Tag: partners

IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate

IGNITE Partner Convening: We Shine Brighter Together

Like fireflies coming together in the night sky, we shine brighter when we’re together. In that spirit, Lending Circles providers from across the country convened for the first time in nearly two years for IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate. 

We gathered around the “virtual table” to reflect on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrate our partners who showed up for their communities, and learn from one another. With interactive workshops, guest speakers, games, and music, IGNITE was a day full of connection. We also unveiled a new offering for partners: MyMAF, a mobile app that puts a financial coach in people’s pockets. Read on for session highlights and event recordings.

Welcome & Fireside Chat

Incredible leaders Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez from La Cocina and Ahmed Mori from Catalyst Miami joined MAF CEO José Quiñonez for a fireside chat on what it means to show up, especially when times are hard. 

Since La Cocina works with entrepreneurs in the food and hospitality industry, Debbie described how 100% of La Cocina organizations experienced some version of furlough, layoff, or shutdown in 2020. Despite this, La Cocina still managed to open the nation’s first women- and women of color-led food hall during the pandemic. How? By turning outward and launching a $2 million food security program that met the needs of the community. Ahmed described how Catalyst Miami likewise adapted to meet changing realities – launching a new program geared towards microbusinesses in the summer of 2020. 

Igniting the Fire
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

After two difficult years, how can we keep our fire going and continue to show up, do more, and do better for the people we serve? Two ways: turn to community for solutions and rely on trusted partners who do the same. As Debbie shared, “There’s an expression… ‘you always have to find a way out of no way’… in the worst times, we in our community have the ability to discover and enact a solution.” 

Ahmed agreed, emphasizing the importance of working with partners who share a commitment to justice: “Hearing that folks in community want to create new systems in the cracks of the old..and in the cracks of the failed systems that oppressed them — that is ultimately what keeps me going.” Their fireside chat set the tone and energy for the day!

Sparking Innovation: Lessons Learned from Lending Circles

In Sparking Innovation, Marjan Nadir from Refugee Women’s Network, Rose Mary Rodriguez from Pathfinders, and Henry Rucker from Project for Pride in Living shared how they adapted their Lending Circles programs to meet the challenges clients were facing during the pandemic. Refugee Women’s Network even launched its first Lending Circle during COVID-19. Some of our partners’ learnings? 

Sparking Innovation
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder
  • During COVID-19, people had a greater need for building up savings. Lending Circles are a powerful tool to build a nest egg safely.
  • Local leaders and clients can help establish trust and buy-in with other community members. Henry explained how local church leaders and barbers became trusted advocates for Lending Circles in their communities.
  • Finally, participate in a Lending Circle yourself! When staff have firsthand experience, they’re better able to share the benefits to others. 

Shining a Light: Undocumented Immigrants during COVID-19

Millions of immigrant families were excluded from federal COVID-19 relief and had to dig into savings and take on debt just to survive. In Shining a Light, practitioners offered real and innovative ways we can support immigrants as they rebuild during the pandemic, drawing on insights from MAF’s national survey of immigrants excluded from federal COVID-19 relief. We can start by offering more social safety net support to immigrants, providing more assistance to people getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and partnering with key organizations to reach more immigrant communities. 

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket

As we rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, we’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively to partners. Efrain Segundo, MAF’s Financial Education and Engagement Manager, demonstrated MyMAF’s financial education modules, actionable tools, and other exciting features to help communities take control of their finances.

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Why MyMAF? MyMAF is a tech tool designed specifically for the people we serve. It is bilingual, accessible, and culturally relevant. 

As one Lending Circles provider shared, “I can’t say enough how much I love this app…I love how aligned it is with our coaching approach.”

If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, reach out to [email protected] for more information.

Fueling the Hustle: Entrepreneurism during COVID-19

Small business owners juggled a lot during the pandemic — everything from closings to reopenings, changing guidelines, and capital challenges. Through it all, entrepreneurs navigated these challenges with creativity and determination. Two entrepreneurs, Tahmeena and Reyna, shared how Lending Circles helped them build credit and grow their businesses. 

Entrepreneurism during COVID-19
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Tahmeena used the $1,000 she saved through Lending Circles to purchase merchandise and start an online boutique called Takho’z Choice. In just three months, her small business was turning a profit. Reyna of La Guerrera’s Kitchen reflected how her mother had taught her about tandas, so she was familiar with the Lending Circles concept. Because Lending Circles allow people with ITINs to establish credit, they are an incredible resource. Reyna also noted the importance of providing immigrant entrepreneurs with mentorship and legal services alongside financial services.

