Skip to main content

Tag: Staff Stories

Lesson Earned #4: (MAF) Metamorphosis

The best part about working for a small organization is the mobility that such a structure enables.

When you walk through MAF’s offices, you’ll notice the colorful walls and vibrant artwork that are so reflective of the members we work with. If you look closely, you’ll see much of this artwork integrates a very specific image: the butterfly. A symbol of the immigration community, the butterfly has a lot of meaning behind it.

It only seems natural that my time at MAF has mirrored the metamorphosis that all butterflies undergo.

In my first post, I talked about MAF’s agile nature and that things moved fast. I’ve spent the last couple of months jumping from project to project so quickly that I almost didn’t notice the transformation my role was undergoing.

It all began with the start of our BBA campaign, our efforts to expand Lending Circles throughout the Bay Area. My role at MAF changed each time these organizations took one step closer to becoming a Lending Circles provider moving from strictly a marketing position into the intersection of marketing and partnerships.

It’s in this new position where I will be best equipped to provide our partners with the tools they need to succeed.

I conducted outreach to invite them to our presentations in January (marketing), answered their questions about the program and application in February (outreach and programmatic knowledge) and reviewed their applications in March (partner success).

These large steps have brought me to where I am today: working towards creating and implementing systems that will enable long lasting partnerships with our Lending Circles providers.

Here are the pieces that will make up my position at MAF in the coming months:

  • Recruitment: Reaching out to organizations interested in becoming Lending Circles providers, explaining the benefits of the program and reviewing incoming applications.
  • Management: Helping our current partners get on-boarded and trained while providing them with continued technical assistance throughout their time as a Lending Circles Provider.
  • Retention: Building out our online Partner Resource Platform- Lending Circles Communities- while sharing provider success stories.

Partner management is the base around which recruitment and retention envelope.The three pieces together enable the butterfly to fly.

The recruitment piece allows MAF to set realistic expectations of the partnership. It also enables MAF to find organizations with a community who could benefit from the program and the capacity to see it through. Management smooths out all the bumps in the road. Finally, retention focuses on demonstrating support for the organizations we work with by providing them with the tools they need for continued success.

Being able to slide into such a role is a demonstration of why the mobile mentality at MAF works so well. As the number and type of partnerships we form grow, partners needs change. The weeks ahead are sure to include much training and learning on my end, but I’m looking forward to being in a place where those changing needs can be met.

Lesson Earned #3: Think Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fremont Family Resource Center Delivers a Recipe for Success

What is the secret to our partner Fremont Family Resource Center’s success? Find out here!

Fremont Family Resource Center (FFRC) provides wrap-around financial services that empower low-income communities throughout the tri-city area. FFRC is not just MAF’s longest active Lending Circles provider, but a star provider with a zero-percent default rate and a total loan portfolio exceeding $90,000.  Recently, I got to spend an afternoon with FFRC to learn about their ingredients for success and to strategize a successful partnership for years to come.

MAF’s “peer lending” program, as it’s called at FFRC, strengthens FFRC’s SparkPoint Financial Services program which includes financial education, one-on-one financial coaching to support participants with specific goals, employment and training services, free tax preparations, access to public benefits and legal services. FFRC’s SparkPoint goals are to increase income and savings, build credit and lower debt/income ratio.

It’s not just about increasing their credit score, but realizing larger financial goals, such as being able to finance the purchase of a reliable car so they can get to work or develop a robust credit profile to rent an apartment.

Usually I only get a snapshot of a participant’s financial history from their applications when they join the program.  Financial coaches and the program coordinator Christine LaBadie on the other hand get to see the impact of the program.  The meeting at Ohlone College was different because coaches highlighted participant’s stories for colleagues in the asset-building field.

‘Mary’, who’s name we changed for privacy, is a participant of the FFRC that stood out to me. She immigrated to the United States with her children from Nigeria in hopes of a better life. Her husband had to stay behind and sent her money whenever he could to support his family.

She had worked tirelessly to provide for her children, and even with the money from he husband she was barely scraping by. Peer lending gave her the opportunity to build her credit and save towards financial goals including buying a car.  Having reliable access to transportation was essential so that she could get to work as a caregiver. After building her credit, ‘Mary’ was able to pick up a second part time job with Amazon, and the extra income will help her family considerably.

