Tag: partners

Strengthening the Voice of our Lending Circles Partner Network


MAF’s first Partner Advisory Council will provide an exciting opportunity to harness the insights of our partner network

From our early years serving families in the Mission District, we believed that Lending Circles could benefit communities far beyond our San Francisco neighborhood. Knowing that organizations with deep ties to their communities are best equipped to serve local clients, we set out to partner with fellow nonprofits, first in the Bay Area, then across California and — eventually — the country. Looking back today, it’s hard to believe just how quickly this vision was realized: the Lending Circles Network now has 50 partners and counting.

We know that with growth comes big opportunities. As a means to strengthen and deepen the experience of being a Lending Circles provider, we are proud to announce that we have formed a Partner Advisory Council.

The members of this Partner Advisory Council (or, as we like to call it, PAC) will offer their insight, smarts, and on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider. They will provide advice and strategic thinking, all in an effort to elevate and strengthen the Lending Circles Network. They will also play an instrumental role in planning and hosting the Lending Circles Summit, a national convening of Lending Circles providers and other experts
in related fields.

So, who did we select? Eight outstanding staff members at partner organizations that provide Lending Circles. These eight PAC members represent the diversity of the Lending Circles Network — in regard to geographic location in the U.S., communities served, organizational size, and experience.

  • Jorge Blandón, Vice President, FII-National at Family Independence Initiative in Oakland, CA
  • Leisa Boswell, Financial Services Specialist at SF LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, CA
  • Madeline Cruz, Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project in Chicago, IL
  • Rob LaJoie, Director, Financial Empowerment Program at Peninsula Family Services in San Mateo, CA
  • Gricelda Montes, Asset Building Programs Coordinator at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, WA
  • Judy Elling Pryzbilla, Community Coordinator at Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, MN
  • Paola Torres, Small Business Program Coordinator at Northern Virginia Family Services in Falls Church, VA
  • Alejandro Valenzuela Jr, Financial Empowerment Services Manager at CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio in Minneapolis, MN
PAC Co-Chair, Leisa Bowell

Here’s what co-chair, Leisa Bowell, has to say about joining PAC:

“In my work at the SF LGBT Center one of our focuses is on creating a more equitable world which is why the Lending Circle program is so important to us. I am invested in seeing that program grow, not only at the Center but also throughout the various LGBTQ communities across the nation. I think joining the Partner Advisory Council will allow me to help that growth come to fruition.”

The first PAC meeting took place on April 29th and allowed PAC members to get to know each other, and get to know the group they just joined. We learned fun facts about PAC members and discovered we have quite the talented group! Madeline knows some Arabic, Jorge was part of a poetry duo that performed in New York subways, and Paola loves dancing and has been part of a musical group. The group offered up some insightful feedback on MAF’s upcoming Lending Circles Summit, and engaged with our tech team to learn more about the new tech developments on the horizon.

We’re tremendously grateful that these PAC members have stepped up to make the Lending Circles Network even better. Their insight into the on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider is invaluable to us, and will help guide MAF’s direction for years to come.

The Power of Community: Expanding Opportunities for AAPI Immigrants


A community of nonprofits is building the financial capability of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants across the country.

When you bring together families, friends, and neighbors to help each other achieve their shared financial dreams, you’re leveraging the power of community. This practice of lending and borrowing money in family or social groups — a practice that inspired the the Lending Circles program — is common in communities around the world.

At their core, Lending Circles are about community.

Today, we’re highlighting one in particular: a unique group of partners providing Lending Circles to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants across the US. In the Philippines, the practice is referred to as paluwagan; in some parts of China, it’s called hui. With traditions like these to draw from, many AAPI immigrants are familiar with Lending Circles as a source of savings and credit.

In many parts of Asia, Lending Circles are an age-old tradition.