Kindling Adaptability: Connection in a Virtual World

At MAF, we talk a lot about meeting people where they are. And over the past two years, that’s meant meeting clients online. How can we continue to provide relevant and timely financial services to clients in a virtual space? Casa Familiar’s Yessenia Sanchez and The Resurrection Project’s Sandy Guzman joined financial coaches from MAF to share best practices for “waving clients” into the virtual office—and how they kept things in perspective when things got tough. 

MAF Financial Coaching Manager Liliana Hernandez shared a quote from Mother Teresa that inspired her: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This focus on serving the person in front of her helped take client-driven financial coaching to another level during the pandemic.

Music

A celebration isn’t the same without music, and we were fortunate to have not one, but two musical performances during IGNITE. DJ OME kicked off the day with a lively set that perfectly set the tone for IGNITE. One attendee shared that DJ OME’s set was a better way to start the day than coffee — and we agree! And Analia and Ruben, two MAF clients, gave an incredible mariachi performance to close out our time together. 

Keeping the Spark Alive

How will you keep the spark aflame?

At the start of IGNITE, José shared: “In our communities, there are always different crises. It requires leaders to show up and do something, and do more, and do better. And I appreciate the people who are just doing it.” It’s clear that the MAF partner network is full of leaders doing just that: showing up and doing the hard work. With their leadership, we can ignite the fire that transforms recovery into reality.


We’ll continue to learn from our partners and we can’t wait to celebrate them again during MAF’s Quinceañera — coming up this September 15th! Stay tuned for more opportunities to keep these sparks alive.

We’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively for our partners. If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, please get in touch at [email protected] for more information.

Putting Heart into UpValley’s Lending Circles: Joleen’s Story

Joleen learned valuable lessons navigating the U.S. financial system from her parents and career working at banks and credit unions. Now she runs the Lending Circles program at Napa’s UpValley Family Centers to help her community do the same.

Joleen learned from her parents’ financial lessons.

Joleen fondly remembers sitting in the back seat of her father’s lowrider as her family went on a cruise. Life was a little hectic for the small family of five, but on Sundays they enjoyed quality time together at car shows.  

Joleen’s parents were young teenagers when they moved from Yuba City to Napa, California to raise their three children. Napa provided Joleen’s father with a good paying construction job while allowing the young family to be closer to familial support. Since then, Joleen has called Napa home and hopes to one day purchase a house so that her daughter can grow up there.

Joleen's family

As young parents navigating the U.S. financial system, Joleen’s parents found themselves using payday loans to pay bills since they were the only financial product available to them at the time. “My mom had so many payday loans, she would go hopping from one to pay off the other,” reflected Joleen. Joleen watched as her parents struggled to get themselves out of debt and become financially stable. “Being young and not having much money – it was a lot. Seeing that struggle and feeling like you’re never getting out of this hole.” Eventually, Joleen’s father earned his degree and secured employment which helped the family become financially stable. 

As her parents gained access to better financial products, they better managed their money. “I am so proud of my parents and where they are today,” shared Joleen. After living in apartments all of her childhood, her parents now have their own home. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, Joleen’s father now has a job in the medical field while her mother takes care of the grandkids. 

“What I took from my parents, I decided to obtain [a house] sooner. I really want that for my child. I want my own home, where she will have her own room.” 

Her parents’ growth taught Joleen how to manage her finances at an early age. Soon after graduating high school, she opened her first college credit card. She knew how to read through the credit card terms and fully understand what she was signing before she made a decision. 

Inspired by her mother’s time working as a banker, Joleen also worked at banks and credit unions.

Joleen loved helping clients get banked, although at times she felt limited by capacity and felt like she could not serve everyone due to cost. She was frustrated that even credit cards starting at 0% rates only had those rates for a short period of time, leaving clients in precarious positions when rates increased. On top of this, she struggled with the “shark-like” approach; employees were expected to push certain loan products on clients in order to meet monthly quotas. Monetary incentives served to motivate employees to meet these goals which Joleen thought translated to inauthentic sales interactions with clients. Instead of trying to provide quality service, employees were motivated to boost their own income. 

Joleen yearned for an authentic connection where she could really listen and serve people. She had not envisioned working at a nonprofit but – as she puts it – “life carried her this way.” 