‘Mary’ is on currently on track and working hard to accomplish her goals through the one-on-one support of FFRC’s financial coaches and the community support and credit building tools in the Lending Circles program.

Catrina Rivera is another client who is doing very well.  She used Peer Lending twice and raised her score 96 points!   She has two part-time jobs and wants to open her own tax business someday which is why she’s raising her credit score.  She’s also a volunteer for our free tax program (VITA) which has provided her with much additional education and an IRS certification on tax preparation.

She was very determined to raise her score and believes in education.  She took our financial class 3 times!  She was required to take  the first one we offered – MoneySmart, then opted to take Credit Repair when we launched that, and then this year she repeated Credit Repair.  When asked why, she said there’s so much good info there that she didn’t want to miss anything! She’s working very hard to increase her score and is now working on her business plan for her tax business.“

LaBadie shares that the key ingredient is a lot of financial coaching and education.

I believe a successful portfolio often involves partners that have a strong relationship with your community.  Contact a partner manager to explore how Lending Circle programs can complement your organization’s existing programs and services.

FFRC is one of the most consistent Lending Circles partners, offering Lending Circles about four times per year. MAF has not had to charge off a single loan originated by the organization ever.  I know that the stellar performance of their loan portfolio is largely due to the financial coaching and one-on-one support given to each individual participant.

The Fremont FRC is a welcoming place where families and individuals are nurtured, encouraged, and provided quality services to build on their own strengths to help themselves and others. FFRC partners with Mission Asset Fund as part of SparkPoint, a program of the United Way of the Bay Area. The City of Fremont Human Services Department/FRC Division is the Lead FRC partner and operates its Peer Lending Program. Fremont FRC to organize lending circles so that participants are able build their credit and save towards financial goals.  FFRC has originated about $90,000 in loan with a zero percent default rate.

Welcome Alyssa: MAF’s Partner Manager

Alyssa’s passion for microfinance and community connections brought her to the MAF team.

Alyssa’s steadied approach to discovering a place at MAF speaks to her thoughtful nature. She knew about and believed in MAF’s work before even submitting her resume. In fact, Alyssa began talking to MAF staff out of pure interest in our Lending Circles program. Having majored in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Notre Dame, she became interested in learning more about international development issues such as the informal lending circles in Bangladesh through the Grameen Bank.

Financial services give a person the “power to choose,” she notes.

It was this belief in the power of financial inclusion that encouraged her work with microfinance. In addition to exploring the subject in college through many different projects, she worked in the field while in DC for Accion’s Smart Campaign. As she began to look for new opportunities, Alyssa knew she wanted to build off of all she learned while in this position.

As soon as Alyssa heard about MAF, she reached out to start a conversation.

After discussions with MAF staff members, she came to see just how deep MAF’s community roots were and she fell in love with the organization. Soon after, a position on the partnerships team opened up. When she inquired about the role, she began to see how she could contribute to the MAF team.

After just a few days in the office, there are a number of things Alyssa is looking forward to. One of her favorite parts of MAF is its focus on collaboration through partnerships. That’s why the partner manager role seemed like the perfect fit.

“I’m excited about being able to be creative in the new leads we engage,” she says.

She sees a great opportunity to enhance the work of partner organizations by injecting the Lending Circles programs into their portfolio. Alyssa finds MAF’s method of building a sense of community through technology very appealing. Her time in DC gave her an “understanding of just how pivotal technology is in creating greater access to financial services” and she can’t wait to implement this philosophy into her work!

When she’s not making connections between MAF and its partners, Alyssa likes to get creative in the kitchen.

She’s also come to appreciate exactly what diversity means here in San Francisco. While out exploring her neighborhood (Excelsior), Alyssa says she was pleasantly surprised by all the different languages spoken. These make for a vibrant and unique restaurant scene that Alyssa enjoys exploring in her free time.

Lesson Earned #2: Get Rid of the Door

Why community based solutions are more than just a nice thought.

When I was working in a startup incubator space last summer, I had the chance to hear all sorts of advice on starting a business. What I remember so clearly was the old “get out the door” expression. Need to figure out if your idea is plausible? Go out and ask people on the street if they would use it. Need to adjust pricing? Go out and ask people how much they would pay. You can do nothing from the comfort of your own chair.

While this is of course very true, I couldn’t help but wonder about the problematic nature of such a suggestion. If you have to force yourself out your door to connect with your customers, should you really be offering your service in the first place?

