Tag: Providers

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.

Respect, Meet, Build: A Model for Financial Inclusion


Financial inclusion is about respecting people for who they are, meeting them where they are, and building on what’s good in their lives.

Last week as part of CFED’s Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action, Mohan Kanungo—an A&O Network Steering Committee Member and Director of Programs & Engagement here at MAF—wrote about how your credit report can impact important personal relationships. Building on those themes, Mohan is back this week to highlight MAF’s strategy for empowering financially underserved communities to build credit. This blog was originally published on CFED’s “Inclusive Economy” blog.

There are more payday loan shops in the United States than McDonald’s or Starbucks.

That might surprise if you live in a neighborhood where all your banking needs are satisfied by mainstream financial institutions instead of payday lenders, check cashers and remittance services. Sources including the New York Federal Reserve, the CFPB and the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard reveal that there are millions of people who experience financial exclusion, particularly around credit and basic financial products. These disparities are well-documented among communities of color, immigrants, veterans and many other groups who are isolated economically. How can we address these challenges and lift folks out of the financial shadows?

First, as leaders in our field we need to have a frank conversation about how we engage communities around financial services and assets.

It’s easy to cast judgement on those who use alternative products due to the high interest rates and fees, but what do you do if mainstream products are not responsive to your needs? Increasingly, banks and credit unions have been closing brick and mortar locations to move online, while rural and urban areas may not have had access to “basic” financial products many of us take for granted—like a checking account—for generations. Traditional “assets” like homeownership may seem completely out of reach even if you are well-off, educated and savvy with credit, but live in a costly and limited housing market like the San Francisco Bay Area.

Similarly, non-traditional “assets” like deferred action may seem more urgent and important for an undocumented young person because of the physical and financial security that comes with a work permit and permission to stay in the US, albeit temporarily. We need to listen and appreciate the unique challenges and perspectives of financially excluded communities before coming to a conclusion about the solution.

Second, we need to understand that the values and approach driving any solution can tell us a lot about whether the outcome of our work will be successful.

MAF started with the belief that our community is financially savvy; many in the immigrant community know what the exchange rate is with a foreign currency. We also wanted to lift up cultural practices like lending circles—where people come together to borrow and loan money to another—and formalize it with a promissory note so that folks know their money was safe and gained access to the benefit of seeing this activity reported to the credit bureaus.

It is about building on what people have and meeting them where they are rather than where we think they should be.

We need to be innovative in our fields to come up with long-lasting solutions within the financial system that are responsible to the communities they serve. Small-dollar loans by non-profit lenders like Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles program does just that.

Third, we need to think about how to bring our products and services to more communities who can benefit from such programs, while maintaining the respectful approach to our community.

Early on in our work at MAF, there was a clear sense that the challenges people experienced in the Mission District of San Francisco were not unique and that communities across the Bay Area and the country experienced financial exclusion. We perfected our model and then scaled slowly. While MAF sees itself as the expert in Lending Circles, we see each nonprofit as being the expert in their community. MAF also knew it was impractical for us to build a new office everywhere in the country. So we relied heavily on cloud-based technology to build a robust social loan platform and the existing banking infrastructure to facilitate transactions using ACH, which encouraged participants to get a checking account and put them on a path towards realizing larger financial goals, like paying for citizenship, eliminating high cost debt, and starting a business.

MAF was founded in 2008 with the vision to create a fair financial marketplace for hard-working families.

Since launching our social loan program, we have expanded to provide Lending Circles through 50 non-profit providers in over 18 states plus Washington D.C. We have serviced over $5 million in zero-interest loans and offer a range of financial products, including bilingual online education, to turn financial pain points into credit and savings opportunities. And we have done all this with a default rate of less than 1%.

Currently, we are expanding Lending Circles in Los Angeles, and we have plans to expand further across the country while deepening our reach in places where we already have non-profit providers. Check out LendingCircles.org to see if there’s a provider near you or express your interest in partnership. Financial institutions, foundations, government agencies, private entities and donors can champion the work of MAF and non-profit organizations working to lift people out of the financial shadows.