Joleen and her daughter

Although Joleen always considered herself a numbers person, her real dream was to become a traveling makeup artist for a luxe makeup line. As a makeup artist, she helped clients feel good about themselves. She recalls clients feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for her service. “What I loved about artistry was the feeling – the service I could provide. The feeling of making someone feel beautiful.” 

Joleen’s dream of traveling and providing this service on the road was about to become a reality when she realized she was pregnant. She recognized that being a traveling makeup artist meant leaving her newborn daughter for 21 days out of the month. Joleen’s love for her daughter set her on a different path. 

 “It’s crazy how having a child can change what your dreams and goals are.”  

A coworker approached Joleen about a new opportunity at UpValley Family Centers, a nonprofit organization that has served Napa community members through their cross-generational programs for the past 20 years. Her coworker thought Joleen’s heart and care for clients would make her a perfect fit for UpValley. It didn’t take long for Joleen to become UpValley’s newest Economic Success Manager. 

“The fact that I am able to provide a service, free of cost, makes it so much better. I am really able to connect with people and build relationships with people.”

In contrast to her time working for banks and credit unions, Joleen now uses her financial knowledge to coach and help clients reach their financial goals. Through a partnership with MAF, Joleen helped launch the Lending Circles program at UpValley. Now she connects clients to a 0% interest credit-building loan through the program. 

Joleen says Lending Circles opens doors for clients individually, while building community. 

UpValley Family Centers, a MAF Lending Circles partner

In her first UpValley Lending Circle, clients came from different backgrounds and spoke different languages. Despite their differences, they worked together to decide the distribution order for the Lending Circle, taking into account who would benefit from going first.

One member from the circle had recently moved from Mexico. She didn’t think she could establish credit but through the program she purchased a car. It was something that she did not think was possible – and it was because of Lending Circles that she did it. 

As a participant of two Lending Circles herself, Joleen has seen the impacts of Lending Circles firsthand. “Even though I can avoid a high-interest loan now, I was able to pay off my own car, no interest. I was able to do that with what I received [from the Lending Circle]. I loved that. My circle helped me pay off my car and boost my credit. And now Lending Circles are also helping me buy a home.” 

As Joleen works towards owning her own home, she relies on her family’s support. She is saving money on rent and building up her savings by living with family. For Joleen, the Lending Circles program has a similar feeling of familial support.

“It’s that same concept of, how can we help each other – regardless if it’s blood or not – to reach what we really want in life?”  

Joleen jokes that she would have referred clients to the Lending Circles program if she had known about it during her time as a banker. “Had I known, I would’ve been like I’m not trying to make a commission. Join this program instead!” 

Pilar’s Story: An ode to Prince and homeownership

Pilar celebrates her one-year homeownership anniversary this year. Her home is a beautiful, cozy, and peaceful place in South Minneapolis. She recalls the warm and loving home her mother created for her when she was young, and feels a sense of pride in the home that she has been able to create for herself.

 

A bold and passionate young girl growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Pilar and her mother had a very close knit relationship and relied on each other for support. 

Pilar’s mother struggled to make ends meet as a single parent working a number of factory jobs. Despite the financial hardships, she provided Pilar with a warm and loving childhood. She made sure that her daughter was given every opportunity. When Pilar showed a passion for dance, her mother signed Pilar up for ballet lessons and sent her to a performing arts school.

In high school, Pilar was a cheerleader, a dancer, and a musician. She was never afraid to express herself – from sharing her opinions to dressing how she wanted to dress. She was a child of the ‘80s who adored the movie “Purple Rain” and the musician Prince. She saw parallels between herself and Prince: both were Minnesotans who never quite fit in and had dreams to make it big.

“Prince came from poverty, and was able to accomplish so much with so few resources. He gave people hope that they could make it too. He had a big influence on my life, and I listened to his music to get through hard times.”

Pilar worked hard and won a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University, making her mother immensely proud. 

She dedicated her professional life to public service, and she eventually moved to the Twin Cities after she was offered a job at Project for Pride in Living (PPL). PPL is an award-winning nonprofit organization in Minneapolis dedicated to empowering low income individuals and families to become self-reliant. Pilar is now the face of PPL. She works the front desk at PPL’s Learning Center, and she’s the first point of contact for anyone who walks through the doors. She hears intimate personal stories on a daily basis.

“I always wish that our clients only knew what they were capable of when they first walk in to the office. When I hear stories of people coming into PPL, I understand their stories and their background. I can relate. This is much more than a job for me – it’s a mission.”

