Tag: Spotlight

Between Lands, Languages, y Culturas: Iván’s Story

Iván, a poet based in the San Fernando Valley, experiments with words, images, and sound as he navigates the world. Recently, he’s had to navigate a lot, from his undocumented status to the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests around police brutality and social justice. These moments are at the forefront of conversations, and he uses his voice to fiercely advocate for these issues.

Iván’s identity and upbringing are woven throughout his creations. Born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, Iván and his family immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old. Due to his legal status in the U.S., he has not returned to Mexico to visit his grandparents and exists in a state of Nepantla: in-between lands, languages, and cultures. 

“A lot of the time, I feel a wanting to break myself free from this repression of not being able to travel freely,” shares Iván.

His undocumented status serves as inspiration, and writing is his healing process. In Rayita en el cielo (full poem below), Iván shares the difficulties of growing up undocumented while staying connected to family in Mexico. The poem is inspired by the phrase, “Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo”, meaning “I’m going to make a line in the sky,” something his grandfather tells him after not having talked in a while because their schedules do not align.

“‘Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo’ is a phrase said to celebrate when someone has done something positive or unusual,” Iván describes. 

“His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites.”

An avid music fan, Iván grew up listening to the songs of Rock en Español bands. He discovered Calle-13, an unapologetic hip-hop band and a master of wordplay. He paid close attention to the lyrics and wanted to replicate the metaphors himself. Without realizing it, Iván was writing poetry. He began taking his craft more seriously when he was a sophomore in college and discovered poets of the Beat Generation, identifying with their rebellion and non-conformity with mainstream American culture. Inspired by the Chicano poets and undocumented poets who utilized art to speak out about their stories, Iván continued writing poetry.

As he experiences the present, Iván seeks answers from the past. “My universal poetry themes are immigration and restorative justice. My writing is experimental and avant-garde. I’m also interested in technology, and mixed media is often within my work,” Iván explains. 

“Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.”

From his roots in Mexico, Iván strives to connect more with the indigenous languages found in Mexico with the hopes of it being studied and spoken more widely. These days, he spends time researching historical events to understand what we are currently living through while finding direction towards the future.

During the pandemic, Iván was forced to look for other job opportunities.

He struggled to make ends meet as a delivery driver, but after receiving a $500 grant from MAF’s LA Young Creatives Fund, he was able to buy a laptop and edit his resume. With this new technology, he continued his artistic endeavors and found work in his field: a summer internship learning about local organizing. He also participated in a collective art project to uplift stories of undocumented and deported communities in Mexico and the U.S.

Iván is currently working on a collection of poems he hopes will soon be published. He continues supporting and showcasing other San Fernando Valley writers and artists as a fellow at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts and Assistant Editor for Drifter Zine. He plans to travel more with his partner and family and envisions reuniting with his grandparents soon.

Iván’s advice to aspiring writers?

“Start publishing your work and read it out loud at open mics. It’s an intro to seeing other poets read their work and what it’s like. Having the courage to read your own stuff is very helpful to develop your voice as a writer. But overall, I think that writers should write for themselves.

The LA Young Creatives Fund supported 5,000 artists like Iván and closed last month. You can find more information about the LA Young Creatives Fund here

To read more of Iván’s poetry, see Rayita en el cielo below and visit his website. You can also find him on Instagram @ivansali_ 


Rayita en el cielo
By Iván Salinas

Papá David will draw a line in the sky
Today is a miracle
I’ve answered the phone

Q ovo mi niño, hasta que me contestas
¿Estás trabajando?

It’s not my day off
I did work today
but I’m driving back home
and there’s time
to talk

His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites

It’s easier to communicate this way
It’s easier
than getting on a plane 
where you’re asked for papeles 

I ask him: ¿Cómo está mi mamá Pera?
Bien, hijo…ya sabes. He says, indifferent.

Life is the same
siempre bien 
for Papá David y Mamá Pera
it’s my life that’s constantly changing.

Back home, en la vecindad
my friends
all still children
in my memory
they’re now grown up
raising their families
in the same rooms we had    
Mamá Pera says this will always be my home
and it will be here
for when we return.

Paseo de la reforma. México, D.F., Enero, 2022.  Photo taken by Papá David.

Mamá Pera always tells me to pray
And I never do
But I know she prays for me
And that I do believe in.

