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Tag: Staff Stories

Lesson Earned #1: MAF Moves Pretty Fast

Join me as I strive to earn 11 lessons through my contributions to MAF

Check in each month to get a better picture of life here at MAF through the eyes of a recent grad looking to discover her next career step!

MAF moves pretty fast: If you don’t stop and contribute once and a while, you might miss it.

I’m a big fan of comedies. And John Hughes. So on my first day when everyone kept telling me “things move pretty fast around here,” I immediately thought of Ferris Bueller.

Though I’ve only been at MAF for a couple of weeks, I can see how true this statement really is. From Day 1, I was “thrown into the fire”. I sat in on my first set of meetings anticipating I was meant to take on an “observatory” role.

But at MAF there’s no time to just sit back and watch. By the time we’ve come up with an idea, we’ve already analyzed how to improve it and are in the midst of implementing the new plan.

Following the MAF tradition, Aparna (another New Sector Fellow), and I carved out time to meet with every member of the MAF staff. These one-on-ones began as purely informational – how do certain programs work? who are our partners? – and soon morphed into full-fledged brainstorming sessions.

I began to envision the larger picture, examining how the different departments at MAF connected and found myself seeking ways that I could bolster their communications.

It was my first task, and a very simple one at that, but my goal changed so suddenly and organically. What at once seemed like a very passive activity turned into my first project proposal – all within just two days of being here.

For any newcomer, especially a new fresh-off-the-grid grad like myself, the thought of coming in and making a new proposal outside your project’s scope seems like a terrifying get-you-fired-pronto strategy. But at MAF, it’s not just natural; it’s vital.

As a relatively new company MAF operates like a startup in many ways, meaning there are areas in which there is no rubric for success. After all, we’re attempting to tackle the otherwise unaddressed issue of bringing the unbanked out of the shadows;  there is no beaten path to follow.

Some can see this as worrisome, and it certainly is for me sometimes. Not always knowing the direction in which you should be heading can seem like a daunting task. Yet it’s also very comforting. Without strict processes to spend time understanding, I can inject my own ideas quickly and without question.

At MAF, the answers to the difficult problem we are trying to solve are unclear, but the need to answer them great. 

In such a case, hesitation can inhibit. Often times the longer I sit on an idea, the longer it takes me to follow through with it. Once I do, the moment has passed and the solution is obsolete. Thus the need to constantly be moving makes us better employees, better thinkers and better people. The ultimate reward, though, is an instantaneous unity that inevitably arises from partaking in this mentality.

By contributing in out-of-the-box ways and with out-of-the-box thinking, I unknowingly became part of the team and one with the culture. This mindset is what makes MAF tick and if you don’t jump on board fast, you’ll miss the ride.

Product and Research Fellow joins MAF

Aparna brings a love of people and numbers to MAF’s research team

My name is Aparna and I am the new Product & Research Fellow. Basically, my job is to work with MAF’s various teams, integrating technology and data to support and enhance what they already do so well; create systems through which service providers can demonstrate the immediate and long-term impact of their work with individual clients; and collaborate on the fascinating studies the Research Team is putting out, to help push forward our understanding of the broader implications of MAF’s work. As an aspiring policy modeler, I am very excited to engage with these different systems surrounding MAF’s work and lenses into the issue of asset-building.

I believe that the confluence of the quantitative, the qualitative, and the experiential, when done effectively, can truly transform the way we think about real-world problems.

During college, I built many close relationships through extensive volunteer work with the local community, which challenged me to think about how to use my technical background (B.S., Mathematics and M.S., Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University) to make meaningful impact. To this end, I spent a year on the Reporting and Data Modeling team of one of the nation’s largest HMIS providers and then another year conducting research under Prof. Sanjay Basu, using agent-based models to study the impact of neighborhood design on the physical activity levels of residents.

Now, I am thrilled to continue exploring my interests at MAF, through my fellowship with New Sector Alliance!

I’m truly thankful to be in such an innovative and forward-thinking place, which so cleanly integrates a focus on thought leadership, policy advocacy, and direct service to local communities.