PPL has employment and training programs, and holds graduations for participants who complete their programs. It’s common for graduates to express their thanks to Pilar at their graduation ceremony, saying that it was her encouragement and smiling face that made them sign up and stay on track.

 

Pilar first heard about Lending Circles from Henry, a fellow staff member at a Project for Pride in Living. PPL first started offering Lending Circles in 2015, and so far, they have served over 40 clients and generated a loan volume of a little over $13,000.

Henry encouraged her to sign up for a Lending Circle so she could both better explain the program to prospective participants and work towards her own financial goals. At the time, Pilar didn’t have any credit — she wanted to avoid credit cards because she’d heard stories about people spiraling into debt. Her only experience with credit was her student loans, and this wasn’t enough credit history to provide her with a credit score.  

She met with a credit counselor and, for the first time ever, realized that homeownership was within reach as long as she could build her credit score. Motivated by this news, Pilar signed up for a Lending Circle. Her group decided on a monthly contribution amount of $50, and she felt closer to the group after each member shared information about their financial goals. When it came time for Pilar to receive her loan, it was the end of June in Minnesota and the heat was sweltering. She used her loan funds to purchase a much needed air conditioning unit. Pilar was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and she could not have afforded the unit without the Lending Circle funds. It was not only a relief to her, but also her two dogs — brother and sister rescues —  who were suffering from the heat. She described the financial education videos that accompanied her Lending Circle as “eye opening.” For the first time, Pilar felt comfortable managing a budget.

“This might sound crazy, but I honestly didn’t know that I had to pay my bills on time.”

 

Pilar is now a proud homeowner. “If it wasn’t for the Lending Circle and meeting with Henry, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” she says as she reflects back on the process. Pilar’s whole demeanor lights up when she talks about her home. She describes the house as a place that “lets me be who I want to be. After a stressful day at work, it provides a wonderful reprieve.”

But there is an additional bonus for Pilar. Her house is right next door to a very special house – known as the “Purple Rain house” to locals – the house that appeared in the iconic 1984 film featuring Prince.

Pilar knows her home purchase was meant to be. On the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing, fans poured into her neighborhood in the rain and congregated at the Purple Rain house. Even though Pilar never ended up as Prince’s neighbor, she still feels like the magic of his presence and his legacy in her neighborhood. Laughing, she says, “at night, I think I see purple lights coming out of the basement. It’s really something.”

On the topic of of homeownership, Pilar says “I thought it wasn’t possible. So know that it is possible, regardless of where you find yourself.”

Lending Circles at the Brown Boi Project


Building Credit & Confidence in LGBTQ Communities of Color

Carla’s first experience with a lending circle came long before she began working with Brown Boi Project, and long before she’d heard of MAF.She knew them as “cundinas,” and she first encountered them at the Los Angeles clothing factory where she started working as a teenager.

She and her coworkers formed the cundina to support each other in saving money. They each agreed to make a weekly contribution of $100.

It wasn’t an easy amount to save. Carla worked overtime to ensure she could make each payment. Eventually, she saved enough money through the cundina to finance a trip to Mexico, where much of her family was living.

Carla had taken the factory job knowing that her ultimate goal was to continue her education, and soon she enrolled in night classes at a local community college.

Money was tight, and the classes were expensive, so she took on heavy debt to finance her studies. She didn’t realize that she could have qualified for financial aid.

Shortly after beginning her studies, Carla suffered a back injury at work. Her employers stopped giving her hours, and she eventually went on disability and became a full-time student. She transferred to UC Santa Cruz, and a professor assisted her in applying for financial aid. Carla loved her coursework in Feminist Studies and Sociology, but the burden of her growing debt lurked in the background. She began skirting calls from debt collectors. She scraped by this way for years.

She spiraled deeper into debt. Her strong credit score of 720 plummeted, dipping below 500.

From Cundinas to Lending Circles

Shortly after graduating from college, Carla came across an job opening announcement with Brown Boi Project, an Oakland nonprofit that brings together masculine-of-center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen and allies to change the ways communities of color talk about gender.

She knew right away – this job was for her. Brown Boi’s mission and values echoed her own identity and experience. She applied without hesitation. Competition was steep, with over 80 applicants vying for the position. But Carla was right about her fit for the role. As she tells it, she and the staff at Brown Boi “just kicked it off well.”

She’d landed her dream job. But her debt and damaged credit continued to limit her.

