Tag: bay area

Words from the Wise #LCSummit16


A Financial Coach, a scholar, and a philanthropist on what Lending Circles mean to them

One of our favorite parts of the Lending Circles Summit was hearing from wise members of our community on what Lending Circles mean to them. Here are a few highlights.

Frederick Wherry is a Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He studies how immigrant and minority households become more equitably integrated into the financial mainstream. In partnership with MAF, he’s interviewed hundreds of Lending Circles clients to understand their experience of Lending Circles and the significance of credit in their lives. His research has led him to broaden the concept of financial inclusion and propose a framework of financial citizenship. His book is forthcoming in 2017.

In his keynote address, he emphasized the importance of practicing deep empathy so that we can not just hear, but genuinely listen to what our clients need and value – rather than prioritizing our own assumptions.

He told us, “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

Leisa Boswell is the Financial Services Specialist at the San Francisco LGBT Center, one of the earliest Lending Circles partners.

She is dedicated to empowering the community through financial education.

In her remarks, she spoke to the particular value of Lending Circles for the LGBTQ community:

“The LGBT community has always been one of chosen family. We have had to take care of each other when our given families would not. Mission Asset Fund has understood this concept from the beginning. They know that communities take care of their own.”

And she shared this story of one of her earliest Lending Circles clients:

“One particular story I recall is that of a woman who has worked her entire life as a musician and in that industry money is unpredictable and often on a cash basis. Her dream of becoming a homeowner seemed impossible due to her lack of access to credit. The lending circle gave her the opportunity to build credit rapidly and qualify for a mortgage and I’m happy to report she is now the proud owner of a below market rate condo in NOPA. All of this happened in less than a year. That is how powerful the lending circle is.”

Daniel Lee is the Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation in San Francisco, CA.

MAF and The Levi Strauss Foundation share a long history: MAF was lucky to have the Levi Strauss Foundation as its very first supporter. Daniel, a self-proclaimed history nerd, graced us with his own telling of MAF’s origin story.

It went like this:

“Levi Strauss & Co. had a factory that was in continuous operation for 96 years at 250 Valencia Street. When that building was sold, a $1 million seed grant from its proceeds went to MAF.”

Daniel closed his remarks with a memorable toast to Lending Circles providers all over the nation:

“For your remarkable bias toward action as leaders and your insistence that solutions sprout organically from the community (not airlifted in GMO form); for bringing your full selves to this path-breaking work; for using every tool at our disposal and embracing unlikely allies and bedfellows.”

These remarks were delivered at the Lending Circles Summit, which took place from October 26-29, 2016, in San Francisco, CA.

SPUR of the moment


MAF explores the connection between urban planning and financial access.

It’s mid afternoon on an exceptionally warm summer day in San Francisco as people begin to file into a sun-drenched room at SPUR’s offices on Mission and 2nd Street waiting to hear about creating a new path to financial empowerment. Unlike the usual groups of people (banks, tech companies, nonprofits, asset-builders) who usually come to hear Jose talk about MAF, all of the people in this room are urban planners.

These are the people who work to make the city’s streets navigable, the buildings impressive and unobtrusive, the parks green and inviting, and the traffic flowing smoothly. So why would urban planners – people who are interested in the tangible aspects of city planning –  be interested in financial empowerment? Simply put, a strong vibrant city needs an economically empowered base.

A city is like a living organism; when its residents get stronger, the entire city gets stronger.

Jose started with talking about how important economic empowerment is for creating a sustainable urban environment. It’s not an argument we often talk about because we’re usually in a different sort of crowd. So we weren’t entirely sure how this would go over, but to our surprise the crowd was in full agreement.

We used this opportunity to dig deeper into the meaning of financial empowerment and its immediate impacts upon communities and cities. We talked about innovative approaches to creating financially empowered communities that no longer have to resort to subsisting on payday loans and other high cost debt.

One of the SPUR members asked, “I’d love to see an effort made to make credit unions feel more accessible… by emulating Check Cashing stores.” Jose replied, “ While on the surface that may seem like a constructive idea, to create a familiar space for individuals. Emulating pay day lenders would encourage and reinforce the cycle of debt as well as the subsistence patterns that we are trying to move people away from.”