What’s often unfamiliar is the complicated financial marketplace discovered upon arriving to the US. This comes at a real price: 10% of AAPIs do not have bank accounts and many more are “underbanked,” meaning they must turn to fringe financial services like payday lenders and check cashers. According to the FDIC’s 2013 Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, 19% of Asian Americans and 27% of Pacific Islanders turn to fringe services to meet their financial needs.

To bridge the gap between the modern financial marketplace and cultural traditions like paluwagan and hui, we can tailor Lending Circles to meet the unique needs of AAPI communities.

We can start by meeting AAPI immigrants where they are, on their terms.

In this spirit, we offer loan agreements into seven Asian languages: Chinese, Burmese, Nepali, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, and Hmong. But this is only a beginning. We can also open-source solutions — so that other nonprofits can build on the lessons we’ve learned in San Francisco and bring them to cities all over the country.

No two communities are alike. And local organizations know best how to handcraft their services to meet their clients’ needs.

That’s why nonprofits across the nation are custom-fitting Lending Circles to their local communities.

Take Asian Services In Action (ASIA), for example. This Lending Circles provider in Cleveland, OH, provides culturally relevant social services to Nepali and Burmese immigrants and refugees, many of whom don’t encounter the concept of a credit score until they’re ready to buy a car, rent a home, or start a business.

Through Lending Circles, these clients are able to build credit with people who speak their native language — oftentimes their friends and neighbors. This system of mutual support provides a sense of security that sets Lending Circles apart from other loan models. It can even help refugees build a new community in the U.S. after leaving their home countries.

“I love seeing our clients’ eyes light up as I explain the Lending Circle model,” says Lucy Pyeatt of the Chinese Community Center (CCC).

“‘Yes, we know that!’ they often reply.” Many of Lucy’s clients are intimately familiar with the concept of Lending Circles: “They’ve participated in them informally with family and friends for years, and they feel so relieved to have a product that they already trust. They feel that their heritage, and their models of financial security, are being respected. It’s a great bridge for them.”

By drawing on their traditions and adapting to their needs, Lending Circles put the power in the hands of the communities themselves. Our partnerships with organizations like ASIA and CCC are the real engine that powers the success of Lending Circles, so that local leaders can create local solutions.

It all started with a collaboration between MAF and National CAPACD.

National CAPACD is an advocacy group on a mission to improve the quality of life for low-income AAPIs. Two years ago, MAF joined forces with National CAPACD to launch a financial capability project with eight AAPI-serving organizations:

Together, we set out to answer a question: Can we boost the financial capability of new immigrants by incorporating Lending Circles and financial education into the existing immigration resources that community organizations are providing? Our new partners started to marry traditional services like language classes, citizenship education, and workforce training with our innovative Lending Circles program and financial coaching.

In just two years, the National CAPACD cohort has formed 56 Lending Circles, with 344 participants.

It’s amazing to think that these participants have generated well over $150,000 in loan volume, all from lending and borrowing with their peers. And the repayment rate is astonishingly high — over 99%. This means that participants are opening checking accounts, establishing credit scores, and entering the financial mainstream for the first time.

Some have been able to rent apartments. Others have used Lending Circles has a source of peer support in a new country. And for many women who moved to the U.S. to join their husbands, Lending Circles offer a chance to exercise their financial independence.

After two years of successes, we’re excited to continue working with this impressive group of AAPI-serving organizations.

Our partners have ambitious plans to deepen their Lending Circles programs and bring them to even more hardworking immigrants across the country. And we have plans of our own to strengthen our network by forging new relationships and improving our tools for partner collaboration, like our online “Lending Circles Communities” knowledge-sharing platform.

We know that the key to success lies in the power of community. That’s why we’re working together with our partners to build even stronger resources for our Lending Circles clients — who, in turn, work together to support each other’s growth.

Lending Circles Coming to More Los Angeles Communities


MAF is inviting Los Angeles nonprofit organizations to apply to become Lending Circles social loan providers.