She struggled to find housing in Oakland that would accept her low credit score. Fortunately, Carla had a friend who helped her find an apartment. But without a credit card, she couldn’t afford to furnish her new home.

“All of those things are so emotionally draining and stressful. I was feeling depressed. Your credit score can almost feel attached to your own worth.”

It was at Brown Boi that Carla learned about the Lending Circles program that MAF manages. She was familiar with the concept from her earlier experience with the cundinas. The promise of improving her credit score through participation lifted her spirit – she began to imagine the relief she would feel if her life were no longer controlled by debt, her options no longer curtailed by her credit score. After so many years of financial exclusion, Carla appreciated that Lending Circles were open to her regardless of her credit score.

Carla brought the same discipline and dedication to her Lending Circle that she had brought to the cundina years before. After Brown Boi became an official Lending Circles provider, Carla seized the opportunity to become the lead staff organizer for the program.

Carla finished her Lending Circle with 100% on-time payments. She paid down her debt and even managed to build up savings.

But despite her perfect track record, she was nervous to check her credit score. She had come to equate a credit score with feeling disheartened, discouraged, and stuck.

For almost a month after the Lending Circle ended, Carla delayed checking her credit. The same month Carla completed her Lending Circle, she was invited to attend a summit for innovators of color at the White House. She took herself suit shopping, comforted by the fact that she now had enough savings to cover the costs.

Carla found the perfect outfit: a grey suit with a red tie. At the register, the cashier offered her an application for the store credit card. Carla was accustomed to declining these offers, knowing she would likely not qualify. But this time, she applied.

And to her shock, she qualified.

“I qualified at a $500 limit! I was super surprised. I said, wait… What? I qualify?!”

Buoyed by this news, Carla finally pushed herself to check her credit score. She checked: it had risen 100 points to 650.

She paid off the store credit card and applied for a different card that offered airline miles. Again, she was approved – this time for a $5000 limit. Her next goal is save enough money to fly her mother to Europe next year.

What the Future Holds

Financial stability has transformed Carla’s outlook on life.

“I’m gonna be real,” she says. “I feel good. I have a credit card in case of emergency. I’m less stressed knowing that when I need the money, it’s there.” She adds, “I feel more grounded, like my life is coming back together.”

Carla feels passionate about starting more Lending Circles and encouraging more open conversations about financial exclusion with people of color in the LGBTQ community:

“There’s a lot of shame. It’s often taboo to talk about financial struggles in our community… Sometimes we think we don’t have these types of problems, but we do.”

She now keeps her spending under 25% of her credit limit and pays off the full balance of her cards each month. These skills are practical, but they have a larger significance to Carla. She sees financial education as a powerful way of mastering an economic system that so often excludes and disadvantages people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

“No one has taught us how to play this game,” Carla explains. “But with financial education modules, we learn the rules.”

Winners of the 2016 Super-Partner Awards


These fabulous #LCHeroes took home prizes at the Lending Circles Summit

When MAF was founded in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2007, the vision was always to grow. MAF’s leadership and supporters saw the potential of taking Lending Circles to communities across the country, to make affordable, safe loans and credit-building opportunities available to as many people as possible.

And oh, how we’ve grown! Since 2007, MAF has grown into a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states (and Washington, D.C.) across the country.

The Lending Circles Summit that took place in October was an opportunity to learn, to share strategies, and, of course, to celebrate. And celebrate we did. Lunchtime on the second day of the Summit was a formal affair: Elena and Mohan, Directors of Partners & Programs, gave out 12 awards to exceptional Lending Circles partners. The prizes: custom-made action figures.

Here are the winners.


The Squad Award: For outstanding commitment to PAC

Some squads are legendary, like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Squad Award goes to the 7 outstanding members of MAF’s newly formed Partner Advisory Council (PAC) who have pooled their talents and strengths to form an unbeatable squad.

Jorge Blandón (FII), Leisa Boswell (SF LGBT Center), Madeline Cruz (The Resurrection Project), Rob Lajoie (Peninsula Family Services), Gricelda Montes (El Centro De La Raza), Judy Elling Przybilla (Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership)  & Alejandro Valenzuela Jr. (CLUES)

The Little Giant Award: For creating huge results with a small team

This partner has proven that big things can come in small packages. This award goes to a partner with a small staff that has worked together exceptionally well to create big results.

