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Tag: Research

Building financial resilience: Join the Lending Circles Network

MAF is inviting nonprofit organizations in Chicago, Florida, and Los Angeles to join our Lending Circles Partner Network. Selected applicants will receive valuable benefits, including training, technical assistance, and access to MAF’s loan platform to provide 0% interest credit-building loans to their participants.

Join the Movement

MAF’s Lending Circles program is a powerful tool for financial empowerment, transforming the lives of countless individuals and families across the United States. Over the past few months, our team visited Chicago, Miami and LA to meet with current partners and share how nonprofit organizations can join the movement to increase financial access and opportunity for all.

If you are interested in learning more about Lending Circles or becoming a partner organization, please visit MAF’s website or contact us directly at partners@missionassetfund.org. Together, we can create a more financially inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full financial potential.

Tandas, Susus, Lending Circles: A Powerful Tool for Financial Inclusion

In the ever-changing landscape of financial services, access to affordable and accessible financial products remains a significant challenge for many low-income and immigrant communities. MAF is a San Francisco-based community-centered organization dedicated to addressing these barriers.  Explore MAF’s transformative Lending Circles program and our innovative approach to financial empowerment.

Launched in 2008, Lending Circles is a unique social lending program that leverages the power of community to help individuals build credit, save money, and achieve their financial goals. Rooted in the tradition of social lending practices worldwide, Lending Circles brings people together to lend and save money, creating a safe and supportive environment for financial growth.

How Lending Circles Work

Lending Circles operate as peer-to-peer lending groups, typically consisting of 6-12 individuals. Each member contributes a monthly payment into a shared pool, and the funds are then distributed to one member of the group each month. MAF has formalized this existing community practice into a formal loan and reports monthly payment activity to the three major credit bureaus so people can get credit for what they’re doing in their financial lives. This rotating system allows participants to access affordable loans without the need for an existing credit score or collateral.

Benefits of Lending Circles

The benefits of participating in Lending Circles are numerous. Participants can:

  • Build credit: Regular and timely payments contribute to building a positive credit history, which can lead to improved access to mainstream financial products.
  • Save money: By setting aside a monthly savings amount, participants can accumulate savings and develop a habit of saving.
  • Achieve financial goals: Lending Circles can be used to finance various financial goals, such as starting a business, buying a home, or covering unexpected expenses.

Partnering for Impact

MAF’s approach to financial empowerment is deeply rooted in the communities we serve, but we didn’t want to go at it alone. We knew there are other communities across the nation facing similar barriers and organizations who are already supporting them to achieve their goals. MAF partners with organizations nationwide to equip them with culturally relevant financial tools that can be tailored to meet the unique challenges of their communities.

“It’s been really helpful to have Lending Circles when we are doing coaching for small business or for our first or home buyer classes for people who are interested in credit that may not be ready to take out a loan or maybe take out a credit card. Lending Circles has been really helpful to help build credit for those individuals and meet their financial goals.”

Elba Serrano, Director of Community Wealth & Services, East LA Community Corporation

“Lending Circles unlocks a new door to possibility, especially for the folks that we serve that otherwise wouldn’t have been eligible for mainstream credit building opportunities…yes, it’s a credit building; yes, it’s the savings, but it’s also creating an intentional framework with a familiar platform. Tandas in our communities are well-known and familiar.  Having that familiarity with the creativity and the innovation of MAF has been instrumental.”

Julio Pensamiento, Director of Strategic Partnership, Center for Changing Lives

If you are interested in learning more about Lending Circles or becoming a partner organization, please visit MAF’s website or contact us directly.

Funding for the Lending Circles Communities campaign is provided through a generous grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation. We’re thankful for their support to bring credit-building programs to more communities across the country. 

Research at Scale: Insights from our Latest IFRP Webinar

In our latest webinar, we pulled back the curtain to share how we are using technology and data with purpose in the Immigrant Families Recovery Program (IFRP). We provided a behind-the-scenes look at how we designed the IFRP program with a strong program foundation and data collection systems to ensure the reliability of our research results.