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announces the Build a Better Los Angeles initiative to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles. Dynamic nonprofit organizations are invited to to apply to join MAF’s national network of 50+ Lending Circles providers through a special application process. This initiative is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation.

MAF’s award-winning Lending Circles are a fresh take on social lending, helping participants safely build credit while increasing assets and improving financial health. The average credit score increase for participants is 168 points.

“We are proud to partner with MAF to help more Los Angeles households improve their financial health,” said Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Financial Capability, JPMorgan Chase. “Lending Circles help families achieve their financial goals through regular savings and affordable credit building. Families are using lending circles to start businesses, save for college, and buy a home. The benefits do not stop with them but extend to their communities and the broader economy.”

According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 45 million adults in the U.S. are invisible to credit markets, making them unable to access affordable credit. Los Angeles has one of the highest unbanked rates in California at 17%, compared to 8% for the state overall. “Without credit scores, people must turn to payday lenders to start a business or get a small-dollar loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO of MAF. “Lending Circles give people the tools to build credit and enter the financial mainstream.”

“The Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation is proud to support Mission Asset Fund’s efforts to build vibrant, economically secure communities in the Los Angeles area through its innovative Lending Circles program. It’s with great pleasure that we support the Build a Better L.A. campaign, which will connect even more low-income Californians with pathways to the financial mainstream,” said Sylia Obagi, Executive Director.

To learn more about the Build a Better Los Angeles initiative or apply to become a Lending Circles provider today, please visit the Request for Proposals here. Selected organizations can gain access to subsidized training costs, training from MAF staff, and on-demand access to an exclusive social loan platform. Applications are due March 18th and new providers will be announced on April 29th. Applicants must be 501c(3) organizations located in the greater Los Angeles area including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Interested organizations are encouraged to register for an in-person information session on February 26th at 10:30am at the ImpactHub LA to learn more. Register today to reserve your spot.

Join Us for an Info Session
Date: February 26th
Time: 10:30 am
Location: ImpactHub LA

About Mission Asset Fund

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to helping financially excluded communities – namely, low-income and immigrant families – gain access to mainstream financial services. Learn more at missionassetfund.org and lendingcircles.org.

Southwest Solutions & JPMorgan Bring Lending Circles to Detroit


Southwest Solutions, JPMorgan Chase & MAF launch peer Lending Circles to boost credit scores of Detroit residents.

Southwest Solutions, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announced the launch of Lending Circles, a new social loan program that will allow Detroit residents to safely build credit through zero-interest loans. Participants make monthly loan payments and take turns receiving zero-interest social loans, ranging from $300 to $2,500. All loan payments are reported to credit bureaus, enabling participants to build a credit history, raise credit scores and work towards greater financial stability.

MAF’s award-winning Lending Circles are a fresh take on social lending, helping participants build credit while increasing assets and improving financial health. The average credit score increase for participants is 168 points. “More than 30% of the people we’ve assisted with their financial situation in the last two years start with no credit history, and those with credit start with an average credit score of only 547,” said Hector Hernandez, executive director of Southwest Economic Solutions. “Lending Circles will enable our clients to build and enhance their credit so they can take advantage of opportunities to become homeowners, entrepreneurs and college graduates.”

Bringing Lending Circles to Detroit is the next step in JPMorgan Chase’s $ 100 million commitment to Detroit’s economic recovery. JPMorgan Chase recently awarded MAF a $1.5 million, three-year grant to expand Lending Circles to even more communities across the country and develop new technology to connect clients with on-demand loan information. Southwest Solutions is part of a growing network of 53 Lending Circles providers – and the first in the state of Michigan.

“We are proud to partner with Southwest Solutions and Mission Asset Fund to expand Lending Circles to Detroit,” said Colleen Briggs, Program Officer, Financial Capability Initiatives, JPMorgan Chase. “Building a solid credit score is the critical first step to managing daily financial lives and accessing affordable capital to achieve long-term financial goals, such as purchasing a home or starting a business.”