In my spare time, I can be found volunteering with unhoused members of Palo Alto’s community, practicing Bharatanatyam (a style of Indian classical dance), exploring the Bay Area on foot, and striking up conversations with those I meet along the way.

MAF welcomes new Marketing Fellow

Meet Tori, who’s passionate about social enterprises and making an impact!

I’m so excited to be joining MAF’s team as the marketing fellow this fall. I’m a recent graduate of Davidson College (just outside of Charlotte, NC) where I studied international development. Outside of the classroom, I ran a student social enterprise called Hives for Lives which sold all-natural honey and donated all proceeds towards cancer research, while also educating the larger student population of the sector’s potential impact.

As I began my search for post-graduation jobs, I knew I wanted to continue my work in the social sector, but venture into a new industry.

That’s when I came across New Sector Alliance, a fellowship program that matches fellows with social sector organizations for a year of service. New Sector immediately matched me with Mission Asset Fund. I fell in love with the mission almost instantly! After stalking the website, reading the project scope and talking with other MAF employees, it just seemed like a natural fit.

This year, I’ll be writing my own blog series and helping MAF improve its communication streams by analyzing the data on their current strengths and problem areas. I can’t wait to learn about the financial industry, get to know MAF’s members and staff, and contribute to the growth of this incredible organization.

When I’m not serving with New Sector, you can find me at a local concert (everything from classical to indie to pop), Giants or 49ers game or wandering the streets of SF with camera in hand.

Delivering Lending Circles to The Mile High City

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado is new territory for MAF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Buddy Up: Joining the Lending Circle network

MAF collaborates with CABO to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles

When the Assets & Opportunities Network convened in December, Andrew Chang and I had just met, but we ignited a friendship that compelled us to find a way for our two organizations, MAF and CABO, to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles.

Fortunately, the JPMC technical assistance fund for A&O Members, along with support from Citi and key funders, enabled us to organize a “roadshow” presentation on the Lending Circle model with CABO network members, as well as lead an in-person training for MAOF and CCNP, MAF’s two newest Lending Circle providers.

The roadshow on June 4th and training on June 6th sandwiched well with the CFSI 2014 EMERGE Forum, where MAF CEO Jose Quinonez served as a panelist. Coming full, dare I say “lending circle”, just a couple years before, MAF received an award from CFSI to expand Lending Circles through the Bay Area. Since then, MAF had not only proven through an academic evaluation the success of individual participants including credit score increases and debt reduction, but the ability to replicate the model through non-profit organizations in other areas.

Now MAF is providing Lending Circles through partner non-profit organizations in 11 states.

MAF is looking to expand further, including New York, Texas, Florida, Chicago, the Mid-atlantic.  MAF had been able to scale, and will continue to even more by employing innovative technology including online financial education and web-based trainings through a new “Lending Circle Communities” platform.

MAF’s roadshow took place at the United Way in Los Angeles. Over ten financial coaches within the CABO Network participated to learn about Lending Circles, a culturally relevant model of social lending and affordable, responsible product to build credit and realize larger financial goals.

Though the challenge of accessing affordable credit is not unique, there are certain ways of course this plays out for local communities, like the unbanked community in Los Angeles.

Andrew shared for example, how Los Angelinos with thin credit files often borrow at a 25% interest rate for a used vehicle at “Buy Here, Pay Here” car dealership.  GPS tracking devices and “kill switch” allow the vehicle to be easily repossessed in instances of default.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that makes installing these devices illegal without the consent of the borrower, but sub-prime borrowers often have few alternatives.  They also end up paying more for less without a responsible alternative to establish credit before taking out a loan.

Since moving to Oakland four years ago from New York, I have gotten used to relying on public transportation, but I quickly learned during what felt like a family road trip to Universal Studies, that having access to a safe and reliable vehicle is not just a part of the car culture, but a necessity in Los Angeles.

Better credit, not only means more saving, but more financial security and peace of mind, so that hard-working families can get to work and take care of their families.

I look forward to the next A&O convening to share our story of collaboration with other organizations in the asset-building field.

