 3 or 4 Lending Circles.

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the Lending Circles is the finance class you have to take. It is a requirement to take the class every time you join a Lending Circle. The constant reinforcement of financial education is key. I’ve learned so much from that constant reminder. I’m constantly trying to get people to join the program. I usually just show them the website and tell them a bit of my story.

What was your reaction when you learned about MAC?

When I got the call, I didn’t know how to react. I happened to be on the roof of my building when I got the call. The call came in as a breeze of air, it was like deja vu. When I spoke to Karla about becoming part of the first group of MAC members, it was a no brainer and I immediately said yes.

What part of MAC is most exciting to you?

One of the things that Is really interesting to me is that you get to represent a community. You get to speak for the people that cannot be heard. That’s a power that not everyone gets to feel. The decisions that MAC members will make, will affect the community and that’s what’s really got my attention.

The fact that I get to experience and be a direct decision maker for the community is beyond my dreams. With the help of the seven other members we can make our community better. The first generation of MAC members will set the standards for the next generation and so on we will build a group that prioritizes the community.

MAC’s next meeting is scheduled for August 3rd where the group looks forward to discussing their goals for the coming year.

Strengthening the Voice of our Lending Circles Partner Network


MAF’s first Partner Advisory Council will provide an exciting opportunity to harness the insights of our partner network

From our early years serving families in the Mission District, we believed that Lending Circles could benefit communities far beyond our San Francisco neighborhood. Knowing that organizations with deep ties to their communities are best equipped to serve local clients, we set out to partner with fellow nonprofits, first in the Bay Area, then across California and — eventually — the country. Looking back today, it’s hard to believe just how quickly this vision was realized: the Lending Circles Network now has 50 partners and counting.

We know that with growth comes big opportunities. As a means to strengthen and deepen the experience of being a Lending Circles provider, we are proud to announce that we have formed a Partner Advisory Council.

The members of this Partner Advisory Council (or, as we like to call it, PAC) will offer their insight, smarts, and on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider. They will provide advice and strategic thinking, all in an effort to elevate and strengthen the Lending Circles Network. They will also play an instrumental role in planning and hosting the Lending Circles Summit, a national convening of Lending Circles providers and other experts
in related fields.

So, who did we select? Eight outstanding staff members at partner organizations that provide Lending Circles. These eight PAC members represent the diversity of the Lending Circles Network — in regard to geographic location in the U.S., communities served, organizational size, and experience.

  • Jorge Blandón, Vice President, FII-National at Family Independence Initiative in Oakland, CA
  • Leisa Boswell, Financial Services Specialist at SF LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, CA
  • Madeline Cruz, Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project in Chicago, IL
  • Rob LaJoie, Director, Financial Empowerment Program at Peninsula Family Services in San Mateo, CA
  • Gricelda Montes, Asset Building Programs Coordinator at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, WA
  • Judy Elling Pryzbilla, Community Coordinator at Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, MN
  • Paola Torres, Small Business Program Coordinator at Northern Virginia Family Services in Falls Church, VA
  • Alejandro Valenzuela Jr, Financial Empowerment Services Manager at CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio in Minneapolis, MN
PAC Co-Chair, Leisa Bowell

Here’s what co-chair, Leisa Bowell, has to say about joining PAC:

“In my work at the SF LGBT Center one of our focuses is on creating a more equitable world which is why the Lending Circle program is so important to us. I am invested in seeing that program grow, not only at the Center but also throughout the various LGBTQ communities across the nation. I think joining the Partner Advisory Council will allow me to help that growth come to fruition.”

The first PAC meeting took place on April 29th and allowed PAC members to get to know each other, and get to know the group they just joined. We learned fun facts about PAC members and discovered we have quite the talented group! Madeline knows some Arabic, Jorge was part of a poetry duo that performed in New York subways, and Paola loves dancing and has been part of a musical group. The group offered up some insightful feedback on MAF’s upcoming Lending Circles Summit, and engaged with our tech team to learn more about the new tech developments on the horizon.

We’re tremendously grateful that these PAC members have stepped up to make the Lending Circles Network even better. Their insight into the on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider is invaluable to us, and will help guide MAF’s direction for years to come.

Passionate Leaders & Product Experts: Meet Our New Board Members


Introducing MAF’s new board members: Dave Krimm, Salvador Torres & Stephan Waldstrom

Earlier this year, MAF had the pleasure of welcoming three new members to our Board of Directors. Read on to find out who they are, where they’re from, and what inspired them to join the board — from the cutting-edge technology driving Lending Circles to our innovative model for building financial capability.

Meet Dave

Dave Krimm is a seasoned financial services professional, with a passion for the “positive impact of microlending: the difference that a small loan can make in an individual’s or a family’s success.” His experience working as a financial product development consultant and leading fundraising and marketing at the San Francisco Foundation make the MAF Board a perfect match for Dave.

Dave is no stranger to nonprofit boards.

Most recently he served as Chair of the Opportunity Fund Board in San Jose, California, where he helped oversee an exciting period of growth for the organization. Now, he’s eager to bring his talents to a nonprofit rooted in his home of San Francisco. When asked what he’s most excited about in his new role, Dave shared that, “I’m looking forward to strengthening MAF’s ‘support team’ on the Board, to match the broadening impact of MAF’s programs locally and the expansion of our nationwide network.”

Meet Salvador

Salvador Torres is well acquainted with the informal lending and borrowing that happens on the margins, and he’s eager to uplift MAF’s work making the invisible, visible. Salvador shared that, “My family members have used lending circles to share resources, but they rarely went beyond close family ties and didn’t help build credit. Now with MAF’s Lending Circle products and partners, people around country are able to access capital and build the credit necessary to transition into the financial mainstream.”