Center for Changing Lives (Chicago, IL)

The Wacky Races Award: For creating a culture of fun and humor

This is a partner that understands that the prescription for vibrant relationships is a good laugh. From movie nights to scavenger hunts, this organization remembers to keep it fun. We recognize this partner for cultivating a meaningful culture with roots in humor.

Game Theory Academy (Oakland, CA)

The Batman Award: For soaring high with a 0% default rate

One of the most known and recognized, this partner continues to “spread its wings” with Lending Circles and soar very high with a 0% default rate and over $125k in loan volume.

Fremont Family Resource Center (Fremont, CA)

The Force Awakens Award: For being a force to reckon with

This partner is newer on the scene, but has already proven itself as an adept user of The Force like Finn and Rey. They advocate for their community, ask great questions, and continue taking on new challenges in the spirit of serving their clients.

Hacienda CDC (Portland, OR)

The Thor Award: For demonstrating enduring strength

This provider has flexed its Lending Circles muscles by running three different programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, and Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) (Los Angeles, CA)

The Wonder Woman Award: For exceptional support for women

This heroic provider works with many immigrant women who are establishing economic independence in the US for the first time.

Chinese Community Center (Houston, TX)

The Falcon Award: For elevating the conversation

The Falcon Award goes to a Lending Circles provider that really knows how to speak up and “Tweet!” This award goes to an organization who is actively sharing creative, informative (and bilingual!) content, both about their programs & about relevant news and current events.

Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) (Washington, D.C.)

The Flash Award: For remarkable implementation speed

This relatively new provider has hit the ground running so fast that if you blink, you might miss them! They formed four Lending Circles within their first five months. We’re blown away by this world record for speed and excited to see what more is in store.

Korean Youth + Community Center (Los Angeles, CA)

The Spiderman Award: For casting extensive webs of support

This “friendly, neighborhood” superhero uses all tools at their disposal – social media, press opportunities, referrals, and creative events like Lending Circles brunches – to cast extensive webs of relationships. They even describe Lending Circles outreach as “a breeze”!

The Resurrection Project (Chicago, IL)

The Yoda Award: For sharing a wealth of wisdom

This learned and wise partner was one of the first to join the Lending Circles network. Since then, they’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge. But what’s even more amazing is how generous they are with their expertise. Just like Yoda, they are a mentor and coach, and they spread their wisdom across the galaxy.

The San Francisco LGBT Community Center (San Francisco, CA)

The Iron Man Award: For leveraging technology for good

Check out this tech-savvy superhero! They’ve really figured out how to combine technology and social justice. In addition to offering Lending Circles, this organization regularly partners with FinTech startups to offer their community members new apps to meet their clients where they are and help them reach their financial goals.

Catalyst Miami (Miami, FL)

Congratulations, #LCHeroes!

LC Summit 16: Top 16 Moments


16 reasons why you can’t miss the next Lending Circles Summit

Call me biased, but here are 16 reasons why the LC Summit was not only beautiful but hands-down one of the most exciting conferences of 2016:

1. This amazingly smart team built a prototype of a “Document Drone” to make sure that forgetting your bank statement at home wouldn’t cause unnecessary delays for hardworking clients at the Go Go Gadget Arm: Build an App with Design Thinking Workshop hosted by Catapult Design.

2. You gotta love this high-flying #LCHero sneakily enlisting the help of her friend to make her cape fly! First glance at this, and I didn’t even realize there was a hand there.

3. When the Yoda Award (for “Sharing a Wealth of Wisdom”) was awarded to the SF LGBT Center. Yes! Leisa Boswell said it best at the opening night reception: “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. Communities take care of their own.” Speak, Leisa, Speak.

4. When we realized that Pedro Diaz from The Resurrection Project is in fact a doppelganger of Gustavo, a famous DREAMer client who used Lending Circles to apply for DACA. Even Pedro agreed. He was all like “yeah – I can totally see it.”

5. Hearing Fred Wherry speak is like food for your brain and your soul. He said “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

6. When Holly Minch from Lightbox Collaborative was literally jumping during her True Heroes: Engaging Clients in a Digital Age panel. This woman loves a good GAME Plan! There’s nothing like that kind of energy.

7. When you got to demo the Lending Circles App! Right? You might have been confused – was this a nonprofit or tech conference? Sidenote: We also got to hear Santos (his lovely mug is in the App banner) speak on the How to be a Hero of Your Own Story panel, and be upfront about how his mom made him do Lending Circles. Listen to your mother, folks.