MAF’s Emerging in LA

MAF is setting the stage for the future of Social Lending

I recently started working at MAF and before I got in the door, Daniela, our COO, asked me if I wanted to attend a conference in LA. My reply was an emphatic yes! I’d only been to L.A once, so I looked forward to learning more about MAF’s work in L.A. communities and the great city. Before I knew what was going on, my colleagues, Mohan, Nesima and I were bleary eyed and on a commuter flight to attend EMERGE, a conference organized by the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

The goal of the EMERGE conference is to focus on how the financial services industry can reach low to moderate income individuals.

Since MAF focuses its innovative social loan products and programs in communities that are invisible to the mainstream financial system, it was natural for us to attend and be ready to bring our innovations to the table. Personally, I wanted to get a glimpse of what this sector of the financial services industry was all about and the impact it was making.

MAF’s own CEO, Jose Quinonez, was a panel speaker for the first pre-conference session, “A Primer on Consumer Financial Challenges and the Underserved Market.” Hearing about the industry’s approach to innovation (more mobile access to fee based financial products, more innovation with pre-paid cards, to name two).

It became clear to me (and I may be a little partial) that MAF had a highly unique and innovative take on both the consumers being discussed and on providing access to an affordable, fair financial marketplace.

I found two sessions particularly interesting. The first was a data analysis and review by LexisNexis on the population dynamics of the underbanked consumer after the recession. Lots of (propriatary!) data was shared, but one piece really struck me: relative to their financial health before the 2008 recession, the underbanked under 30 years of age were still much worse off than those 31 and over. Hmmm…

The conference’s final session was a presentation on the U.S. Financial Diaries research project. The preliminary research found, amongst other things, that folks that were low to moderate income tended to lend and borrowed money to each other as an alternative to conventional financial markets.Who knew? Why, MAF did! In fact, MAF was referenced several times in the presentation as being a driving force of innovation and scale in this area.

For me, the key moment was when a slide during the presentation told me the story of these communities and how MAF’s been ahead of the curve for years.

It was a great conference week, finishing with a whirlwind (but very moderate) meal with a few allies & partners  at La Costa, with some great people and awesome leather booths. Thanks, L.A., for a great trip!

Lending Circles son bienvenidos a Miami!

Find out how MAF is making waves in Miami!

Jose, Daniela, and I set off to visit a promising new community to bring the Lending Circles program, Miami! I had been waiting for this day ever since I joined MAF. Now the day was here and it fell on Cinco de Mayo! On my way to the hotel, I decided to take a detour down Flagler Street, one of the main arteries of Miami community, the busy street runs right through little Havana and leads directly to downtown Miami.

I was not surprised to see that this vibrant street was share many similarities with MAF’s home in the historic Mission District of San Francisco.

Unfortunately one of the similarities was that it was riddled with check cashing and payday lenders. It was a visual reminder of why we were there and it gave me a better sense of what opportunities the nonprofits in the area we striving to create. Needless to say, I felt amped to deliver the presentation the next day.

Throughout Miami folks were preparing for Cinco de Mayo, I was preparing to give a presentation on how Lending Circles can transform communities. We entered the Miami JP Morgan Chase headquarters, as people began filtering in off of the warm Miami streets.  The sweet smell of Rosa Mexicano filled the room, while I have to say San Francisco has some amazing Mexican food, I will say that this was a close second.

At first with everyone entering and networking it was hard to judge the amount of people coming to hear about MAF’s Lending Circles.

As the the presentation started, I noticed that more people were coming in! By the time the presentation had ended people were lining the edges of the room. It was invigorating to feel everyone’s energy and to hear from the audience themselves the opportunities they saw by having Lending Circles serve their local community.

The next day I had the pleasure of doing a site visit with one of the local nonprofits, Catalyst, who had come to hear about what a partnership with MAF could do for them and their communities. They are a nonprofit in Dade County that acts as a diverse resource to jump start families and community members in a path towards success, a true catalyst.

The Catalyst team (Terry and Gretchen) gave me a warm welcome and gave me a wonderful tour of their site. I couldn’t help but admire their art work, some very personal, some that their own members had created, and of course some just completely awesome.

Overall it was an amazing experience. It was truly great to meet the JP Morgan Chase team and all the nonprofits that are working hard to make their communities a better place for families.