Mira, cuando tengas tiempo tu dile a diosito, echame la mano
Y verás que te va ayudar 

But I can’t remember the last time I looked up at the sky
and asked diosito for any help.    

When I call Papá David over the phone
he just wants to know
when am I gonna make it?
Why don’t I apply for a job as a TV reporter for Univision?
I hate being on camera and I change
the subject, I ask him if he’s heard
the statue of Colon is being removed
en el paseo de la reforma
replacing it
with the statue of a mujer indigena

–Si, te voy a mandar unas fotos pa’ que las veas, ahorita tienen una réplica
–Órale, aqui tambien estan derribando unas estatuas de las misiones. Te mando unas fotos. 

The statues in the missions
are also taken down in this valley
Papá David likes to mention there’s Spanish blood in him
Mamá Pera y Papa David forget
somos de sangre indigena. 

Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.

While we wait for papeles
and go to appointments in consulates and aduanas
with lawyers and customs
we only see
each other’s faces
reconstructed in pixels

I tell Mamá Pera
she can visit
while Papá David waits for her.
I tell Papá David: “Ya merito, ya veras.
Quizás hasta yo te alcanze allá en unos años”

Tlatelolco, México D.F. Enero, 2022. Photo taken by Papá David.

Every time we talk
They’re just happy to hear my voice. 
I’m fortunate they can hear me say los amo, los extraño
Los quiero volver a abrazar.

While we wait for papeles
phone calls will keep us together
Fotos de Papá David will keep us connected
to home. So I still recognize it.

While we wait,           
I will make time
to answer the phone
Papá David & Mamá Pera
can draw another line in the sky

Laura Arce

Champion Spotlight: Meet Laura Arce

For Laura Arce, joining MAF feels like a homecoming. 

Her new role as a member of MAF’s board of directors brought her—in a symbolic sense—back to the Bay Area, where she was born and raised. For years after college, Laura had spent time elsewhere: on Capitol Hill, in Beijing, working for government agencies or small consulting or even big banks like Wells Fargo, where she currently serves as a senior vice president of consumer banking and lending policy. 

But in 2020, when COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives, Laura had a startling epiphany.

“I realized I was missing my roots,” she says. It wasn’t just because Laura couldn’t simply board a plane ride back to her hometown anymore. It was also because her professional career was borne out of the personal—and it was time for Laura to reconnect with her own origin story.

Laura grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in Oakland.

Her parents were nonprofit workers, and she spent a lot of her elementary school years hanging out around the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, a community resource center where her father worked. 

Laura cites her father as one of her biggest influences. That’s partly because of the early affinity for community work he instilled in her, and partly because of the fact that, as a child, she often witnessed the ways her own family was excluded from the financial mainstream. Her own grandfather didn’t trust banks. Every time he paid for a bill—phone, water, anything—he would take the bus downtown to its respective office and pay in cash. 

“That cost him a lot of time and extra effort. But he did it all of his adult life,” Laura says. It was risky to carry so much cash at once, but her grandfather would rather place his faith in dollar bills than a banking institution. Stamped receipts were carefully saved, and a passbook savings account was rarely touched. 

This process seemed “normal” to Laura until she started college at U.C. Berkeley. While Laura’s grandfather was saving stamped paper receipts and letting his bank account gather dust, Laura’s classmates were using credit cards to “magically” pay for their books and supplies. While her roommate’s parents mailed checks to their landlord, Laura was responsible for her own bank account. She was stunned at the incongruities between her experiences and her classmates’. 

All these differences were like lightbulb moments for Laura. “Who’s unbanked, who’s banked, who has credit, who doesn’t. There are clear disparities across race, ethnicity, income levels, even geographies,” Laura says. And her family lived at those intersections.

“Even in my case, where I had parents who were educated, and grandparents who had kids who could help them—they were underbanked,” Laura says. “They were outside of the financial mainstream.” 

Laura’s position on MAF’s finance and audit committees is a way of honoring her roots. 

“I decided I wanted to take everything I learned and built,” Laura says. “And I wanted to be engaged again in more community-based work.” Her role is the kind that marries a certain philosophy Laura has about closing the banking gap for people of color systematically excluded from financial services—like her grandfather.

“It’s not going to be one easy button that we all can press,” Laura says. “It’s going to take the private sector stepping up, and it’s also going to take public policy that supports those goals, as well as the effort of groups like MAF, who are willing to be out there and take more chances.”