He knows just how crucial financial health is for building strong, resilient communities.

Salvador spends his days working in Washington, D.C., as an investment banker and consultant at Penserra and 32Advisors, where he helps companies build growth strategies. He’s also served as an Advisory Board Member of the Posse Foundation, a college access organization, where he saw firsthand how close-knit social circles — “posses” — could transform the lives of students and their communities.

Meet Stephan

Stephan Waldstrom hails from Belgium (via Denmark), and is the Director of Risk and Product Development at RPX Corporation, a risk management company based in San Francisco.

Stephan is passionate about all things product development.

And he’s ready to use that passion to give back to his community. Stephan believes that “MAF has found a simple yet powerful model that can significantly improve the financial security of its members and potentially countless people across the U.S.” A product guru at heart, Stephan is excited to get his hands dirty helping MAF develop the first-ever Lending Circles mobile app, a new tool that will connect clients with on-demand loan information. In addition to his Board seat, Stephan is lending his expertise as a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council — which helps guide the design of the technology that powers MAF’s programs.

We’re happy to welcome Dave, Salvador, and Stephan to MAF’s board.

And we’re grateful to them for sharing their collective skills and talents to as we chart new courses — from the mobile app, to our Lending Circles Summit, to new research shaping our understanding of financial health. Adelante!

Waiting on SCOTUS, UCLA Looks to Lending Circles for Deferred Action


MAF’s collaboration with UCLA’s Undocumented Student Center will bring Lending Circles for Deferred Action to more Los Angeles communities.

A current Supreme Court case could lead to skyrocketing interest in one of our signature programs, Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

In 2014 , President Obama announced an executive action to expand the “Deferred Action” program to grant “dreamer” youth and their parents a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. Although this policy has been blocked in the case United States v. Texas, a favorable Supreme Court decision expected in June of this year could make 5 million people eligible for DACA and DAPA.

For the many eligible UCLA students, affordability is a major issue.

Studies have shown that 43% of those eligible for DACA choose not to apply because of the high application fee. So when Valeria Garcia, Program Director for the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA, learned about the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, she thought it would be a great way for UCLA students to finance their DACA applications. UCLA’s Undocumented Student Program provides a welcoming and safe space to help students navigate UCLA by offering mentorship, programs and workshops tailored to their unique needs.

Now, for the first time, UCLA students have the opportunity to join the Lending Circles program.

This partnership will enable UCLA students to pay for the $465 application fee with a zero-interest loan, and build their credit histories at the same time. Young, college-age
d youth historically have low credit scores. In a study conducted by Experian, millennials’ average credit score was over 50 points lower than the average credit score in the U.S. and close to 100 points lower than that of baby boomers.

With a growing network of Lending Circle providers, getting signed up with the program will be easy for UCLA students. Los Angeles partner providers (including including Building Skills Partnership (Los Angeles), Pilipino Workers Center of Southern CaliforniaMexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Korean Resource Center (KRC)) have already helped participants loan and borrow nearly $10,000 in Lending Circles loans.

UCLA students can now feel empowered to take action, to build their credit, develop sound savings habits and put money aside toward specific goals, by working with these existing partners offering the program in their own backyards.

With immigration reform on the horizon, new opportunities for collaborations like this one can help remove the financial barriers many aspiring citizens face. In January of this year, MAF launched the Build a Better LA campaign for exactly this reason. This past April, we welcomed three new partner providers through this campaign: East LA Community Corporation, Koreatown Youth + Community Center, and LIFT-LA. Together, with local partner providers and organizations like UCLA’s Undocumented Students Program, we hope to reach more hardworking families in need of an affordable financial product – and a path out of the financial shadows.

Curious to learn more about Lending Circles for Deferred Action? Check out LendingCircles.org for more information.

Celebrating the Many Moms of Our Community


This Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating all the “MAF Moms” working hard to create better lives for their families through Lending Circles.

This Sunday is a day dedicated to the strong, wise, generous, and caring mothers in our lives. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating a few MAF clients who are working hard to build bright financial futures for their families.

Three Generations of Chefs

For Guadalupe, cooking authentic Mexican cuisine has always been a family affair. As a girl, she and her mother made the tastiest tortillas from scratch, and now she and her daughters do the same. She used her Lending Circles loan to buy equipment and help pay for a van to expand her catering business, El Pipila — which she runs with her daughter to support their family.

When we last shared Guadalupe’s story in 2014, she dreamed of opening a small, brick-and-mortar food stand. Now, she’s a food vendor at The Hall in San Francisco and a food truck regular at Bay Area festivals. Guadalupe’s family is key to her success. “I am doing this for my daughters. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

A Mom on a Mission

Helen, a single mom from Guatemala, came to MAF with a simple dream: to have a safe home for her children. Because she couldn’t afford the hefty security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, she had no choice but to rent rooms in shared apartments — including one with families living in hallways.

After joining a Lending Circle, Helen saved up enough for a security deposit and built her credit score. Now, she has her own three-bedroom apartment for her daughters, and even bigger dreams.

Whipping Up Cupcakes with Her Son’s Support

Elvia’s son ignited her passion for baking with a simple question: “Mom, what do you love to do most?” After building a reputation for having the best desserts at parties, her family and friends encouraged Elvia to start a bakery.

She used a $5,000 loan from MAF to invest in a fridge, business license, and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes. She now has a cupcake shop in Crocker Galleria in San Francisco, and her children continue to be her North Star. “I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”

Thanks to Lesley Marling, MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager, for her contributions to this post.

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