Christopher Dokko, MAF’s Evaluation Manager, gave an overview of our data collection process. He explained how we gather diverse data from our interactions with clients, including annual surveys, in-depth interviews, and administrative data from credit and asset reports.

At MAF, we use many technologies designed to work in harmony, ensuring a smooth research process and reliable data generation. However, the crux of our work is serving our clients. As Christoper noted,

“Data strategies require tech strategies to be intentional about not only what we’re hoping to learn but also how we engage communities.”

Trust is a vital element in our data collection process. Christopher emphasized that our research “moves at the speed of trust” and that our technology makes trust-building possible at scale. This trust has allowed us to collect vast amounts of data.

The team then dove into examples of the technologies MAF is using to collect and protect client data in the program. We covered how tools for client support ticketing, customer relationship management, email and SMS, and translation management were part of the overall system to ensure clients felt seen and supported throughout the process.

Using a support ticket platform to coordinate interactions among team members ensured that we maintained data quality. As context, the average participant in IFRP needed two instances of support, and our client experience team resolved a total of 4,616 tickets during enrollment. The system to respond to and resolve clients’ issues and ensure their data was correct formed the basis of trust as we began the research process.

As MAF’s Advocacy and Engagement Director Joanna Cortez Hernadez pointed out,

“Trust is a mutual process, and we build trust by actively listening to clients and responding to their questions about IFRP or other MAF programs. These interactions foster a sense of respect among our clients and provide valuable research insights. They help us understand clients’ daily challenges and how they navigate the digital world.”

The team also dove into the email and SMS messaging systems and how consistent engagement has helped increase response times and rates throughout the program. When clients first started interacting with MAF, they didn’t yet have a trusted relationship with us. Over the course of our program, we launched 147 IFRP-specific messaging campaigns, keeping our clients informed and engaged. Open and response rates increased as we developed our relationship through consistent and responsive communication. This led to excellent responses to short-form and longer annual surveys, with completion rates from 66-70%.

Joanna Cortez Hernandez, our Advocacy and Engagement Director, further expanded on how we use technology to foster trust. We use a translation management tool to ensure high-quality Spanish versions of our application for our predominantly Spanish-speaking client base. Using this tool allowed a combination of machine-generated and custom translation, which helped us streamline the process to better support clients.

Joanna also discussed how we embed trusted fintech tools into our application process. One tool we use allows clients who opt to set up direct deposit to also consent to release further data about their assets. This data provides a unique opportunity to understand the finances of the largely unbanked and underbanked community we serve.

Following the presentation, our CEO Jose Quiñonez led a fishbowl conversation with Christopher, Joanna, and Mariel Hernandez, MAF’s Communication and Engagement Manager. The team shared insights and anecdotes about how technology has made it possible to build trust and embed quality research into our programs. Mariel pointed out that organizations like MAF, with years of building trust in their communities, are uniquely positioned to provide research insights based on relationships and on-the-ground experience. José concluded by emphasizing the importance of integrating research into program delivery so we can continue to gather insights and further the conversation about financial equity for immigrant families.

Watch the recording here, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to hear about our upcoming events.

Context is Everything

In our increasingly data-driven world, we often turn to numbers and data to understand complex issues, including the well-being of immigrant families. However, what data can’t always capture is the intricate context of people’s lives. This fall, MAF hosted the third webinar of our IFRP research series to dive deeper into the context of immigrant families’ lives, and what it means for nonprofits to show up and serve with intentionality.

“The only real difference between numbers and data is context.”

Christopher Dokko, Evaluation Manager at MAF, laid the foundation for the event by highlighting the significance of context in understanding immigrant families’ lives. Numbers can nudge us in the direction of learning about people’s experiences, but it’s not enough to get the full picture. Christopher pointed out that data collection should extend beyond what is traditionally considered to be an indicator of financial wellness. It should encompass various variables, including social conditions, identity, geography, policy landscape, and access to opportunities.