And while Laura intends to bring her public policy and private sector backgrounds into board conversations, she’s also hoping to learn from her peers. “I’m excited to be in these meetings and hear all these conversations about how we address really challenging problems,” Laura says. MAF’s work as both a “national leader” and a community-based organization is the kind of perspective she wants to bring to her work outside of MAF, whether it be in government agencies or big banks.

That’s partly because Laura feels a responsibility. Throughout her career in the private and public sectors, Laura has often been one of the few Latina women in the room. “Part of my expertise is also my personal experience,” she says. Not everyone Laura has worked with has grown up in an immigrant community. Not everyone has had family members who didn’t speak English, or who didn’t trust banks. Not everyone will ask, “What are the parts of the communities that are left behind and not being served? And what can I do?”

But Laura will. “I represent that voice,” Laura says. “It’s really important to me, and I take that very seriously.”

Champion Spotlight: Meet Gaby Zamudio


She’s a bilingual UI developer and ping pong pro who’s passionate about using tech for good.

Meet Gaby Zamudio, a bilingual developer specializing in UI and an all-around positive, people person who’s always looking for opportunities to use her tech skills to support local nonprofits. Gaby is the Co-Founder of Meraki Creative, a community for women entrepreneurs and a former developer at Thoughtworks. Since 2016, she’s been a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council (TAC), a group of professionals from leading Bay Area tech companies who provide leadership, advice, and counsel to help MAF use technology to best meet the financial needs of low-income consumers.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Gaby and learn more about what drives her to support MAF.

MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?

GZ: I’m trained as a UI developer and designer and I love finding creative ways to display data and information. I recently had the opportunity to serve as an instructional assistant in a front-end development course at General Assembly here in San Francisco.

A fun fact that most people don’t know about me is that I played table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong) growing up, and had the chance to represent my region at competitions. Usually I was the only woman participating, which prepared me for the tech industry, where I often have a similar experience.

MAF: What issues spur you to action?

GZ: First, social justice has always been important to me. I was raised during a period of internal conflict in Peru when there were two powerful terrorist parties, so it was a dangerous time. Many people disappeared. My mom worked for a human rights organization and my dad was a sociologist and activist. My mom put so much into her work. As a child, I remember wishing I could see her more, and then opening my heart to realize that maybe other people needed my mom more than me. I felt conflicted because unlike many others, I had food and a safe place to sleep. But I so easily could have been in their position. This experience shaped my commitment to creating a more socially and economically just world.

Second, I care deeply about immigrant rights. I moved to the U.S. from Peru by myself at age 19, so I can relate to the experience of immigrants in this country.

Finally, I’m passionate about the environment. Growing up in a mining town, I’ve seen how these industries contaminate our communities. If we don’t protect our environment, we won’t be able to make progress on other issues like social justice and education.

MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?

GZ: I first heard about MAF through a friend who had participated in a Lending Circle, and I immediately recognized the practice. In Peru, many people participate in panderos to save money for big purchases while being accountable to a group. I love how MAF connects the practice of saving in a group with credit-building and financial education.

When I moved to the U.S. by myself, the financial system here was completely new to me. I didn’t know what credit was.

When I started college, it was confusing to navigate the student loan process. I could have easily taken out more loans than I needed and gotten myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But my experience taught me that everyone – not just immigrants – can benefit from more information and tools to navigate the financial system.

A few years after first learning of MAF, a friend suggested I look into MAF’s new Technology Advisory Council (TAC). Nonprofits don’t usually have the same resources for tech that for-profit companies do, and I’m honored to use my technical expertise to add to MAF’s tech capacity and help create a bigger impact.

MAF: Why do you invest your time and skills in the work we do together?

GZ: For me, it’s about empowering people. At the first TAC meeting, I had the chance to meet Luis, who now owns D’maize, a Salvadoran restaurant in San Francisco. A loan from MAF enabled him and his wife to build credit scores and then access bigger loans to grow their business. They eventually hired staff from their community, and now they give back by donating catering for their son’s events.

I hope to be a granito de arena (grain of sand) supporting this amazing ripple effect.

MAF: What are you looking forward to in our work together in the next few months?

GZ: I’m looking forward to supporting the development of the Lending Circles App and seeing the final version once it’s ready. I feel proud to have helped shaped the design of this one-of-a-kind app. I hope the MAF team feels just as proud! I’m also excited to reflect on what we’ve learned from this process as we move forward with more tech products.