I began my fellowship with MAF already skeptical of this “getting out the door” idea, and after just two months here I feel I finally gained some clarity.

This month I was offered the chance to interview Blanca, a Lending Circles member. In order to do so, I literally had to leave the office to meet her at her beauty salon. Now, based on common startup wisdom, I should have felt nervous or concerned about taking such an action. But in fact, I was really excited. I couldn’t wait to hear her personal story – to hear how she had raised her family while achieving her dream of starting a business. I left the interview even more energized than I had entered. I told everyone who would listen about Blanca’s strength and resilience and spoke of how amazing it felt that MAF had played even a small role in her journey.

And just like that, the get out the door illusion had officially been shattered.

When I came back into the office, I walked past our programs team in deep discussion with a potential member-a normal day in the office. That’s when it struck me, that doors don’t exist here. If an organization is built correctly, it devises its solution from the minds of those its trying to serve. The walls are never there because the source is the community itself and so a solid foundation is created.

The community-driven environment enables MAF to grow stronger as time passes.

Seeing the inspiring aspects of Blanca’s character enabled me to leave her beauty salon reenergized with a stronger sense of our mission. Stepping beyond the mission-building cliche, the interview actually help me do my job better. The real reason I was interviewing Blanca wasn’t for a morale boost; it was to hear her story so we could share it with our members and partners and use it to better our programs.

This hits at the core of MAF’s values; the interactions with our members tell us not what they are lacking, but instead all they can offer. Identifying our members’ strengths will allow us to devise and implement programs that capitalize on them; this makes for a better MAF and a stronger community.

Everytime I think of all the MAF members who have reached the next stage of their life, I think of all the organizations missing out by hesitating at the door, complaining about how difficult it is to walk through it.

From Partner Extraordinaire to Board Member

Follow Aqui’s journey with MAF and how she became our newest board member.

Expanding community with a new board member

I am thrilled to announce that we have added a brand new member to our family – this month our board voted in Aqui Soriano, Executive Director of the Pilipino Workers Center, as our newest board member!

Aqui has been working with the Pilipino Workers Center in LA for 14 years and is a leader in the national domestic worker’s movement.

One thing people don’t always know about Aqui is that she will keep calling until it gets what she wants for her community.

When she heard we were expanding Lending Circles to other organizations, she started calling me periodically to see if we were ready to go to L.A. Each time I would tell her “We’re just working on the Bay Area right now, but soon. Soon.”

Once the time was right, and thanks to winning the LA2050 Challenge, we brought on PWC as our very first L.A. partner. Fast forward a few years later and PWC is the only partner who is currently offering all of MAF’s programs – from Lending Circles to Security Deposit Loans.

“As a partner, we have seen firsthand the impact the organization has had,” Aqui says.

So when we were thinking about expanding our board membership, Aqui’s name immediately rose to the top because she has a unique perspective as a partner. I recently asked Aqui what her goals are in joining our board. She said “I see the value MAF has in building communities – in its lending circles as well as building broader community. I also appreciates that MAF knows how to build organizational infrastructure and systems to grow and scale.”

I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Aqui join us on the board and really look forward to your future with MAF.

Meet Karla Henriquez: MAF’s Program Coordinator

Find out how Karla Henriquez, MAF’s brand new programs coordinator, injects her fun-loving and warm personality into everything she does.

Unlike many MAF staff members, Karla became part of the MAF community well before she had walked through its doors. Her friends and members of her family had participated in tandas when she was a child in El Salvador, so she understood the benefits and drawbacks of informal lending circles.

While in college at SF State, Karla helped with the research behind MAF’s programs. With an understanding of their effectiveness, Karla decided to take a chance and join a lending circle. Through the experience she came to know and love MAF’s mission and its people. In short, she was hooked.

When word of an opening on MAF’s programs team made its way to her, Karla thought “this is my chance” and she jumped to apply.

With such a strong grounding in MAF’s model, she was the perfect candidate for the job. As the Programs Coordinator, Karla spends her days directly interacting with our members. She walks them through our services and the services of our partners. To accomplish this, she does much more than listening to their financial history; she listens to their life story.

“That’s really rewarding, to know that people trust us to share their personal struggles.”