By emulating a pay day lender, we are not modeling positive financial behaviors. We want to move people from those groups towards lower cost, mainstream financial services.

It was at this point the crowd fully understood what MAF was about. When we meet people where they are, we recognize the financial aptitude of our members as well as how they navigate the financial pain points of their lives.

We see the financial savviness they have developed and we use it to transform them. For us, neither subsistence nor replacement is the goal. We don’t want to replace a broken system with another system. We want to move our members to a functional and formalized pattern of saving, investing, and credit building.

Economic planning goes hand-in-hand with the financial stability of an entire city. That’s just as important as creating bike lanes that are wide enough or buildings that are up to code. It’s about taking a longer view of sustainability of a city, its culture, and the quality of life for everyone. Urban planning does not end with the sidewalk; it begins with the people who use that sidewalk.

Screwing in the light bulb with GoogleServe


How many Google employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

We don’t know. But we do know how many Google employees it takes to elevate the user experience for our new online social loan platform: five.

How did we get five Google employees in our office in the first place? No, we didn’t trick them by luring them onto a MAF bus. (We didn’t have time to pull off a plan like that.) Instead, we had the honor of hosting five amazing employees for the 2014 GoogleServe event.

Google encourages their employees to build relationships and create positive impact within the communities that they live and work in. One of the many options Google provides to employees is a day of service known as GoogleServe.

As one of the organizations lucky enough to be chosen as one of the GoogleServe locations in the Bay Area, we began to compile a laundry list of tech-related needs. Realizing that five people weren’t going to be able to provide solutions to all of our requests we whittled it down to one – helping us create a better flow for our new Lending Circles enrollment process.

It had been an issue we had been working on for a little while, and we felt that some fresh eyes and highly analytical minds would give us some clear direction towards an answer.

That Thursday morning our staff puttered around the office in hot anticipation of our incoming visitors. As the volunteers began to filter in, we were met with warm, friendly people who were excited to meet us and get started on the project at hand. Arriving with a box full of sandwiches from the Google office, Axel, Wenzhe, Dan, Chris and Sudarshan were happy to join a startup environment.

Together, we set out to create a better experience for our members and partners when they enroll in our program and we wanted the volunteers to make that process even more intuitive. It is important for us to show the ease of our program from start to finish, and the enrollment process is the first interaction that everyone has with MAF.

They were interested in every angle of our process, the members needs, the partners needs, the ways to access the new platform, even the times of day we expected our partners and members would be trying to access the enrollment process. Once they had gathered the important information, they set to work. By noon, the MAF staff sat down to have lunch with the volunteers and thank them for all their hard work. We all discussed what it was that made us so passionate about our respective work.

Like the volunteers, we had a thirst for knowledge and a drive to create a better world through technology.

The volunteers talked about their experience as residents of the Mission, their admiration for the local communities, and the love they felt for the vibrant cultures and characters that make up the neighborhood. For them, credit was not something they thought about often, so they were surprised to hear how the lack of credit and access to a fair financial marketplace was negatively impacting the ability for families in the Mission to thrive.

One volunteer offered his own experience moving to the states from another country and how difficult it was for him to build credit. We also received a tutorial on how to quickly fold t-shirts, for Doris this was a life changing experience.

As the day progressed, we watched in awe as the whiteboard became progressively covered in words, lines, numbers, and random scribbles.

After a few hours, the Google employees had taken our goals for the new enrollment process and laid out a simple, workable plan to achieve them. We were able to find a solution to an issue critical to increasing access to our Lending Circles program as well as a new approach to creating innovative solutions.

Through the Google team we learned some creative new strategies for viewing a question, and creating innovative solutions. We talked about the importance of credit and financial stability for the health of our communities. Most importantly, we had time to sit down and meet like minded people who love San Francisco and its residents as much as we do. Plus, a few staff members even learned a unique way to fold a t-shirt. It was an interesting and eye opening experience, and we would do it again in a heartbeat!


Jonathan D’Souza is the Marketing Manager at Mission Asset Fund and he loves to talk to talk to people about the importance of credit building while showing them too many photos of his dog Phoenix. You can reach him at [email protected].

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