Champion spotlight: meet Jessica Leggett


She’s a MAF donor and Board Member who brings passion and creativity to everything she does.

Follow our Champion Spotlight series, where we introduce you to our great Social Investors and honor their actions to support financial empowerment through credit-building.

Meet Jessica Leggett, a skilled and experienced investor and entrepreneur. Originally from Texas, Jessica spent 15 years investing in commercial real estate in New York City while supporting several youth-oriented education organizations in her spare time. When she and her family relocated to the Bay Area two years ago, she combined her passion for service with her career aspirations, founding Seven + Gold LLC, a mission-based investment platform that provides capital and strategic advisory services to early stage companies.

A dedicated donor, Jessica joined the MAF Board of Directors in the summer of 2016. She also serves as the Co-Chair of MAF’s Adelante Advisory Council, a group of Bay Area innovators helping to raise financial support and awareness for MAF.

We had the chance to sit down with Jessica to chat with her about her professional journey and what motivates her to do the work she does.

MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?

JL: Supporting social impact is a cornerstone for my family, whether it’s volunteering in my son’s preschool class to serving meals to those in need or investing in mission-driven companies. By focusing on social innovation, my goal is to leave a positive legacy for my children and future generations. I also take great satisfaction in the creative arts and design in any form – whether it’s personal endeavors like pottery, home design, or even enjoying beautiful spaces like my local coffee shop! I also love being outside and especially being near water, so I enjoy going on hikes, fly fishing, and boating. The energy and pace of the city have really helped me appreciate the contrast and importance of getting outdoors.

MAF: What issues spur you to action?

JL: For me, it all boils down to creating opportunity for all. I want to help solve systemic issues that create disadvantages for certain communities. Within that construct, I’ve focused on a few major issues. First, economic inclusion: making sure that everyone has access to opportunities to live a good life and a safety net for the inevitable bumps in the road. Second, education: making sure every child has access to age-appropriate curricula and appropriately resourced learning environments. Many areas within our communities are severely resource-constrained, putting children at a disadvantage. Third, the environment: minimizing our impact on natural resources and identifying ways we can take responsibility and be accountable for improving our world.

MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?

JL: Shortly after my family moved to San Francisco, I spoke with MAF’s executive team at a Tipping Point Community board match event. A goal of mine was to join the board of a small but impactful organization, with potential to grow and serve clients across the country. I was really drawn to the organization’s focus on creating system-wide change with broad scalability. I was attracted to MAF’s national reach and scalable approach, and appreciated the professionalism of MAF’s staff and the data-driven approach to creating social impact. Joining the board was a perfect fit!

MAF: What are you looking forward to in your work with MAF in the next few months?

JL: I am excited to see how MAF continues to address the ever-changing needs of its constituents, like developing innovative products to address the current crisis facing the immigrant community.

I can’t wait to see MAF continue to challenge the status quo and create broader and deeper impact. I am really proud to be part of this terrific organization.

LC Summit 16: Top 16 Moments


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

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

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

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

3. When the Yoda Award (for “Sharing a Wealth of Wisdom”) was awarded to the SF LGBT Center. Yes! Leisa Boswell said it best at the opening night reception: “The LGBT community has always been one of chosen family. We have had to take care of each other when our given families would not. Communities take care of their own.” Speak, Leisa, Speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for the next one in 2018!?

Taking Financial Learning Beyond the Classroom


Lending Circles round out the Game Theory Academy Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Pasha spoke to the value of learning and doing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Passionate Leaders & Product Experts: Meet Our New Board Members


Introducing MAF’s new board members: Dave Krimm, Salvador Torres & Stephan Waldstrom

Earlier this year, MAF had the pleasure of welcoming three new members to our Board of Directors. Read on to find out who they are, where they’re from, and what inspired them to join the board — from the cutting-edge technology driving Lending Circles to our innovative model for building financial capability.

Meet Dave

Dave Krimm is a seasoned financial services professional, with a passion for the “positive impact of microlending: the difference that a small loan can make in an individual’s or a family’s success.” His experience working as a financial product development consultant and leading fundraising and marketing at the San Francisco Foundation make the MAF Board a perfect match for Dave.

Dave is no stranger to nonprofit boards.