Taking it a level deeper, it’s important to understand that context and crises, like inflation or environmental disasters, don’t impact everyone equally, leading to uneven consequences. Christopher noted, “When we’re thinking about data within the context of the broader world, we’re not just thinking about what’s happening, but how it’s differentially impacting different people’s lives.” This holistic mindset allows us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of immigrant families’ lives, and how we can better meet their needs accordingly.

Graphic showing trends shaping financial security, including shifting modes of production, work and the value of money, and access to formal structures

How nonprofits show up in times of crisis

Given the ever-changing context of immigrant families’ lives, nonprofits serving those communities have a duty to listen intentionally to what families are experiencing and respond accordingly to meet their needs with dignity and respect. We were honored to be joined by three incredible nonprofit leaders doing this work across the US. In conversation with MAF’s advocacy and engagement director Joanna Cortez Hernandez, they shared their own learnings and experiences with us about how they show up for immigrant communities, and how they make it sustainable for their staff in the long run.

I think one of the most valuable things that we can offer the community is our commitment to listen, to be nimble, and to continue to create things that are actually meeting the expectations, the opportunity, the potential, and the needs.

Karla Bachmann, VP of Financial Wellness at Branches

For us, it’s really about focusing on an asset-based perspective. We know that there are lots of challenges; it’s easy to start off with all the things that, in our (Immigrants Rising) case, undocumented people cannot do. But it’s important to switch it up and say, what are the opportunities that do exist out there? Then, really focusing on those opportunities and meeting people where they’re at.

Iliana Perez, Ph.D, Executive Director at Immigrants Rising

One of the biggest things I’ve taken away is the space that we’re in. We have a kitchen, and we try to cook meals, como familia as much as we can… It gets us all in the same room to share stories, because those are the most powerful things that keep us moving and keep us doing what we do every day.

Lizette Carretero, Director of Financial Wellness at The Resurrection Project

In times of uncertainty, the context may shift, but our dedication to understanding, supporting, and celebrating immigrant families’ lives remains unwavering. We invite you to watch the recording of our most recent webinar and stay tuned for more insights as we continue this learning journey.

New MyMAF Financial Education on Self-Employment

MAF’s clients often turn to creative strategy to manage their financial lives; faced with barriers to accessing formal income opportunities, our clients innovate. One such strategy we’ve seen is self-employment: 31% of our clients identified as being self-employed, small business owners, or contractors. Moreover, we’ve heard from our DACA clients that they face barriers in accessing formal employment opportunity. Self-employment allows individuals to capitalize on their strengths to overcome some of these barriers.

We’re excited to announce the release of a new feature in MyMAF to support clients on their journey toward self-employment. 

In September, the MAF Lab launched a new education content module in MyMAF app called How to be self-employed – alongside the launch of our MAF’s new 0% interest loan program to help people formalize self-employment into an LLC. This new product feature and program are both important parts of MAF’s broader efforts to support the innovations our clients develop in order to navigate their financial lives and formalize their business to generate steady income.

MyMAF’s How to be self-employed module combines education with tools to take action.

The new module covers all aspects of starting a small business, including setting a vision for self-employment, building a business model, formalizing self-employment through LLCs, and managing time as an entrepreneur. It’s the fourth financial education content module available in the app, adding to ones on credit, savings, and preparing for emergencies.

Our staff in-house wrote the content building on their expertise in supporting entrepreneurs to start their own business. We also sought the feedback from our peers at nonprofits who similarly strive to support entrepreneurs. Similar to MyMAF’s other financial education modules, How to be self-employed pairs expert content with recommended action items and resources to give individuals tangible tools to get started.

We aim to continue to support the creativity of our clients to create sustainable income solutions.

MAF’s 12 Data Points of Christmas

Happy Holidays, from our MAF familia to yours!

As the year comes to a close, we are reflecting not only on 2018, but on one decade of living our values in the community. Over the past 10 years, MAF has provided Lending Circles, immigration and business loans, DACA fee assistance, and financial coaching to over 15,000 people — scaling this impact across the country with the help of technology and over 60 nonprofit partners.