8. When Mohan enthusiastically wore the “predatory lender shark hat” at the MAFterParty. It was weird. It was funny. But it also made for a very fun raffle experience. Here he is with Rob Lajoie from Peninsula Family Services winning the raffle to see a show at BATS Improv.

9. When the Lords of Print set up their screen printing station for t-shirts. It was seriously like watching Bumblebee transform back into a car.

10. José’s keynote address included an unexpected twist: he led the group in a brief guided meditation to launch us into the conference with open hearts and minds.

11. Oh the Pins, oh the Flair! Amazing superhero pins designed by Raul Barrera took off. Attendees won them for collecting business cards, speaking up and asking interesting questions, playing games, and completing challenges.

12. When Isabel from El Buen Comer shared tasty delights and an amazing story about food, family and love. Foodie tip: She has arguably the best Chilaquiles Verdes in all of SF.

13. Lending-Circles Fueled Chocolate Tres-Leches Cupcakes? Yes please. Missed out on this action? You can visit Elvia at La Luna Cupcakes in Crocker Galleria in SF.

14. #FutureisFemale all-woman panel Using Tech for Good at the Federal Reserve featured dynamos Mae Watson Grote, Megan McTiernan, Alexandra Bernadotte and Karina Moreno. Go, ladies!

15. When Judy from Fremont Family Resource Center responded responded to the question “Why is the lending circle program important to you?” with “It works!” Simple, yet persuasive.

16. When we saw six lightening fast tech demos in The Flash: ‘Super Speed’ Demos Showcasing Tech for Good workshop – from saving with EARN, coaching with Beyond 12, fighting payday lenders with Nerdwallet (pictured below), getting organized with Box.org, fundraising for good with Classy, and even using SMS to send a billion messages for good with Twilio.

Ready for the next one in 2018!?

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.

Taking Financial Learning Beyond the Classroom


Lending Circles round out the Game Theory Academy Experience

Jasmine and Pasha’s friendship began during childhood, when the two girls were elementary school classmates. Eventually they were assigned to different middle schools, and they lost touch. But the two young women shared a deep commitment to their educations and their futures. It was this quality that would reunite them and that would ultimately lead them to join Game Theory Academy’s first Lending Circle.

Their reunion was unexpected and unplanned. In 2015, when Jasmine and Pasha were in their senior years at two different Oakland high schools, they both enrolled in “Make Your Decisions Count,” a class on financial decision-making with the Oakland nonprofit Game Theory Academy (GTA). They resumed their friendship as if no time had passed and began parallel learning journeys that would prepare them for lifelong financial security.

GTA’s mission is to equip young people with the decision-making skills and economic opportunities needed to achieve financial stability in adulthood. In “Make Your Decisions Count,” Jasmine and Pasha practiced slowing down their decision-making process and carefully considering the pros and cons of each step. They cultivated the habit of pausing before acting and considering the questions, “What’s in my best interest? And what do I need to know before I decide?”

Jasmine and Pasha knew these skills would aid them tremendously in important future decisions, such as selecting the best bank or making a plan to pay for college. But a key to Jasmine and Pasha’s success – and their ongoing engagement with GTA – was the opportunity to put their newly acquired financial skills into practice. They did this first through GTA’s internship program, and eventually through Lending Circles.

After completing Make Your Decisions Count, both Jasmine and Pasha became interns with WOW Farm, GTA’s urban farming and business program. They were eager for the chance to apply their new skills to a real business. And on a practical level, they both needed the job experience.

Pasha spoke to the value of learning and doing:

“By getting the GTA paychecks, we experience how to save it, budget it, take out $40 each time you get a check. You can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Jasmine and Pasha successfully completed their internships and graduated from high school. But their learning wasn’t over: they both immediately enrolled in GTA’s “Crash Course in Job Readiness.” While many young adults who do not go directly to college get caught in a chaotic web of disconnected or stagnant activities, these two impressive young women refused to lose focus. They remained committed to their goals and took advantage of all GTA had to offer.

Jasmine and Pasha were skeptical of Lending Circles when the program first began at GTA. Jasmine, for example, was uneasy with the emphasis on credit. The only way she knew to build credit was with a credit card, and she wisely thought of credit cards as risky for young people without steady incomes.

But Lending Circles provided her with a way to build credit that she trusted. She described her comfort with the program: “You don’t have to worry about going over your credit limit since it’s always a set amount.” Pasha was similarly wary of credit cards. But at the same time, she recognized that not having a credit score would prove to be a barrier:

“You need a credit score to get a car, to do a lot of things. When you turn 18 and you’re about to go to college, all the banks send you credit card offers and sometimes the APR is really high and that can you mess up.”