Most recently he served as Chair of the Opportunity Fund Board in San Jose, California, where he helped oversee an exciting period of growth for the organization. Now, he’s eager to bring his talents to a nonprofit rooted in his home of San Francisco. When asked what he’s most excited about in his new role, Dave shared that, “I’m looking forward to strengthening MAF’s ‘support team’ on the Board, to match the broadening impact of MAF’s programs locally and the expansion of our nationwide network.”

Meet Salvador

Salvador Torres is well acquainted with the informal lending and borrowing that happens on the margins, and he’s eager to uplift MAF’s work making the invisible, visible. Salvador shared that, “My family members have used lending circles to share resources, but they rarely went beyond close family ties and didn’t help build credit. Now with MAF’s Lending Circle products and partners, people around country are able to access capital and build the credit necessary to transition into the financial mainstream.”

He knows just how crucial financial health is for building strong, resilient communities.

Salvador spends his days working in Washington, D.C., as an investment banker and consultant at Penserra and 32Advisors, where he helps companies build growth strategies. He’s also served as an Advisory Board Member of the Posse Foundation, a college access organization, where he saw firsthand how close-knit social circles — “posses” — could transform the lives of students and their communities.

Meet Stephan

Stephan Waldstrom hails from Belgium (via Denmark), and is the Director of Risk and Product Development at RPX Corporation, a risk management company based in San Francisco.

Stephan is passionate about all things product development.

And he’s ready to use that passion to give back to his community. Stephan believes that “MAF has found a simple yet powerful model that can significantly improve the financial security of its members and potentially countless people across the U.S.” A product guru at heart, Stephan is excited to get his hands dirty helping MAF develop the first-ever Lending Circles mobile app, a new tool that will connect clients with on-demand loan information. In addition to his Board seat, Stephan is lending his expertise as a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council — which helps guide the design of the technology that powers MAF’s programs.

We’re happy to welcome Dave, Salvador, and Stephan to MAF’s board.

And we’re grateful to them for sharing their collective skills and talents to as we chart new courses — from the mobile app, to our Lending Circles Summit, to new research shaping our understanding of financial health. Adelante!

Honored with the Bullard Award by Princeton’s Wilson School


On April 9, the Students & Alumni of Color at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School honored me with the Edward P. Bullard Award. I was deeply grateful, and shared this message with my peers.

Thank you so very much. It means a great deal to me to receive this award.

I remember organizing the 2nd symposium back in 1996.

The number of attendees at that event may not have been as great as today’s. But I remember feeling the same energy and excitement over the wonderful opportunity to step back from our busy student lives and meet with alumni – to hear their stories, to learn from their experiences, and to gain some perspective about our own experiences here at the Wilson School.

And now we’re here, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Students and Alumni of Color coming together. And for that we owe Ed Bullard and Jeffrey Prieto and John Templeton and all the MPA students who organized these weekends a great deal of gratitude for their vision and hard work that got us here today.

Soon after I got the call from Renato Rocha and Gilbert Collins about the Bullard Award, I reflected back on my experiences here and how they shaped my career and ultimately my life.

Thankfully, I was able to forget all the painful and sleepless nights from working on econ problem sets or writing five-page policy memos or cramming for this or that exam. I’m really super thankful that my brain was able to erase all those memories so that I could focus on all the good stuff.

I’m sure all alumni in this room can say the same, right? Well, fine — I’ll speak for myself.

But earlier today I walked into a Bowl downstairs – and for the first time I did not get nervous. My heart rate didn’t go wacky, my leg didn’t get restless. Really. After 20 years I was able to just sit back and enjoy being here at Princeton. (Yeah. It took me that long to get over it.)

Thinking back on my life, I was able to trace much of my current work at the Mission Asset Fund to what I learned here at the Wilson School.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, for example, he opened my eyes to the horrific injustices of people falling prey to predatory lenders in the financial marketplace. His class was about financial management, which was a little boring and dry. But in his subtle way, he would insert stories in his lectures about how lenders manipulate loan terms to load borrowers with extra fees and costs. I remember feeling disgusted over how easy it was to rip people off – and angry that lenders could get away with taking people’s hard-earned money with impunity.

Reinhardt’s stories allowed me to see finances not as dull but rather as a social justice issue that could materially improve people’s lives.

And there’s Professor Alejandro Portes. He taught me a very important lesson, one that is actually the cornerstone of Lending Circles, a program that we offer at the Mission Asset Fund to help hardworking families build and improve their credit.

Portes taught me to see and appreciate the incredible economic activity that happens informally.

