Tag: Vision

Building Better: 2015 Annual Report


Take a look back on what you helped build in 2015 – and get a sneak peak at what’s next!

MAF’s 2015 Annual Report Building Better tells the story of what’s possible when we continually challenge ourselves to build better partnerships, better technology, and better programs.

In 2015, we’re proud to have built a diverse network of 53 nonprofits in 17 states and D.C.

With new partners, we’ve expanded our hubs in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the Northwest. And we’re thrilled to celebrate over $5 million in zero-interest social loans that are helping thousands of hardworking students, parents, and entrepreneurs build brighter financial futures.

That means an entrepreneur like Sandra can get a zero-interest business loan to grow her inventory and reach new clients — all while building her credit. And a college student like Kimberly can secure Deferred Action to gain access to financial aid and attend the school of her dreams.

We did not do this alone.

Thanks to our funders, donors, board, and clients across the U.S., together we’re building better solutions to unlock the full economic potential of communities living in the financial shadows. Thank you for building with us to make that possible.

We couldn’t have created this report without extensive support from Dan Massey of Google and Billy Roh of Opendoor, who generously volunteered their time and talents to build an ever better annual report for us.

Find out what’s up next for MAF in 2016 by checking out our Annual Report here!

It’s who you ask that matters


A conversation with a founding member paints a picture of what a new member-driven council will contribute to the Lending Circles program.

It’s about keeping it real. As we grow and evolve, we know that engaging real people will be key to gathering feedback that improves and informs programs and products. With this in mind, we set out to form our very first Member Advisory Council (MAC) earlier this year.

The goal? To encourage dialogue among clients who use our programs and take a closer look at their experiences. The Member Advisory Council will provide advice on new programs, the client experience, and will help shape our strategic goals.

Last month the Member Advisory Council, made up of 8 of our clients (a.k.a. members) representing the diversity of our community met for the first time. We sat down to get to know one of those members, Santos, and to hear what MAC means to him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in the heart of District 9, most commonly known as “La Mission”, at 26th and Valencia Streets, where the intersections saw me grow and become who I am now. Growing up in La Mission, it gave me perspectives that you don’t get to see or experience in other Districts in San Francisco. La Mission is full of cultures from every corner of the world. We have locals that are very outspoken, that are not afraid to speak against injustice.

What do you do for a living?

Growing up with some of the La Mission ideals, I wanted to do something for my community, something that could teach – or how we say it here in the Bay, “Speak some game” – to the younger generations. So I started working for the Bay Area Urban Debate League. As the regional coordinator for San Francisco, I am in charge of all the programs that the League has here in San Francisco. I work primarily with the High Schools such as Mission High School, Wallenberg High School, Downtown High School, June Jordan School for Equity, and Ida B. Wells High School.

Why did you join the Lending Circles program?

I joined a Lending Circle because my mother thought it would be a good way to start generating some credit. At first I was skeptical. I knew what a Tanda was but those were sometimes sketchy and didn’t always work out. Fast forward to 2016 and I have done 3 or 4 Lending Circles.

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the Lending Circles is the finance class you have to take. It is a requirement to take the class every time you join a Lending Circle. The constant reinforcement of financial education is key. I’ve learned so much from that constant reminder. I’m constantly trying to get people to join the program. I usually just show them the website and tell them a bit of my story.

What was your reaction when you learned about MAC?

When I got the call, I didn’t know how to react. I happened to be on the roof of my building when I got the call. The call came in as a breeze of air, it was like deja vu. When I spoke to Karla about becoming part of the first group of MAC members, it was a no brainer and I immediately said yes.

What part of MAC is most exciting to you?

One of the things that Is really interesting to me is that you get to represent a community. You get to speak for the people that cannot be heard. That’s a power that not everyone gets to feel. The decisions that MAC members will make, will affect the community and that’s what’s really got my attention.

The fact that I get to experience and be a direct decision maker for the community is beyond my dreams. With the help of the seven other members we can make our community better. The first generation of MAC members will set the standards for the next generation and so on we will build a group that prioritizes the community.

MAC’s next meeting is scheduled for August 3rd where the group looks forward to discussing their goals for the coming year.