Delivering Lending Circles to The Mile High City


Find out what connects a lunchbox, social loans, and Denver, Colorado.

As I carried my Dad’s tiffin (A small metal Indian style lunch) box through the airport before boarding my flight to Denver, a TSA agent dutifully inspected what appears to be an unusual metal container.

Without a liquid or even a semi-liquid like hummus to cause alarm, all I could offer the TSA agent, as would be my grandmother’s practice whenever she is stopped by Customs officials, was my food and my charm.

Yet that slight delay actually created an intriguing moment of cross-cultural exchange.  I described the practice of millions of lunch boxes being delivered in Mumbai every day. Each Tiffin is filled with food made at by someone in their home and expertly delivered to hundreds of thousands of workers, by bicycle, without ever getting lost. A premise that lent itself to the polite love story of a new cross-over Bollywood movie “The Lunchbox”.

My experience, however, was more educational than romantic and perhaps foreshadowed what was to come with the upcoming presentation I was giving in Denver.  I got to share something new (my tiffin) by relating it to something familiar (the Lunch Box).

Colorado is new territory for MAF.

Chase graciously invited us to have them show us around, introduce us to people and sponsored MAF’s presentation so we could share our Lending Circles program with potential non-profit providers.

My colleague Tara and I presented in during the convening of the Clinton Global Initiative with about 25 non-profit professionals who came to hear how Lending Circles could complement their mission.

MAF working with new partners in Colorado makes a lot of sense to me.  Like San Francisco’s Mission District, it is often referred to as “up and coming”.  I experienced the thriving nightlife, where the streets were scattered with various food carts, selling delicious treats among old Jazz venues and new dance clubs.  I also read a story on Sunday in the Denver Post about micro-finance opportunities for recently arrived refugees and immigrants.

A conversation I had one evening in Denver with a college friend of my Dad’s from India made me even more determined to bring Lending Circles to Denver.

He told me about the rental shortage, a housing crisis similar to the one that’s gripping the Bay Area right now, coupled with a high number of foreclosures in his neighborhood.

These moments reminded me that with any progress, there’s inevitably some who are left behind. There are those who haven’t built up their credit to rent an apartment, who are strapped by making payments on their mortgage and don’t know how to choose the best financial product for them. MAF provides a solution to non-profits who are interested in building or expanding their programs to serve underbanked communities living in the financial shadows.

We are on a mission to expand our Lending Circles program across the country and boldly say that we will bring on 40 partners by 2015. MAF’s innovative Lending Circles Communities platform enables people to sign up for social loans through a mobile device, but it’s built on a time honored tradition of borrowing and lending money to each other.

Just like a lunch box, Lending Circles may look like a new kind of social loan, but it’s actually incredibly relevant and familiar to many communities.

Training our partners for success


We travel to LA to form MAOF’s first Lending Circle

Watching a group of people form their first Lending Circle is an inspiring experience, especially when that group will go on to form more Lending Circles in their own community. My colleagues, Mohan, John, and I trained staff members at the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP) in Los Angeles, two new partners who will be offering our Lending Circles program.

These partnerships have been almost eight months in the making after Mohan first met with Andrew Chang from the Center for Asset Building Opportunities (CABO), who introduced Lending Circles to his network of 10 asset-building nonprofit partners.

“My goal was for MAF to come and expand their products and services to the populations and communities we serve in LA,” Chang said.

MAOF, based in Montebello, California, is one of the largest Latino nonprofits in the country and is celebrating its 51st year of supporting the socio-economic betterment of Latinos in California. MAOF offers programs in education, asset-building, youth education and senior services. Lending Circles’ credit-building opportunity fit a tangible need for the organization’s clients. Many of MAOF’s clients have been living in the US for more than 5 years and are somewhat acclimated to the financial system but still find it hard to completely access.