Of the 27 zip codes in the City of Detroit, the median credit score among residents is below 600 in all but one, according to Urban Institute tabulations of credit bureau data. Furthermore, a 2015 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that one in four Detroit households are “underbanked.” Without sufficient access to checking or savings accounts, Detroit residents often turn to payday lenders and check cashers to meet their basic financial needs.

“Without credit scores, there are no ‘good options’ when you want to start a business or get a small loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO, MAF. “Now, with the support of JPMorgan Chase and partners like Southwest Solutions, we are working together to provide innovative solutions to help Detroit residents succeed.”


About Southwest Solutions

For more than 40 years, Southwest Solutions has pursued its mission to help build a stronger and healthier community in southwest Detroit and beyond. The nonprofit organization provides more 50 programs and partnerships in the areas of human development, economic development and resident engagement. These three areas together form a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization effort that helps more than 20,000 a year. For more information, please visit www.swsol.org.


About JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.4 trillion and operations worldwide. The Firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, and asset management. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves millions of consumers in the United States and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands. The firm uses its global resources, expertise, insights and scale to address some of the most urgent challenges facing communities around the world including the need for increased economic opportunity. Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.

About Mission Asset Fund

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to helping financially excluded communities – namely, low-income and immigrant families – gain access to mainstream financial services. Learn more at missionassetfund.org and lendingcircles.org.

Welcome Elena to the Partner Success Team


Elena’s passion for empowering communities and budding entrepreneurs makes MAF a natural fit.

Elena Fairley is a brand new MAFista, but her connection to MAF began three years ago. She first heard about MAF during a presentation at the California Co-op Conference. She was passionate about supporting local community members and entrepreneurs, so the idea of social lending clicked with her immediately.

Soon after, she organized a group of her friends into a Lending Circle.

Even now, Elena’s memory of her Lending Circle experience is vivid and warm: she remembers sharing stories, food, and laughter, and supporting one another achieve their goals. Her circle dubbed themselves “Holy Monkeys, We’ve Got Credit!” — a name that turned out to be true, given the big increases in their credit scores.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Needless to say, Elena has been a fan of MAF ever since.

Before settling in Oakland, Elena was born and raised in Portland, OR, and graduated from Colorado College with a degree in International Political Economy. As you might
guess from the list of places she’s called home, she’s an outdoor adventure fanatic. When she’s not at work, you can find her outside, splitting her time between rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and biking.

This connection to MAF was no accident.

Elena has been a long-time believer in the power of communities to come together to support one another. Before coming to MAF, Elena was the Learning & Partnerships Director at Prospera (formerly WAGES). This Oakland nonprofit provides training and assistance to Latina entrepreneurs so they can build co-ops — local businesses that are owned collectively by the workers.

At Prospera, Elena had the unique experience of seeing groups of determined, entrepreneurial women come together, pool their skills and resources, start businesses, and achieve economic prosperity. Much like Lending Circles, co-ops are all about leveraging the strengths of communities.

So why MAF?

The second she saw this opportunity, Elena felt a connection. It was an exciting role, a chance to work at the organization she’d admired for so long — a prospect she new she had to explore. Elena is thrilled to have been hired as MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager. She looks forward to forming close relationships with many of MAF’s diverse partners, from Game Theory Academy in Oakland to The Resurrection Project in Chicago.

Behind the Credit Curtains in Houston


A trip to Texas to talk about credit invisibles and how Lending Circles can help

Until recently, my time spent in Texas was limited to a single quick stop over after a study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. I barely had any time to take in the beautiful landscapes seemingly painted on the DFW windows before I was back up in the air again. That’s why I was thrilled to be asked to take some time to head to Houston with our CEO, Jose, to headline an event about Lending Circles for a large group of community-based organizations. I didn’t know what to expect.

My eyes were wide with anticipation as Jose told me about what I would be doing.

I was eager with anticipation to speak to a larger, new audience about the credit building benefits that Lending Circles.

