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.
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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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.