CCNP is a nonprofit collaborative working to provide social services for children, families and communities in LA to break the cycle of poverty. The organization has been involved in a number of community economic development campaigns such as Bank On LA to connect unbanked residents to affordable financial services and Lending Circles is a great example of a program that clients can use once they have opened up bank accounts.

Seven staff members came together with different financial goals from paying off debt, improving their credit, saving for a house and preparing for retirement.

Many of the them had participated in an informal lending circle or were aware of their existence from their cultural experiences. The credit-building aspect was intriguing for the members and they all were looking forward to the ability to improve their scores.

During the training, Mohan explained the enrollment, recruitment and formation process for Lending Circles and guided the staff through scenarios they could encounter when facilitating the program with their clients. Moving forward, our partner trainings will be done online through webinars and presentations in our Lending Circles Communities platform, but it was really great to have an in-person connection with the MAOF and CCNP staff members and share best practices together. I also got a chance to talk to MAOF’s marketing director to plan future storytelling and engagement opportunities to spread the word about the program.

The Lending Circles program has been operating in in LA for two years through our partnership with the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California. We’re excited to welcome these two outstanding organizations to the Lending Circles network.

Working with MAOF and CCNP will allow us to reach new communities of aspiring car owners, citizenship applicants, entrepreneurs, students and families who want to tackle their debt and lay the foundation for increased financial capability.


Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at [email protected].

Aqui: Lending Circles with filipinos in L.A.


Aqui didn’t give up. She called Jose every few months to see if he was ready yet. Now her organization PWC offers MAF’s full suite of social loan programs.

“Even though Filipinos are the largest Asian American population in California, no one else was addressing the issues of low-wage Pilipino workers. That’s why Pilipino Worker’s Center was formed,” says Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the Executive Director of Pilipino Worker’s Center.

Aqui goes to work each morning because she thrives on transformations.

She loves seeing reserved domestic workers become confident leaders and advocates. She also noticed how hard they work to improve their finances. She says, “If you are an immigrant in California, you can get a bank account but a loan is something you cannot do. You have to go through informal networks that aren’t always reliable.” Without family and friends nearby to help, domestic workers are in trouble when crisis strikes: “Our members work as live-in caregivers making less than minimum wage. When a client passes away, they are without work or a place to stay and most times don’t have any savings.”

Aqui recognized that without access to affordable credit her clients were one unexpected expense away from financial crisis, so she called Jose to propose a partnership. Although Jose was interested, at the time, Mission Asset Fund was focused on expanding in the Bay Area. Aqui didn’t give up. She called Jose every few months to see if he was ready yet.

About a year later, when the time was right, the two organizations joined together to bring Lending Circles to Los Angeles. With the help of the LA2050 challenge, the partnership expanded. PWC now offers a full suite of social loan programs to their low-income clients: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, Lending Circles for Dreamers and Security Deposit Loans.

A new place to live

In the fall of 2013, PWC celebrated the opening of a new low-cost housing complex in Los Angeles. The building has 45 residential units so that low income tenants can rent for as low as $300 a month, depending on their income and family size. But even affording a security deposit can pose a challenge – that’s why Aqui’s now offering the Security Deposit Loan program. They enrolled their first tenants in early 2014.

Aqui says, “Mission Asset Fund created an incredible back structure and it was so easy. Jose has helped us get our first funding with a local bank and now we’re hoping to get more funding so we can keep expanding this program.”

At PWC, members call Lending Circles “Paluwagan”. One member, Manna, is a trafficking survivor who was trapped in a house for two years and was forced to sleep on a dog bed. With help from PWC and Lending Circles, Manna’s life was transformed. She started saving money every month and building relationships.

For Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles, those kinds of relationships can lead to new jobs. When the Lending Circles group comes together, members share their struggles and successes. Aqui says, “In Paluwagan, someone will say they are looking for a job. You know what happens? One of the other members finds one for them.” Watch more here:

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