Now we’re going even further: Through these past ten years, we have gathered invaluable data and insights from people’s financial lives. With a vast dataset on how people manage to survive and thrive under the most difficult circumstances, we are turning our research insights into actionable lessons for the field.

We’re celebrating this holiday season by sharing some insights that stood out to us.

We hope you enjoy MAF’s 12 Data Points of Christmas: 

And check out our short report, featuring these findings and more.

You can stay in touch with MAF’s research team by following #MAFInsights on social media and at missionassetfund.org/research.

Introducing MAF’s new mobile app: MyMAF

MAF is excited to announce the launch of its new mobile app, MyMAF. MyMAF is a virtual financial coach designed to help low-income and immigrant families achieve their dreams and help MAF’s clients succeed financially in our programs.

We’ll be celebrating the launch of the MyMAF app, the MAF Lab’s first fintech product, on December 7th. Join us for the launch party to view a demo of MyMAF and learn about the inspiration for its development, from idea to fruition.

MyMAF fills an unmet need for the communities MAF serves.

Since day one, MAF’s goal has been to build pathways that allow hardworking families to realize their full economic potential. MAF’s seminal Lending Circles program has helped clients achieve their financial goals by building credit, but we’ve always had a larger vision to support our clients’ financial lives across their hierarchy of financial needs. We found financial coaching to be one of the most effective mechanisms to help people achieve their goals. However, in-person coaching is often resource intensive (for both coaches and clients) and difficult to scale. We realized that we could use the power of technology to bring financial coaching to more people in our community and serve their needs in a deeper way.

With MyMAF, members of our community are now able to obtain essential financial information and coaching at the reach of their fingertips.

MyMAF was built from MAF’s core values.

MAF’s work is founded on a few core values:

  • We meet people where they are, not where we think they should be
  • We build on what people have, no matter the shape or size
  • We respect the diverse communities we serve and recognize their hidden strengths

These values have informed the development of MAF’s programs and products from the beginning; they are also the foundations of this new app.

To meet clients where they are in their financial journey, we first recognize that our clients’ financial lives are inseparable from their complex backgrounds and personal aspirations. For example, a client without a Social Security Number has to take a different path for doing something as seemingly simple as pulling their credit report or applying for a credit card. An important goal of the app is to remove the stress from financial planning and help clients recognize that this is a tool to help them achieve their dreams. This is done at their convenience, allowing clients to decide when and where they plan and update personal financial goals – whether at home, waiting for the bus, or any other moment in their busy lives. As an added engagement feature, clients can interact with a virtual financial coach and receive financial tips and tricks to keep in mind as they navigate their journey with MyMAF. By building for clients’ unique contexts, MAF sets the stage for personal finance to feel empowering.

To respect our clients as the experts in their own lives, MyMAF gives clients the autonomy to direct their financial journey. Clients decide where they want to begin, whether it’s learning about credit or watching a video about exploring their investment options. The app also gives clients the option of choosing from 70+ action items to work towards, providing clients with a structure to create their own action plan. The app empowers clients to set the agenda based on what is most relevant to them and supports them with resources, tips, and motivation to get to their goal.

To build on our clients’ strengths, the app takes inspiration from what clients are already doing to manage their financial lives. Much like Lending Circles, the tips and action items in the app reflect informal strategies that clients currently use to overcome their financial barriers. This app gives clients the ability to choose from a wide breadth of options that are already working for them, rather than prescribing choices that don’t fit their contexts.

The author (R&D Lab Director) and UX/UI Designer test a prototype of MyMAF with a client.

MyMAF was built using evidence-based principles.

The MAF Lab, Mission Asset Fund’s R&D team, is committed to building products using design thinking, the industry standard for product development teams. Based on conversations with clients and MAFistas who have worked in this community for years, we identified the unique painpoints that our clients experience that other products don’t help them address. We then built and tested prototypes of the app’s features with 40+ users in Spanish and English, iterating those designs until we got all the details just right. Here’s the MAF Lab process we followed:

This process helped us identify and build features in the app that distinctly serve our clients. For example, during our user discovery process, we learned that some of our bilingual clients wanted the flexibility of accessing resources in both English and Spanish. To address this, we made the app available in both languages with the ability to easily switch between the two. The process for launching MyMAF app is one we plan to continue following in-house to develop new products and programs.