For many young adults without much experience with formal financial transactions, the Lending Circles commitment can seem intimidating (a regular monthly payment!) and its value abstract (credit score, what?). But Pasha and Jasmine drew on their strong foundation in financial education to consider the benefits of the program. And more importantly, they had built a trusting relationship with GTA over the course of their participation in programs. So they took a chance and joined a Lending Circle.

The program was a success. Both Jasmine and Pasha began with no credit history at all — not uncommon for 18-year-olds. Now they each have a credit score over 650, which is 30 points higher than the average Millennial.

But a Lending Circle is more than a credit-building tool — it’s akin to a crash course in money management: participants have to save for a goal, repay a loan, plan ahead, and manage auto-pay transactions.

Thanks to Lending Circles, Jasmine and Pasha do not have to learn about credit the common way– by making mistakes that are hard to reverse. They’ve been able to build their credit safely, and with it, to build the foundations for a future of financial security.

Game Theory Academy’s ultimate goal is to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate what are often mystifying and high-stakes financial decisions.

Lending Circles are still gaining traction with GTA’s youth. But in a short time, the program has already gone a long way to deepen the organization’s financial capability services. GTA’s existing financial education modules expose young people to topics they don’t learn in school, and Lending Circles provide the opportunity to put what they learn into practice.

Jasmine now studies Mathematics at Chabot College, works at a popular restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown, and interns with a bookkeeper. Pasha has a role in community affairs with a construction company and studies at Merritt College. They are graduating from Game Theory Academy with what every young adult needs and deserves: strong skills in financial and strategic decision-making, extensive job readiness training, solid work experience, and a fantastic credit score.

Like most of us, they don’t know exactly what’s next. But they are well-prepared for whatever it may be.

***

Jasmin Dial, the author of this post, ran student engagement at Game Theory Academy from 2014-2016, including the launch and implementation of Lending Circles. She holds a B.A. from University of California at Berkeley and currently studies Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Sonia: A Future Chicago Homeowner


Building Credit and Community through Lending Circles at The Resurrection Project

Sonia arrived in Chicago from Puerto Rico one year ago with hopes to turn over a new leaf. As a result of a difficult divorce, her credit report was dotted with blemishes.

A low credit score and considerable debt were keeping Sonia from accessing affordable loan options and achieving an important personal goal: purchasing a home.

In her search for a solution, Sonia discovered my organization, The Resurrection Project (TRP), in a local newspaper.  She learned that TRP provided Lending Circles and became interested in this opportunity to re-establish her credit—so much so that she didn’t mind taking a 45-minute bus drive from the north side of Chicago to our south side neighborhood to meet with me.

Like all Lending Circles participants that come to TRP, Sonia began by meeting with me one-on-one for an initial financial coaching session. Together, we reviewed her monthly income, budget and credit history, and we discovered several discrepancies on her credit report. While we completed her Lending Circles application, she reached out to the credit bureaus to address and resolve these inconsistencies.

At her Lending Circles formation in April, Sonia became a member of Los Ganadores—“The Victors.” As the name implies, Sonia has since won several small victories, leading her closer to her ultimate goal of rebuilding her credit and becoming a homeowner.

Since participating in Lending Circles at TRP, Sonia has increased her credit score by 65 points, decreased her debt by nearly $7,000, and increased her savings by $1,000.

Since joining Los Ganadores, Sonia has not only made significant strides in her personal finances, but she has also gained a new friend. Sonia and Alicia, another participant, connected at their Lending Circles formation and established a beautiful friendship. One wonderful aspect of the TRP Lending Circles program is the sense of community that participants form, both at the start of a circle and beyond. Alicia and Sonia formed a close bond through their Lending Circle. Alicia now volunteers at Sonia’s church food pantry and even joined Sonia at her wedding last May.

Sonia has embarked on the journey to make a new life for herself in Chicago, and we are so happy to support her in reaching her goal. Sonia will be telling her story in her own words at TRP’s next Lending Circles Brunch, where all of our participants come together to share their experiences and celebrate their accomplishments.

About the Author: Madeline Cruz is a Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project (TRP), which offers financial coaching, homeowner education, entrepreneurship support, and immigration services in Chicago, IL. She’s a featured speaker on the panel “True Heroes: Engaging Clients in the Digital Age” at the 2016 Lending Circles Summit.

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?

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