Strengthening the Voice of our Lending Circles Partner Network


MAF’s first Partner Advisory Council will provide an exciting opportunity to harness the insights of our partner network

From our early years serving families in the Mission District, we believed that Lending Circles could benefit communities far beyond our San Francisco neighborhood. Knowing that organizations with deep ties to their communities are best equipped to serve local clients, we set out to partner with fellow nonprofits, first in the Bay Area, then across California and — eventually — the country. Looking back today, it’s hard to believe just how quickly this vision was realized: the Lending Circles Network now has 50 partners and counting.

We know that with growth comes big opportunities. As a means to strengthen and deepen the experience of being a Lending Circles provider, we are proud to announce that we have formed a Partner Advisory Council.

The members of this Partner Advisory Council (or, as we like to call it, PAC) will offer their insight, smarts, and on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider. They will provide advice and strategic thinking, all in an effort to elevate and strengthen the Lending Circles Network. They will also play an instrumental role in planning and hosting the Lending Circles Summit, a national convening of Lending Circles providers and other experts
in related fields.

So, who did we select? Eight outstanding staff members at partner organizations that provide Lending Circles. These eight PAC members represent the diversity of the Lending Circles Network — in regard to geographic location in the U.S., communities served, organizational size, and experience.

  • Jorge Blandón, Vice President, FII-National at Family Independence Initiative in Oakland, CA
  • Leisa Boswell, Financial Services Specialist at SF LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, CA
  • Madeline Cruz, Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project in Chicago, IL
  • Rob LaJoie, Director, Financial Empowerment Program at Peninsula Family Services in San Mateo, CA
  • Gricelda Montes, Asset Building Programs Coordinator at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, WA
  • Judy Elling Pryzbilla, Community Coordinator at Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, MN
  • Paola Torres, Small Business Program Coordinator at Northern Virginia Family Services in Falls Church, VA
  • Alejandro Valenzuela Jr, Financial Empowerment Services Manager at CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio in Minneapolis, MN
PAC Co-Chair, Leisa Bowell

Here’s what co-chair, Leisa Bowell, has to say about joining PAC:

“In my work at the SF LGBT Center one of our focuses is on creating a more equitable world which is why the Lending Circle program is so important to us. I am invested in seeing that program grow, not only at the Center but also throughout the various LGBTQ communities across the nation. I think joining the Partner Advisory Council will allow me to help that growth come to fruition.”

The first PAC meeting took place on April 29th and allowed PAC members to get to know each other, and get to know the group they just joined. We learned fun facts about PAC members and discovered we have quite the talented group! Madeline knows some Arabic, Jorge was part of a poetry duo that performed in New York subways, and Paola loves dancing and has been part of a musical group. The group offered up some insightful feedback on MAF’s upcoming Lending Circles Summit, and engaged with our tech team to learn more about the new tech developments on the horizon.

We’re tremendously grateful that these PAC members have stepped up to make the Lending Circles Network even better. Their insight into the on-the-ground experience of being a Lending Circles provider is invaluable to us, and will help guide MAF’s direction for years to come.

Innovations: Making the Invisible Visible


CEO Jose Quinonez gives a behind-the-scenes look into MAF’s origin story in MIT Press’s “Innovations” journal.

The following excerpt was originally published in “Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization,” a journal published by MIT Press. Read the full essay here.

I was 20 years old when I realized that my mother had died because we were poor.

She passed away when I was nine, too young to understand the complex and dangerous nature of life in poverty. At that time, I had to muster everything inside of me just to survive the avalanche of sorrow and change in our family life.

It was only as an adult that I came to terms with my painful childhood. I see it now as the source of the deep empathy I have for people who suffer and struggle in the world.

That is why I’ve dedicated my life to working against poverty.

And it is how I became the founding CEO of Mission Asset Fund (MAF), a nonprofit organization that strives to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. When I joined MAF in 2007, the organization was a nonprofit start-up with plans to help low-income immigrants in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Eight years later, MAF is nationally recognized for developing Lending Circles, a social loan program based on people coming together to lend and borrow money. With cutting-edge technology, we transformed this invisible practice into a force for good.

Program participants are freeing themselves from the grasp of predatory lenders by opening bank accounts, building credit histories, paying down high-cost debt, and increasing their savings. They are investing in businesses, buying homes, and saving for a better future.

Lending Circles brings to light what’s already good in people’s lives.