In this way, Karla represents so much of what we do here at MAF. Our clients aren’t just looking to improve their credit score, they are looking to move forward with their lives by starting businesses, gaining citizenship or securing stable housing.

What’s so inspiring about Karla is how she has come to see her role at MAF and the world. Growing up, she never thought she’d end up in the financial sector.  “I was always told, ‘finance is a man’s world,’” she says.

At MAF, Karla talks to many women without a checking account and with little financial independence. She loves that MAF’s programs enable them to take control of their finances and motivate her to do so as well. She explains, “the more I learn, the more empowered I feel.”

The time Karla has spent here has also made her reflect upon her high school and college careers. Though she was involved in all types of community outreach, the one commonality she found was the community need for financial stability.

“If people had the financial resources to have a better life, then maybe they could move out from the violent neighborhoods or find a better job,” Karla says.

Outside of the office, Karla finds herself often chatting about MAF and successfully recruiting several of her friends into Lending Circles. But she’s not all about work. She loves her zumba classes and uses them as a way to unwind and let loose with friends.

Her favorite part of the MAF philosophy is that we “embrace what our community already has.” We transformed a tool the community has used for centuries, and in so doing we enable our members to build brighter futures for themselves. That’s something Karla can relate to.

Diving Deep into Member Culture

In an effort to better understand our member culture, the staff decided to take time to learn about the upcoming holiday, El Dia de los Muertos.

Here at MAF, we feel it is important for us to connect with our members on a deeper level. In gaining a better understanding of where they are coming from, we can help them better reach their goals. With a majority of our members being of Latin American descent, we felt there was no better way to strengthen this connection than to celebrate one of the most loved holidays of that region: El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The holiday is practiced in many Latin American countries and most festively celebrated in Mexico.

I had learned about the holiday in grade school but upon doing research for a staff presentation, I learned so much more. The reasoning behind the occasion was really great, beautiful even.

The thought behind those who celebrate the holiday is that death is only another part of life and shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated as your loved ones have in a sense graduated from this stage in life to the next. El Dia de los Muertos is the one day a year that our loved ones are allowed to return from their eternal slumber and spend time to celebrate the reunion with their living loved ones. Much of the decor may be seen as morbid or macabre to those unfamiliar with the holiday with the skulls, skeletons, alters, and cemetery visits, but this is due to a difference in cultural understanding.

We wanted our office’s Dia de los Muertos decorations to be as authentic as possible so we visited a store in the heart of the Mission District called Casa Bonampak, which ships its products from Mexico. We special ordered Papel Picado from Mexico, a traditional decorative streamer used for all types of festive celebrations. It included the MAF symbol and was made with the traditional chisels. Tracie, one of the store’s employees was able to assist in gathering the appropriate decorations for the occasion.

One of the most notable aspects of El Dia de los Muertos is the sugar skulls. We decided to buy blank skulls from the store and have the MAF staff decorate them. They were made in Mexico by a man who used clay molds that had been handed down to him for many generations. Before we began decorating, I gave a brief presentation on the holiday to the entire staff, so that everyone would have a better understanding of what the decorations meant.

The sugar skulls are representative of the loved one they are gifted to and the size of them is meant to represent the age of that person. The traditional way of decorating the sugar skulls, or calaveras de azucar, is not easy, and we learned that the hard way! Putting in the effort of decorating the skull shows dedication to the person you are gifting it to, whether that person is alive or has passed.

The skeletons, or clacas, are always seen as whimsical by families rather than sad. They are meant to represent the spirits that are happy to be able to see their loved ones again. As someone with a few relatives who have passed, I admire the idea of thinking happily of them, rather than mourning them.

Families also create altars where they leave offerings of food and gifts from the living in order to feed the spirits after their long journey from death to the world of the living. My favorite tradition is placing marigolds all over the altars and grave stones, sometimes leading from the cemeteries to homes. The sweet smell is said to be strong enough to bring the spirits back and they can follow the smell to the homes of their living loved ones.

The whimsy, joy, and love displayed on this holiday is really something to be appreciated. Our office completely transformed once we finished putting up all the decorations. The hope is to create a positive and trusting environment for our members in every Lending Circle formation, financial management training class and every conversation they have with our staff. Making these reflections enables us to see the role MAF plays in the long arc of each member’s life as we acknowledge and celebrate their past while also watching them build their own brighter futures.

