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Tag: Behind the Scenes

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

Lending Circles son bienvenidos a Miami!

Find out how MAF is making waves in Miami!

Jose, Daniela, and I set off to visit a promising new community to bring the Lending Circles program, Miami! I had been waiting for this day ever since I joined MAF. Now the day was here and it fell on Cinco de Mayo! On my way to the hotel, I decided to take a detour down Flagler Street, one of the main arteries of Miami community, the busy street runs right through little Havana and leads directly to downtown Miami.

I was not surprised to see that this vibrant street was share many similarities with MAF’s home in the historic Mission District of San Francisco.

Unfortunately one of the similarities was that it was riddled with check cashing and payday lenders. It was a visual reminder of why we were there and it gave me a better sense of what opportunities the nonprofits in the area we striving to create. Needless to say, I felt amped to deliver the presentation the next day.

Throughout Miami folks were preparing for Cinco de Mayo, I was preparing to give a presentation on how Lending Circles can transform communities. We entered the Miami JP Morgan Chase headquarters, as people began filtering in off of the warm Miami streets.  The sweet smell of Rosa Mexicano filled the room, while I have to say San Francisco has some amazing Mexican food, I will say that this was a close second.

At first with everyone entering and networking it was hard to judge the amount of people coming to hear about MAF’s Lending Circles.

As the the presentation started, I noticed that more people were coming in! By the time the presentation had ended people were lining the edges of the room. It was invigorating to feel everyone’s energy and to hear from the audience themselves the opportunities they saw by having Lending Circles serve their local community.

The next day I had the pleasure of doing a site visit with one of the local nonprofits, Catalyst, who had come to hear about what a partnership with MAF could do for them and their communities. They are a nonprofit in Dade County that acts as a diverse resource to jump start families and community members in a path towards success, a true catalyst.

The Catalyst team (Terry and Gretchen) gave me a warm welcome and gave me a wonderful tour of their site. I couldn’t help but admire their art work, some very personal, some that their own members had created, and of course some just completely awesome.

Overall it was an amazing experience. It was truly great to meet the JP Morgan Chase team and all the nonprofits that are working hard to make their communities a better place for families.

Is a new logo like getting a new uniform?

When a new nonprofit is founded, it’s usually someone’s cousin or friend who gets the task of designing the new logo. They do the best job they can and the organization eagerly eats it up, grateful that one more thing is done. Even if they don’t realize it, the staff quickly adopts a brand identity created around that logo. With flyers and websites and presentations all using the same fonts and color schemes, they strive for making everything look like it has a sense of belonging. But after a while, the organization usually comes into its own and that old look just can’t keep up. Who the organization is now no longer matches the colors, fonts and visual style that it needs to represent itself to the world.

MAF, the nonprofit in San Francisco where I work, is no exception. About seven years ago, we were started by an amazing group of community advocates. When the Levi Strauss Company, a long-time neighborhood employer, closed its last factory in San Francisco, community leaders and the company forged together to imagine a new kind of future. With proceeds from the sale, they would create a new nonprofit to help low-income residents of the Mission District. And so Mission Asset Fund was formed. And a spouse of one of those community leaders created our first logo. When I look at the first logo, I imagine our members looking at the growth of their bank accounts over time, meeting various milestones along the way.

Our 2007 logo

But that was seven years ago, when the nonprofit had two employees, a few dozen clients and brand new programs. Now it’s seven years and several awards later and our social loans can still be found in the Mission District, but also in six other U.S. states. The old look with rigid building blocks has broadened into a larger tapestry of people, communities and nonprofits working to build a fair financial marketplace, together.

What colors your organization wears are meaningful.

Pink, a color that in the 19th century was reserved for the clothing of young boys, is now “only for girls,” according to my five-year-old son. Pink is also now associated with a nationwide network of breast cancer advocacy. For MAF, the dark blues of our first logo indicate knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness. But as anyone who knows us, we’re also agile, community-based and not afraid to change the conversation.

If a brand is everything someone says or knows about your organization, a logo is like a team uniform.

So year after year, even as your body grows and your mind matures, you can still be stuck wearing a uniform stitched together in 2007 back when the Sopranos faded to black. This time, we know where we’re going and we know how to get there. So we worked with the amazingly creative team at Digital Telepathy to come up with a uniform that fits who we are now.

Our new logo

We’ve traded the rigid shapes and dark blues for vibrant Pantone colors of varying sizes, energetic aqua blues, bright grass greens, rich purples.

We think our new look does a better job of showing the world what our vision for change is all about.

What does it say to you?

Shifting the focus on social lending

Jan Stürmann, a videographer based out of San Francisco, produced four awesome new videos highlighting MAF’s programs and how social lending really transforms people’s lives. He was gracious enough to share his thoughts with me on capturing our story and what he learned from the experience.

What is your process like when you begin a new video/storytelling project?

The first part is trying to get some sense of the story the client is trying to tell (which the real story is often only emerges in the editing process.) Then it’s identifying the key people who can tell this story. Before an interview I try to let my curiosity be my guide in generating a list of questions to ask. I find writing a script is generally not very helpful. It’s by engaging in a conversation, whilst trying to ignore the camera, that the surprising details emerge. Once I have the interview, I get it transcribed and from there build a first draft script. Then, ideally, I go back and shoot b-roll footage, which is what I lay over the interview.

Community and relationships are two important values for Mission Asset Fund. How did you try to capture those concepts in the videos?

I try to work as unobtrusively as I can, normally alone, so what ever interaction can happen as naturally as possible. My direction is never going to be as good as some surprise happening spontaneously. My job is to be attentive to those moments.

Was there a particular video you had the most enjoyable or interesting experience putting together?

It’s always a privilege to be invited into a world I’m unfamiliar with and to be trusted with people’s stories. On the surface a topic like money and credit seems boring. But talking honestly about money is one of the last taboos in our culture. Personally I’m very interested about how we interact with money. So being able to indulge that interest professionally was very gratifying for me.

Did you find it difficult to visualize financial concepts like credit and loans in an engaging way?

What I did not want to do going into this project was create a boring video filled with a lot of graphs and charts. The trick was to figure out how to find the stories behind the graphs and charts. We all grapple with money daily with varying degrees of awareness.

You can view the videos to explore the communities and projects that MAF is involved with at following links: The Power of OpportunityEveryone Deserves a Shot at Success, Creating a Fair Financial Marketplace, and  Building Credit, Building Communities