Lastly, evidence about effective financial coaching influenced the structure of MyMAF. Research shows that financial education is not sufficient to motivate behavior change; education must be tied to action. MAF incorporated this principle into the design of the app by placing action items after educational content to mirror users’ mental models of creating financial plans – and by sending motivating reminders to encourage users to stay on track with their financial plans. These design elements nudge clients to most effectively realize their financial goals.

MAF is built from the community, for the community.

By involving users in every step of our process, we sought to recognize the unique cultural background of our clients through the app.

MAF’s 10 years of serving low-income and immigrant families was foundational to developing the app. For example, our in-house client services team wrote all the content in our app, to address the questions they have been hearing in working with the community. For example, we offered users tips to help our clients answer questions like “How do I protect my finances if a family member is deported?” and issues like what steps to take when sending a money transfer to family or friends outside the U.S.  

MAF also designed the app to make our clients feel seen. MyMAF includes avatars, created by a designer from Mexico City, that reflect the faces of the diverse communities we serve. The app also includes photographs of real clients taken by our in-house designer and resident photographer. When we tested the app, the images were the first thing many clients noticed. Many told us that they identified with the people represented on the home screen and in the photos. This emotional connection to MyMAF will likely motivate our clients to continue engaging with the app’s financial tools.

Avatars in MyMAF to represent the community MAF serves

We’re just getting started.

MyMAF is a continuously improving product. We’re excited to get the app in the hands of our clients and hear their feedback as they use the app. We’re also measuring app usage and financial outcomes, to test our assumptions about the impact the app will have. Based on what we’ve learned so far, we’re already working on creating MyMAF 2.0 to give users more targeted tools to help them achieve their financial goals and make MAF’s financial products more broadly accessible.

Our plan is to continue iterating MyMAF to financially empower the low-income and immigrant families we serve nationally.

We also want to thank the philanthropic supporters of MyMAF: JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Tipping Point Community Foundation, Capital One, Twilio, and individual donors across the country.

In Their Own Words: The Hopes of Dreamers

Being responsive is one of the major goals of our organization and our R&D team. After a successful DACA renewal fee assistance program, we surveyed clients to identify ways in which we could continue to provide the best support. There’s existing research on DACA recipients’ family and employment situations, as well as the benefits of DACA. We wanted to add to this discourse by learning more about our community’s hopes and dreams for the future.

That’s why we asked a three-part open-ended question: “If you had a pathway to U.S. citizenship, what would be your personal, financial, and career aspirations?”

We invited respondents to fill in aspirations in each of these three categories and 350 individuals (~80% of total respondents) replied. We systematically coded the text they inputted into themes, and assigned codes to 96% of the responses. In the end, we coded 46 different hopes and dreams people shared. This process helped us to see the diversity of the community we serve in a whole new way. Check out this infographic for a summary of our learnings. 

The top 10 aspirations of DACA recipients:

Theme 1: DACA recipients aspire to support their families and communities

Although we didn’t provide respondents with pre-selected options to choose from, we saw high convergence in responses. Giving back and helping others were key themes that emerged from these responses. Respondents talked about their aspirations to further support their families (46%), enter a helping profession (43%), and give back to their community (23%). This is especially significant given our prior findings that almost all respondents already support their families and their communities in some way. One respondent shared with us:

“My personal aspiration is to one day be so stable in life and be able to help not only my family back in Guatemala but also many of the children who are trying to get away from all the violence in our country. Give education to many of the children who can’t financially afford to go to school.” -21 year old, Arizona

Theme 2: DACA recipients are trying to create a sense of stability in their lives

Security was a frequent theme, with 46% of respondents saying that they hope to increase their financial stability and 30% saying they would want to worry less and lead a happy life. The top four ways DACA recipients want to create a sense of stability: 1) Pursue or complete education (39%), 2) Buy a home (33%), 3) Get a better quality job (33%) or 4) Own their own business (18%). One respondent told us:

“I want my family to not have to worry about being deported and going back to a place we haven’t been to in over 13 years. I also want my community to not always have to be in fear or speaking up for themselves in case of retaliation.” -20 year old, California

 

This data is helping us understand the motivations and aspirations inspiring a large segment of the community we serve. It’s helping us develop new products specifically designed to help our clients work toward their aspirations, including:

  • A webinar series to help clients explore options for self-employment, as a way to improve job security and career prospects.
  • *Coming soon* – We’re building a financial coaching app, which includes content geared towards helping people build their family’s financial stability.
  • Expanding this data group to include all loan clients: we’re now asking all clients to share financial aspirations – that way, we can keep a pulse on what matters to them today, and in the future.

Work and Bills: The Financial Concerns of DACA Recipients

To hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and their families, a DACA permit represents hope. Hope for jobs, for family security, for a future worth fighting for. The threat of losing DACA has placed young people in a vulnerable financial position that’s keeping them and their families up at night. We asked DACA recipients across the nation: “Currently, what are your family’s top financial concerns?” 433* DACA recipients answered. Here’s what they said:

58% of DACA recipients worry about not being able to work

As demonstrated in MAF’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs, a stable income is the foundation of financial security. Income is essential to realizing your economic potential. Yet 58% of DACA recipients we surveyed are worried about not being able to work because of their legal status and 57% are worried about their family’s ability to cover basic living expenses. Maintaining economic stability is a top concern for them.

Here are the top areas of concern DACA recipients identified:

DACA recipients value opportunities to secure stable, quality employment

DACA recipients shared many different concerns with us openly through the survey about their education or how they might lose their jobs. We also heard from survey respondents that many of them are turning to self-employment as a means of supporting themselves.

With increasing ICE raids and mixed-status families being separated, DACA recipients have a lot to worry about. Yet we continue to see their resilience and creativity. This data helped MAF realize we can help DACA recipients secure stable, quality employment by providing programmatic support around starting their own businesses and working for themselves.


*For this particular question, respondents selected up to 13 answers that applied to them.

DACA’s multiplier effect

In “DACA=Better jobs, stable families,” we explored the impact that DACA has on job opportunities and family security. With a work permit and the ability to get education, it’s no surprise that DACA recipients are able to get better quality jobs and have a greater sense of belonging in the U.S. We wanted to dig deeper into the realities inside homes and living rooms across the country:

  • What roles do people with DACA often play in their families?
  • What impact does DACA have on their families?

So we asked DACA clients: “In the past 6 months, have you supported your family financially or helped them access resources in any of the following ways?” We provided nine options and an invitation to select all that applied. We received 431 responses clients, including one that indicated the respondent did not help support their family.

97% of DACA recipients said they support their family – most often by helping pay for household expenses

Nearly all of DACA recipients said they were helping their family financially or get access resources. The most common type of support? 74% contribute to household bills and other regular monthly expenses. Among many other sources of financial support, DACA recipients often also supported their family in non-financial ways. For example, 44% of respondents said they drove family members who don’t have a driver’s license.


The Multiplier effect: DACA recipients frequently open doors for their family members

As you can see below, DACA recipients described in their own words how much their families relied on them – for finances, transportation and more. We heard from recipients that DACA allowed them to access resources to support other members of their family and network. That in fact, DACA has a multiplicative effect: providing one person with protections and work permits impacts everyone they support financially and otherwise.

Our takeaway: personal financial security is not just about the individual. It’s closely linked to the financial security of your family, friends and community

This research shows us that there’s a very powerful social and familial network effect with DACA. When we research the effect a government program or immigration status has on one person, we also must think about the family. Especially when so many of our families are mixed status, better governmental protection and even an intermediate status like DACA can have a very positive effects on entire family networks. At MAF, this is leading us to think more about how we can support families in growing their collective financial wellness. Because engaging and leveraging your social network is an important and viable strategy for managing financial lives.