Meet Jennifer Tse: MAF’s Curious Finance Associate

As MAF’s Finance Associate, Jennifer asks the important questions.

Jennifer is one of the most inquisitive people I know. Though she works on the Finance Team as the Finance Associate, I’m lucky enough to sit across from her every day. Despite the fact that our job descriptions vary so much, since the first day I met her I got the sense that she wanted to get to know me. She constantly expresses interest in my life both in and out of the office and makes it easy to share a conversation.

When sitting down in the kitchen for lunch, she always looks to see what others are eating in hopes of discussing what each type of food says about a certain culture or region in the world. We were all surprised to discover that she was once an avid Yelp reviewer, so she can dish out the best and worst Bay Area restaurants at any moment.

The reason she’s so curious about other people and other cultures probably stems from the fact that her own story is so interesting.

She credits her family and faith as the tools that shaped her as she spends her weekends at church and with family and friends. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and always encouraged her to get an education. It was her family’s difficult financial transition that convinced her of the importance of understanding economic policy, and what brought her to study the topic in college and enter the field upon graduation.

Having gone to high school and having spent a lot of time in the Mission, Jennifer came to know the area well. She saw a neighborhood full of life, but sadly found that the “community is neglected in terms of social services.”

“People try really hard to achieve the American dream, but there are so many barriers to success,” she explained.

Having received the benefits of non-profit services growing up, Jennifer had always wanted to work in the non-profit world. With the position at MAF, she saw the opportunity to support a community she knew well while also applying her financial set.

“I was interested in working for a nonprofit because I wanted to be able to use my accounting skills while contributing to a greater purpose”

A typical work day doesn’t just involve Jennifer asking questions about her fellow staff members and sharing her life story, she spends them asking questions about her work. As I type this, she’s asking about a potential oversight with a client’s account. She works with John, our Finance Manager, to ensure the smooth operations of both MAF’s finances and its members.

She sees each day that “every client is unique and each has her own financial situation.” Though she loves working on Excel spreadsheets, her favorite part about her job is asking the right questions in order to meet every members’ needs.

Meet Isis Fleming: MAF’s problem-solving master

As MAF’s “People, Fun and Culture” Manager, Isis helps MAF run like a well-oiled machine.

Isis has a calm and steadied presence about her that can be felt all the way across the office. From what few office environments I have been in, I’ve come to see that the office manager rules all, and Isis is no exception. She interacts with everyone on the team everyday. So when she is out of the office – whether its for vacation or just going out to lunch – she’s greatly missed.

After a quick look at the job description for the People, Fun and Culture Manager, Isis’ interest was peaked. She’s worked in admin before and was therefore well acquainted with the multidimensional nature of admin work. So from a pure job description view, MAF’s “People, Fun and Culture manager” position seemed like a clear fit.

She loves “being able to pinpoint whatever this issue is and fix it”

And at MAF she wastes no time getting to it. She reflected on her first couple of weeks expressing her gratitude for the fact that she did not go through weeks of training. Instead she was able to apply the “I do it, I learn it” approach because thats the type of culture MAF embodies.

The nature of her job doesn’t allow time for training since she’s responsible for making so many of MAF’s wheels turn. Her tasks include everything from watering the plants to managing MAF’s move to helping with all of MAF’s event logistics. The upside to jumping into these wide-ranging projects from the start is that Isis came to see how much she connected with our mission.

“Having been raised in Watsonville where the majority of the community is immigrants…driving off the freeway [I saw] all the workers in the field unable to build credit because they are being paid under the table and below minimum wage.”

She has a deep appreciation for MAF’s role in credit-building especially in regards to immigrant populations. Her aunt participated in a Paluwagan, an informal lending circle in the Philippines. Her mother was an immigrant herself, so Isis knows first hand the challenges that arise when trying to become a citizen and acclimate to the United States.

“That aspect is what touched me initially,” Isis said.

Isis’ personal and professional life have blurred at a more basic level than this familial connection to MAF’s mission.

She laughs about restocking items in her own home well before they run out; the best occupational hazard I know of. But her life is much more than checking the pantry, of course. Isis loves hiking and has become a bit of a foodie since coming to SF for college.

Looking forward, she can’t wait to watch MAF continue to progress because it ensures that she never “knows what [her] day is like until [she] gets here.” Without a set routine, she sees the opportunity to grow along side such an innovative organization building its vision for change from the ground up.