Sure, I talk on the phone to partner organizations throughout the nation every week, and I often lead webinars for partners, but to present in a non-virtual way felt foreign (although refreshing). Everyday is a new adventure at MAF, but there’s always a comfortable structure to that adventure. I typically know which of my coworkers I will need to talk to and what questions to ask them. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with so many valuable organizations face-to-face.

With a few butterflies in my stomach and an open mind as I left my hotel, I hopped in an Uber and made my way to the United Way of Greater Houston’s office. JP Morgan Chase, Experian and The United Way were coming together to help us host an event so we could talk to nonprofits in Houston about joining our nationwide network of Lending Circles providers.

My Uber driver, James, told me about the amazing diversity of the Houston community as he drove me through the city. He talked about all the new cultures that were growing together and the new little enclaves and neighborhoods that were popping up – it sounded wonderful. He said that this renaissance had accelerated recently due to an impressive population growth in recent years. I loved the thought of being in a city that was growing together at such an amazing pace.

But I knew the stakes, too. The Houston Metro Area has a very high number of unbanked and underbanked families (39%). That’s more than 1/3 of families in the Houston area that are underbanked and credit invisible.

On top of that, 43.9% of Houston families are considered to be “liquid asset impoverished” (that means they don’t have access to adequate credit are one emergency expense away from long term financial disaster). It only made my purpose of speaking about the power that Lending Circles can provide even more critical. By the time all attendees were seated with coffee and breakfast, over 70 representatives from Texas nonprofits were in the room! We were energized by the tremendous turn-out.

The presentation started with the United Way of Greater Houston welcoming all of the attendees, followed by short introductions from Carol Urton of Experian and Yvette Ruiz of JP Morgan Chase. Jose then dove, fearlessly, into speaking about who MAF as an organization and how it formalized the concept of individuals coming together to financially support one another.

Following Jose’s lead, I walked up to the podium and took my place, beginning with the respective responsibilities for the participant and the partner to get clients enrolled and Lending Circles created. It was key to emphasize to this group of potential providers how the transition to a more robust social loan platform has made the expansion of 40+ Lending Circles partnerships possible in states like Texas, a platform that is designed around the capacity and user experiences of both partners and clients.

I was humbled by the engagement of the crowd.

It was clear that almost everyone knew each other from the way each person greeted one another like old friends do. Although everyone at the event was a new acquaintance for me, two staff members from a Lending Circle partner attended: the Houston-based Chinese Community Center. This partner is one of five current providers offering Lending Circles in Texas: Family Pathfinders, YWCA Fort Worth, and El Paso Collaborative, a new partner signed in April 2015.

The only question that remains: which one of the 70 Houston organizations will I get to work with next?

New Lending Circles Program in DC Area

Lending Circles to Debut in Washington, D.C. to Help Individuals and Entrepreneurs Build Credit


Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service launch peer-to-peer lending program in partnership with MAF and Capital One

Washington, D.C. – July 8, 2015Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service today announced the launch of DMV Lending Circles, a new peer-to-peer lending program in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, through a partnership with MAF that helps low-income Hispanic communities safely build credit with zero-interest loans. Loan payments made through Lending Circles are reported to credit bureaus, and the average credit score increase for participants is 168 points.

Lending Circles draws on the immigrant tradition of peer borrowing to empower members of communities to support one another. Participants make monthly loan payments and take turns receiving zero-interest social loans ranging from $500 to $2,500. All loan payments are reported to credit bureaus, enabling participants to build a credit history, raise credit scores and work towards greater financial stability.

“LEDC’s asset-building programs around homeownership and entrepreneurship are most successful when clients start with a solid credit history,” said Marla Bilonick, executive director, LEDC. “We were so excited to be selected by MAF to provide Lending Circles to DC area clients because credit-building is a critical piece for achieving financial empowerment and building wealth. Lending Circles give LEDC another tool to help our clients improve their financial well-being and fulfill their dreams.”

