Tag: Champion Spotlight

Laura Arce

Champion Spotlight: Meet Laura Arce

For Laura Arce, joining MAF feels like a homecoming. 

Her new role as a member of MAF’s board of directors brought her—in a symbolic sense—back to the Bay Area, where she was born and raised. For years after college, Laura had spent time elsewhere: on Capitol Hill, in Beijing, working for government agencies or small consulting or even big banks like Wells Fargo, where she currently serves as a senior vice president of consumer banking and lending policy. 

But in 2020, when COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives, Laura had a startling epiphany.

“I realized I was missing my roots,” she says. It wasn’t just because Laura couldn’t simply board a plane ride back to her hometown anymore. It was also because her professional career was borne out of the personal—and it was time for Laura to reconnect with her own origin story.

Laura grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in Oakland.

Her parents were nonprofit workers, and she spent a lot of her elementary school years hanging out around the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, a community resource center where her father worked. 

Laura cites her father as one of her biggest influences. That’s partly because of the early affinity for community work he instilled in her, and partly because of the fact that, as a child, she often witnessed the ways her own family was excluded from the financial mainstream. Her own grandfather didn’t trust banks. Every time he paid for a bill—phone, water, anything—he would take the bus downtown to its respective office and pay in cash. 

“That cost him a lot of time and extra effort. But he did it all of his adult life,” Laura says. It was risky to carry so much cash at once, but her grandfather would rather place his faith in dollar bills than a banking institution. Stamped receipts were carefully saved, and a passbook savings account was rarely touched. 

This process seemed “normal” to Laura until she started college at U.C. Berkeley. While Laura’s grandfather was saving stamped paper receipts and letting his bank account gather dust, Laura’s classmates were using credit cards to “magically” pay for their books and supplies. While her roommate’s parents mailed checks to their landlord, Laura was responsible for her own bank account. She was stunned at the incongruities between her experiences and her classmates’. 

All these differences were like lightbulb moments for Laura. “Who’s unbanked, who’s banked, who has credit, who doesn’t. There are clear disparities across race, ethnicity, income levels, even geographies,” Laura says. And her family lived at those intersections.

“Even in my case, where I had parents who were educated, and grandparents who had kids who could help them—they were underbanked,” Laura says. “They were outside of the financial mainstream.” 

Laura’s position on MAF’s finance and audit committees is a way of honoring her roots. 

“I decided I wanted to take everything I learned and built,” Laura says. “And I wanted to be engaged again in more community-based work.” Her role is the kind that marries a certain philosophy Laura has about closing the banking gap for people of color systematically excluded from financial services—like her grandfather.

“It’s not going to be one easy button that we all can press,” Laura says. “It’s going to take the private sector stepping up, and it’s also going to take public policy that supports those goals, as well as the effort of groups like MAF, who are willing to be out there and take more chances.”

And while Laura intends to bring her public policy and private sector backgrounds into board conversations, she’s also hoping to learn from her peers. “I’m excited to be in these meetings and hear all these conversations about how we address really challenging problems,” Laura says. MAF’s work as both a “national leader” and a community-based organization is the kind of perspective she wants to bring to her work outside of MAF, whether it be in government agencies or big banks.

That’s partly because Laura feels a responsibility. Throughout her career in the private and public sectors, Laura has often been one of the few Latina women in the room. “Part of my expertise is also my personal experience,” she says. Not everyone Laura has worked with has grown up in an immigrant community. Not everyone has had family members who didn’t speak English, or who didn’t trust banks. Not everyone will ask, “What are the parts of the communities that are left behind and not being served? And what can I do?”

But Laura will. “I represent that voice,” Laura says. “It’s really important to me, and I take that very seriously.”

Champion Spotlight: Meet Gaby Zamudio


She’s a bilingual UI developer and ping pong pro who’s passionate about using tech for good.

Meet Gaby Zamudio, a bilingual developer specializing in UI and an all-around positive, people person who’s always looking for opportunities to use her tech skills to support local nonprofits. Gaby is the Co-Founder of Meraki Creative, a community for women entrepreneurs and a former developer at Thoughtworks. Since 2016, she’s been a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council (TAC), a group of professionals from leading Bay Area tech companies who provide leadership, advice, and counsel to help MAF use technology to best meet the financial needs of low-income consumers.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Gaby and learn more about what drives her to support MAF.

MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?

GZ: I’m trained as a UI developer and designer and I love finding creative ways to display data and information. I recently had the opportunity to serve as an instructional assistant in a front-end development course at General Assembly here in San Francisco.

A fun fact that most people don’t know about me is that I played table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong) growing up, and had the chance to represent my region at competitions. Usually I was the only woman participating, which prepared me for the tech industry, where I often have a similar experience.

MAF: What issues spur you to action?

GZ: First, social justice has always been important to me. I was raised during a period of internal conflict in Peru when there were two powerful terrorist parties, so it was a dangerous time. Many people disappeared. My mom worked for a human rights organization and my dad was a sociologist and activist. My mom put so much into her work. As a child, I remember wishing I could see her more, and then opening my heart to realize that maybe other people needed my mom more than me. I felt conflicted because unlike many others, I had food and a safe place to sleep. But I so easily could have been in their position. This experience shaped my commitment to creating a more socially and economically just world.

Second, I care deeply about immigrant rights. I moved to the U.S. from Peru by myself at age 19, so I can relate to the experience of immigrants in this country.

Finally, I’m passionate about the environment. Growing up in a mining town, I’ve seen how these industries contaminate our communities. If we don’t protect our environment, we won’t be able to make progress on other issues like social justice and education.

MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?

GZ: I first heard about MAF through a friend who had participated in a Lending Circle, and I immediately recognized the practice. In Peru, many people participate in panderos to save money for big purchases while being accountable to a group. I love how MAF connects the practice of saving in a group with credit-building and financial education.

When I moved to the U.S. by myself, the financial system here was completely new to me. I didn’t know what credit was.

When I started college, it was confusing to navigate the student loan process. I could have easily taken out more loans than I needed and gotten myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But my experience taught me that everyone – not just immigrants – can benefit from more information and tools to navigate the financial system.

A few years after first learning of MAF, a friend suggested I look into MAF’s new Technology Advisory Council (TAC). Nonprofits don’t usually have the same resources for tech that for-profit companies do, and I’m honored to use my technical expertise to add to MAF’s tech capacity and help create a bigger impact.

MAF: Why do you invest your time and skills in the work we do together?

GZ: For me, it’s about empowering people. At the first TAC meeting, I had the chance to meet Luis, who now owns D’maize, a Salvadoran restaurant in San Francisco. A loan from MAF enabled him and his wife to build credit scores and then access bigger loans to grow their business. They eventually hired staff from their community, and now they give back by donating catering for their son’s events.

I hope to be a granito de arena (grain of sand) supporting this amazing ripple effect.

MAF: What are you looking forward to in our work together in the next few months?

GZ: I’m looking forward to supporting the development of the Lending Circles App and seeing the final version once it’s ready. I feel proud to have helped shaped the design of this one-of-a-kind app. I hope the MAF team feels just as proud! I’m also excited to reflect on what we’ve learned from this process as we move forward with more tech products.

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