We see it all over the world. The street vendor selling tamales on busy street corners. Or the day laborer working odd jobs.

He showed us that what the street vendors do, the economic activity they generate in the informal economy – while invisible, it is still very similar to the economic activity that happens in the formal economy. It’s not less than, not criminal, not inferior, but the same – with the only difference being that economic activities in the formal economy have laws and regulations to protect and secure and make them visible to the broader economic systems.

I used this idea to create Lending Circles.

Our clients – largely unbanked, low-income Latino immigrants – have a time-honored tradition of coming together in groups to lend and borrow money from each other. In Mexico, these are known as tandas or cundinas, and they go by many, many different names throughout the world. These loans are informal, based largely on trust.

But nobody really knows about them except the people involved. Nobody knows that participants actually pay these obligations first, before anything else. Really, the financial industry has never appreciated the fact that tandas are a phenomenal financial vehicle – helping participants manage the intense income fluctuations in their lives.

Why is that? Because tandas are informal, taking place outside of the financial systems.

They’re invisible. But at MAF, we changed that.

We created a process to make this activity visible by getting people to sign promissory notes, allowing us to service loans and report payment activity to the main credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. And thereby we’re helping our clients start a credit history and improve their credit scores.

The program works. In 2014, Gov. Brown in California signed a law recognizing lending circles as a force for good. So, as you can imagine — and I can say this in this room of full of fellow policy folks – getting a bill enacted into law is pretty cool. I was excited.

I was proud of myself for getting this done!

I was flying high as a kite when this happened. But In time I realized that this achievement was no accident. You see, I’m the product of the Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) program, a program dedicated to increasing the number of students of color in public service.

I did my Junior Summer Institute here, at the Wilson School in 1994. And because of that experience and support and people I met, I was able to see myself here at the School as a full time student, getting an MPA, and building a career in public service.

It was no accident. I’m doing exactly what this program was designed to accomplish.

Through the years, the PPIA program has built an incredible cadre of professionals of color, working in public service. It’s wonderful. We can see it in this room right now. Look around.

It’s incredible to see a room full of beautiful and talented and passionate people dedicating their careers – their lives – to public service. Half of MPA students of color come through the PPIA pipeline.

But when you consider the enormous problems we face as a nation: from the lack of public trust in our institutions and leaders; to the appalling inequalities from wealth to income to educational opportunities; to the disenfranchisement of millions of people from electoral process; to the devastating effects of climate change… well, you know we can go on for hours listing all the issues we face as a nation.

The point is that there are not enough professionals of color in public service confronting these issues.

I look around this room and I’m amazed with everyone here. But frankly, I don’t think that there’s enough of us. There is simply not enough people in the trenches that come with different perspectives, different ideas, different life experiences that can add significant insights to solutions to our nation’s problems. The number of people in this room, quite frankly, should be double or triple.

While I love that the Wilson School has made these weekends a tradition. I think the time has come for the School to do more. The status quo is simply not acceptable anymore. We need to double down and widen the pipeline. We need more students of color getting exposed to careers in public service. We need more students graduating with MPAs. We need more professionals of color working to create the America we deserve.

As you know, the urgency on this issue is not new.

Many times, we’d talked about diversity and inclusion and getting more students of color in this School. But to me it hit home last June. I was getting ready for work the morning of June 18, listening to the news about the horrific massacre of nine people in Charleston South Carolina. The shooting happened the day before, during an evening prayer service at the AME Church.

The senior pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those killed. I was stunned.

Rev. Pinckney was a PPIA fellow – we did the Junior Summer Institute program together. He went on to become a State Representative in South Carolina, and later State Senator. He was only 41 years old when he was killed. He did so much at such a young age. Apparently, he was shot dead to ignite a race war. But his death was the impetus that finally took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina, that shameful symbol of racists.

While in the Bowl earlier today, I looked over to where Clem use to sit, remembering his easy smile and deep voice. We spent 10 grueling weeks in those bowls over the summer of 1994. And just thinking of him there, in that room, for at least a moment, it brought me hope. Hope that our lives’ work in this world can be truly consequential.

We need to remember Clem and honor his life.

In my view, he is a true example of what it means to live life in the Nation’s Service. America needs more people like Clem. And I believe the Wilson School has the responsibility and obligation to do more to find and train the Clementas of the world so that we can have a real shot at solving our nation’s problems.

Thank you.