“Our clients are hardworking, extraordinarily motivated entrepreneurs. The NVFS Escala Program simply provides them with the missing skills and information to help them overcome barriers that many low-income immigrants face when starting a business,” said Adrienne Kay, Escala program manager, NVFS. “One of those barriers is credit and access to capital, and we are thrilled that through our partnership with MAF, our clients will access affordable loans, build credit history, and prepare for a financially stable future.”

According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one in every 10 adults does not have any credit history with a nationwide consumer reporting agency, making it incredibly challenging for them to do anything that requires a credit score, including getting an education, starting a business, renting a car or buying a home. This same report found that Hispanic consumers and consumers in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have no credit history or not enough current credit history to produce a credit score.

 “Without credit scores, there are no ‘good options’ when you want to start a business or get a small loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO, MAF. “Now, with the support of Capital One and partners like LEDC and NVFS, together we are providing a solution that works right here in the nation’s capital.”

LEDC, NVFS, MAF and Capital One will celebrate the launch of Lending Circles at an event taking place on July 8th at WeWork’s offices in Washington, D.C., where DMV Lending Circle members will speak about their experience and success with the program.

“Having a strong credit history is essential for individuals to thrive in today’s economy and ensure their financial well-being,” said Daniel Delehanty, Senior Director, Community Development Banking, Capital One. “As Greater Washington’s hometown bank, Capital One is proud to partner with LEDC and NVFS and support the regional expansion of Lending Circles, leveraging technology, credit reporting and MAF’s proven track record of harnessing the power of community to have a positive impact on individual economic success and stability.”

In addition, as part of their Building Entrepreneurial Economies program, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with NVFS to further the expansion of Lending Circles in Virginia, with a particular emphasis on Prince William County.

For more information on Lending Circles, please visit lendingcircles.org


About MAF and Lending Circles

MAF is a San Francisco-based nonprofit on a mission to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. Its social loan program, Lending Circles, helps hardworking families access a zero-interest loan, receive financial education, and start building a credit history safely and effectively. People around the world lend and borrow with each other when bank loans aren’t an option. With technology and credit reporting, Lending Circles transforms this traditional practice to help borrowers access affordable loans, build credit history, and build financial stability. Social loan programs have demonstrated their ability to help people open bank accounts, avoid predatory lenders, and quickly and safely build their credit history. Lending Circles provides a safe and reliable way for hard working families to save money, pay down high cost debt, and break free of predatory lenders, while building the credit they need to thrive. For more information about MAF, visit: missionassetfund.org or lendingcircles.org.

About the Latino Economic Development Center

The Latino Economic Development Corporation/Center (LEDC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in 1991 in response to civil disturbances in the Mount Pleasant community. For 24 years, we have delivered comprehensive community and economic development services to build the capacity of DC area Latino and other underserved families. LEDC’s mission is to drive the economic and social advancement of low- to moderate- income Latinos and other D.C. area residents by equipping them with the skills and tools to achieve financial independence and become leaders in their communities. LEDC achieves its mission through four key service areas: small business development, microlending, affordable housing preservation; and homeownership and foreclosure counseling. We operate out of our Headquarters in Washington, DC and two satellite offices in Wheaton and Baltimore, Maryland.

About Escala

Escala, Northern Virginia Family Service’s Small Business Program for entrepreneurs, provides one-on-one small business development consulting and coursework to low- and mid-income families living in Northern Virginia. The program aims to assist clients in overcoming barriers to launch and grow sustainable businesses that increase household incomes, create jobs, and contribute to the local economy.

About Capital One

Capital One Financial Corporation, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a Fortune 500 company with branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. As part of its ongoing commitment to communities across the country, Capital One recently launched Future Edge, a $150 million commitment to empower more Americans to succeed in a digitally-driven economy through community grants and initiatives over the next five years. To learn more about Future Edge and other Capital One initiatives please visit

www.capitaloneinvestingforgood.com.