MAF Lab: R&D for social good

It goes back to the earliest days at MAF, when Lending Circles was not yet a program available across the nation and when the conversation about financial capability only centered around savings. Our founders knew that to create programs and services that actually made a difference, you had to orient yourselves in the realities of people’s lives. That it matters where and how you design programs.

We get up in the morning to build programs that actually empower clients. To us, that means we don’t see clients as the problems that need to be solved.

What first started as side project – a relatively small participatory action study we called the Immigrant Financial Integration Initiative – has now become a distinguishing approach for the entire organization. This practice of listening is a core principle behind design thinking – a process that ensures that we are addressing users’ needs, building on their strengths, and creating products that will ultimately have real impact for the communities we serve.

That’s why we’re evolving our technology team into a Research and Development Lab: an innovation unit within MAF to build better programs and products to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

The goals of the MAF Lab are to:

  • Uncover pressing unmet needs of the communities we serve
  • Understand the practices, relationships, and resources of these communities
  • Expand the types of financial needs supported through MAF’s programs and products
  • Improve the relevance and usability of programs and products to address users’ needs
  • Share our research and experiences with other organizations
  • Provide research, design-thinking, and technology services to leading nonprofits, foundations, and corporations

The author (R&D Lab Manager) and UX/UI Designer test a prototype with a client in MAF HQ

MAF’s R&D process focuses on empathy and engagement with communities who are often left behind.

This approach involves conducting research to understand users’ needs and building programs and products to meet those needs. We’re bridging the best of the nonprofit and fintech worlds:

  • Our clients are diverse. We build products for people who are often left out of tech developments and formal financial markets.
  • As a direct services provider, we have a close relationship with our clients, so we build empathy with our users quickly and deeply.
  • We have the skillset to do our own user research in multiple languages, which allows clients to be heard and represented throughout our process.
  • Unusual for a nonprofit, we have the expertise in-house to conduct rigorous quantitative research – and use these emerging insights to inform our strategy and development.

With a strong track record of using best practices in research and design, launching the MAF R&D Lab will allow us to do more…and faster. Here’s what a typical process looks like for our team:

A virtuous research & development cycle means we research to assess strengths, understand needs, and then build products to leverage those strengths to meet those needs. But it doesn’t stop there. More research helps us assess how well our products are meeting those needs. That’s how we determine what’s missing or what needs to be refined.

For example: immediately following our 2017 DACA campaign, MAF launched a survey to program applicants to better understand the community of DACA recipients. We analyzed the data and are using it to launch new programs to help meet the financial needs that emerged from the survey (we even tested these programs with target community members first to make sure we got it right). We didn’t just use these insights internally – we shared the survey results with our funders and clients for their input. We’ll be sharing them on this blog in the coming weeks. This is the type of work that the R&D Lab will continue to do more of to better serve our clients and help peer organizations get access to information to help them better support their clients.

We’ve made a few changes to the team to help us evolve. The R&D Lab team recently moved out of MAF’s main office and into our own space, which we call Design Hub.

Our new office has helped us carve out a space to incubate products for the long-term (and gives us an excuse to draw all over the walls in the name of ideation). We’ve also increased our capacity to achieve an ambitious agenda that includes releasing a native mobile app this year and launching new loan programs. To shorten the sprints between designing and testing prototypes, we brought our design team in-house and trained ourselves in user research and testing. That meant investing in staff to help us collect and analyze more user data – and to reduce the build time of our tech developments. We have assembled a team of creative and data-savvy MAFistas to build products that matter to our clients.

Our team is bolstered by the support of our Technology Advisory Council, made up of seasoned leaders from tech companies advising us on all aspects of tech developments. The R&D Lab brings together MAF’s strengths as a direct service nonprofit, a financial services provider, a data-driven tech organization, and a force of social innovation.

Ultimately, the strength of the MAF R&D Lab comes from the trust we’ve built with clients. It’s trust that encourages them to open up about their dreams and fears. We will preserve that trust by continuing to ground our work in MAF’s values of respecting and empowering our clients.