Photographs by: Katherine Elgin Photography

An Important Question for Every Relationship: “What’s Your Credit Score?”


From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important.

This blog was originally published on CFED’s “Inclusive Economy” blog as part of the Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action.

We all love the excitement of getting a notification that someone is interested in you after looking at your dating profile. You quickly check theirs, see where they live, what interests they have, what their pictures say about them.

But what if you could see their credit score, too?

So many relationships are fraught with money troubles, so it’s understandable to want to know whether your potential partner is sound financially. Dating sites are good at determining compatibility based on self-reported measures, but using a seemingly objective indicator like credit score seems like it would help make better matches–and potentially help love birds avoid some serious financial problems down the road.

What about folks who don’t have any credit history at all?

There are an estimated 26 million people in the United States who are “credit invisible”, meaning there is not enough information in the borrower’s profile to generate a credit report or a credit score. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites or Asian Americans to be credit invisible or to have unscored credit records. Millions more have “subprime” credit, meaning that they have less-than-ideal credit profiles or scores.

There was a woman who dropped by one Friday afternoon at Mission Asset Fund (MAF), the nonprofit where I work. She asked if she would be able to get money so that she could take her son out to dinner that night for his birthday. Unfortunately, MAF’s social loan program does not provide the immediacy of funds that she needed.

So where does someone like her go?

If she does not have credit and is unable to borrow from friends and family, her only option may be to go to a payday lender that can offer her money that same day as an advance on her regular earnings with an employer. Even though payday lenders are known to charge exorbitant interest rates and fees, the trade-off may seem worth it to her in order to have a celebratory meal with her family.

I saw so many people make this same decision at the payday loan shop that my mom managed in Indiana. The challenge was that, once someone took out a payday loan, it became very difficult for them to get rid of it.

What seemed like a short-term loan ballooned into a long-term commitment.

While in high school, I came back from California to visit my mom every six months, and I would see the same customers every year, again and again. They would even get my mom gifts for Christmas. The payday lender soon became the lender of choice and at times the only lender, a place where customers felt listened to and understood, but which did little to break them out of a credit-and-debt cycle so that they could truly build assets.

Many state laws protect consumers against predatory lenders, but borrowers can still access these loans online if they are not available in their neighborhood. New York has warned online lenders about its interest rates caps and rules against title lending, while other states like California have seen operations move out of state to tribal reservations in order to thwart regulations and continue business. Laws are not enough to protect consumers from accessing bad loans, as people will always need access to capital.

One of the barriers to strong consumer protection is the way our country goes about credit.

It is not intuitive that a person may be dinged on their credit report for failing to pay an electricity or cable bill, while at the same time being unable to benefit from making regular on-time payments for such services–even though these often require a credit check or a sizable deposit. Increasingly, credit has become so important that it can impact where you work and even where you live.

From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important. My immigrant father who came to the United States from India repeatedly told me to avoid credit cards as a young adult so I would avoid the same mistakes he made. He added me as an authorized user to his AMEX charge card so I could build a credit history early on without taking on debt.

I encourage you to start similar conversations with your family members and friends about credit too.

You may even want to connect with one of the organizations in the A&O Network to help you realize larger financial goals. You, your relationship and your credit profile deserve to be powerful.

What It’s Worth: MAF Featured in New Book


Read CEO Jose Quinonez’s essay “Latinos in the Financial Shadows” in a new book on economic well-being.

Earlier this year I was invited to contribute MAF’s perspective to a joint publication from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), with the support of the Citi Foundation. The resulting book, titled What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation, is a collection of more than 30 essays that document the financial health and stability of Americans across the country. The authors put forth promising strategies for improving economic security and mobility in low-income and underserved populations.

My piece “Latinos in the Financial Shadows” highlights the informal lending practices common among immigrant communities, documenting the important role they play in the lives of people operating outside the financial mainstream. It reviews MAF’s strategy for formalizing these informal financial relationships through our Lending Circles program and attests to the impact of our work.

The essay also introduces the Hierarchy for Financial Needs (HFN), MAF’s new model for identifying and assessing the key components of an individual’s financial well-being. The HFN provides a ground-breaking and much-needed framework to help policymakers, practitioners and others working to improve consumers’ financial stability and mobility evaluate their impact more holistically, placing the work in the larger context of economic health.

To download a PDF of “Latinos in the Financial Shadows,” click here. To order a free copy of the What It’s Worth book, visit the Strong Financial Future website.

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