Keeping Lending Circles hot with Chhaya


Check out how Chhaya CDC is using Lending Circles to support their economic development curriculum.

The temperature crept down to -1 degrees on the streets of Jackson Heights, New York. Even in the frigid conditions of this harsh winter evening, the Jackson Heights neighborhood is the quintessential American melting pot. People from all walks of life, all cultures, and all ages existing together. Even in the frigid dark of night, smiling, laughing people walked hurriedly over icy streets, through a light curtain of snow. The whole area is bathed in a flickering yellow and red glow, emanating from the neon lights floating in the night. Right off the bustling streets, away from the hum of the overhead train tracks, in a snow cloaked brick building, the Chhaya CDC offices released an unusually warm and inviting glow.

In the early 2000s, Chhaya, which means shade or shelter in many South Asian languages, came together to help provide housing assistance and community support to South Asian families. To ensure the long term stability of their community, Chhaya complemented their successful housing program with an economic development program. Through these programs, Chhaya was able to directly impact a larger range of social outcomes, including physical health, mental well being, increased financial security, community pride, and self worth.

With an already robust housing and economic programming, Chhaya was looking for a way to have their clients actually put their skills into practice, building their financial skills while building assets.

When they heard about Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles program, they knew it would be the perfect accompaniment to their financial education curriculum.  Chhaya applied through an intensive RFP process with National CAPACD (Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development) to receive technical support, training and financial assistance to implement the social-loan program with MAF.

Chhaya staff member Zarin Ahmed was one of the first staff working on the Lending Circles program after it had been implemented. “It was very daunting at first, selling the idea of Lending Circles to our clients,” she says as she lets out a little laugh.

The idea of informal lending is not new to South Asian populations.

Most know the Hindi term chit funds. Normally chit funds are done within family groups, so presenting the idea of social loan between community members was a little bit of a hard sell.

But Zarin and the Economic Development team at Chhaya had a great idea. They started their first circle with Zarin and several women who knew each other from a community group that Chhaya runs. Even though people loved the idea of Lending Circles, they were wary of this brand new program. But once people saw how safe it was, and when the women who were in the circles started telling their friends and family about it, there was an increase in interest in the program.

In its first year of partnership, Chhaya has provided access to $16,000 in Lending Circles to their clients.

The program is popular with their clients because they can put all of the economic training that Chhaya has provided them into action, while building the credit they need to thrive. They have already completed 3 Lending Circles with a fourth ending in March of 2015.

Along with Chhaya, National CAPACD sponsored three other Asian American development organizations with generous support from Citi.  National CAPACD has recently funded a second cohort of non-profits whom are about to launch their lending circles as part of their service delivery to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

MAF is proud to collaborate with National CAPACD and organizations like CHAYYA to implement Lending Circles.  We’re excited to see where we go next!

Thanks to Jon D’Souza for his contributions to this post. 

Lesson Earned #3: Think Small


With such a heavy focus on bringing organizations to scale, we’ve forgotten the power community holds.

Growing up, Mia Hamm posters plastered my walls – I even put one above my bed so the thought of joining the U.S. Women’s National team was my last thought at night and the first when I opened my eyes. Needless to say, I had a “sky’s the limit” mentality.

As I’ve grown older, I haven’t stopped dreaming big.

I searched for ways to achieve big impact in the world of civic engagement during my freshman year of college. That’s when I stumbled across social entrepreneurship, and immediately recognized the the opportunity social enterprises had to solve a social problem and scale it to reach more people.

It was through my work with social enterprises that I latched on to the Lean StartUp Movement. Last December, I was able to snag a free ticket to the Lean StartUp Conference.  Most people associate this movement with failing fast. More specifically, this method calls for commitment to iteration. Build. Measure. Learn. The conference shed light on what makes my work with MAF so fulfilling.

In the nonprofit world, there is a tendency to expand organizations as far and wide as possible.

This makes sense, of course, because social services should be given to all those in need. The trouble is, non-profits will build, measure and learn once (if at all) and then replicate the exact same model every time they expand to a new location. Yet what works in one community might not work in another. Your expanding organization most likely has no idea how to successfully implement its fantastic solution in a completely different environment.

The Lean Startup thinking is embodied in MAF’s partnership efforts. By working with partners to bring Lending Circles to different communities, we ensure not only efficient implementation of our programs, but also effective implementation.

Expansion through partnerships enables our mission to grow deeper instead of just wider.

This philosophy has manifested itself most recently through the Better Bay Area Campaign. This initiative allows us to reach more nonprofit organizations in the nine Bay Area counties working to improve the lives of those lost in the financial shadows. The Bay Area is pretty small, but the range of communities nestled within it is vast, each one with its own nuances.

As our community grows through these partnerships, we get to see all the exciting ways Lending Circles programs can be adjusted to meet more and more needs, like access to affordable housing.

This interaction sparks new programs like Lending Circles for Homeownership, initiated by long-time MAF partner, CLUES, in Minneapolis. The staff at CLUES realized that as their organization offers resources for homeownership, many of their clients were using the social loan received through Lending Circles to finance homeownership costs like down payments and other fees.

Since good credit scores and sufficient savings are vital to purchasing a new home, the Lending Circles program was the perfect path for these prospective homeowners to take. Iteration on the traditional Lending Circles program came easily and CLUES has already had 20 participants join this new program.

As we take on new partners at MAF, I’m excted to see how we can tailor the Lending Circles program to best meet the needs of the communities they serve. These small leaps from partner to partner lead to big impact – nearly $4,000,000 in social loans, over 3,000 clients served and 32 partnerships formed. Such results prove that small thinking is really anything but small.

Partner Spotlight: Henry of CLUES


An active member of the CLUES community, Henry has become an avid believer in the power of Lending Circles.

A firm believer in experiencing a product before trying to sell it, Henry was quick to jump on board to the Lending Circles program at MAF’s partner, Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) in Minneapolis. He first learned about Lending Circles while working at Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Both organizations were involved in a social innovation fund that Henry was particularly interested in. Through this connection, Henry discovered the Lending Circles program.

He immediately sensed that LSS clients could benefit from the program and asked his staff to learn more by forming a Lending Circles themselves. Though his primary goal was to experience the program first-hand, Henry was also eager to rebuild his financial footing after getting a few blemishes on his credit report.

“I was 100% in from day one,” he said.

His first Lending Circle had a contribution amount of about $30. The LSS staff quickly realized just how feasible such payments were and grew even more excited when they began to notice the effects on their credit report. It was at this point that Henry began to see the value the Lending Circles program provides.

“We were all trying to accomplish the same thing and that’s really financial stability.”

As the Lending Circle cycle went on, Henry found himself setting small financial goals around the pending distribution. He chose to use his savings to buy his wife of 22 years a bracelet for their wedding anniversary. Henry has gone through two different Lending Circles, and continues to participate in order to save for a new car and build credit to get the best interest rate possible on the car loan.

Henry remembers his family as being committed to financial austerity from an early age. Even with this strong financial background, Henry saw how easy it can be to make financial mistakes. He has taken extra steps to ensure his daughter is well prepared for financial independent.  At age 8, she has a $2/week budget and has strict instructions to spend some of it, save some of it and donate what is left.

“If I had my dream, my daughter would be learning about financial literacy in elementary school”.

Henry believes strongly in the need for financial management training and credit-building opportunities within his own community. In his current role at Project for Pride and Living as the Housing and Financial Coaching Coordinator, he works with potential home buyers to build their financial portfolio in order to become strong candidates. Many members of the community he works with have a mistrust of the banking system and as a former banker, he hopes to help address this stigmatization. He feels the Lending Circles program can act as a vital step towards achieving that goal.

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