And within that light, participants are forging a sure path into the financial mainstream, unlocking their true economic potential every step of the way. The program’s success is serving as a model in the fight against poverty, demonstrating new and effective ways of helping low-income people without belittling them in the process.

This is the behind-the-scenes story of how we made this happen.

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

Policy Must Uplift People’s Strengths, Not Criticize Their Character


A recent article from sociologist Philip N. Cohen underscores the importance of policies that respect the dignity & strengths of the families we serve.

Last week Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and senior scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families, published an article in the Washington Post arguing that “American policy fails at reducing child poverty because it aims to fix the poor.”

The headline grabbed my attention.

It succinctly captured what decades of work with low-income communities have taught me: We don’t need saviors to teach poor people the right morals. We need advocates to recognize and cultivate their strengths so that they move out of poverty themselves.

Current anti-poverty policies that aim to fix them, actually work against them.

Cohen’s piece scrutinizes this current approach, and dispenses with it. He challenges the motives, logic, and outcomes of anti-poverty policies that pressure poor parents to get married or find jobs as a precondition for government assistance:

We know growing up poor is bad for kids. But instead of focusing on the money, U.S. anti-poverty policy often focuses on the perceived moral shortcomings of the poor themselves. … Specifically, we offer two choices to poor parents if they want to escape poverty: get a job, or get married. Not only does this approach not work, but it’s also a cruel punishment for children who cannot be held responsible for their parents’ decisions.

Tax benefits like the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit are reserved for those able to find and hold a job, which can be all but impossible for people struggling to care for young children or older parents and people with disabilities that make it difficult to work. Welfare payments are restricted by work requirements and time limits that leave millions of families out.

Other past, present, and proposed anti-poverty policies are designed to incentivize marriage, effectively penalizing parents who choose not to marry – a choice that everyone, rich or poor, should be able to make freely.

Policies like these fail to treat poor people with the respect they deserve.

And they fail to provide solutions that work for all families. Cohen proposes simpler alternatives, programs that serve all parents equally and offer poor families a leg up without imposing moral judgments on their individual decisions and needs.

This brings us to a broader lesson that all of us – policymakers, nonprofit leaders, community members – can learn from: We must meet people where they are, respect what they bring to the table, and build on the strengths they have.

This approach is not a pipe dream. I see it work every day with Lending Circles.

MAF’s social loan programs begin from a position of respect, acknowledging and valuing the rich resources and financial savvy that our clients already possess. We then build on those strengths by integrating their positive behaviors and informal practices into the mainstream financial marketplace.

Poor people are not broken. They have strengths that we too often fail to recognize.

Rather than judging their behavior and imposing our own values on them, we must treat them with dignity and seek out solutions that work for everyone, whatever their background, abilities – or marital status.

Respect, Meet, Build: A Model for Financial Inclusion


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Reflect & Refresh: Announcing My Sabbatical


Jose Quiñonez, CEO of MAF, announces a three-month sabbatical, sponsored by O2 Initiatives.

I’m taking a sabbatical!

Thanks to a generous grant from O2 Initiatives, I start a three-month sabbatical on December 21st. Since 2007, I’ve had the privilege of building MAF from a neighborhood nonprofit into an organization with a national network of 53 nonprofit partners, providing Lending Circles across 18 states. After overcoming many challenges and achieving much success through the years, I feel that now is the time to take a step back and reflect on all we’ve accomplished — and to envision what’s next for MAF as we continue to uplift credit-building as a force for good, forge new partnerships, and expand to new communities.

I am ever grateful to O2 Initiatives for providing me with the gift of time to reflect and refresh.

Over the next three months, I look forward to traveling and spending time with my family, reconnecting with old friends, and reading hardcover books. I have a stack of books on my nightstand just waiting to be picked up. I can’t wait thumb through their pages.

During my absence, MAF’s Chief Operating Officer Daniela Salas will take the helm as Acting CEO.

Daniela has been a critical force behind MAF’s success since our founding, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead the organization as it embarks on an ambitious plan for 2016. We will continue to move our research agenda forward by studying the impact of Lending Circles on consumers’ financial well-being; we will break new ground in developing technology for our clients to have awesome experiences with Lending Circles; and we will go the extra mile to ensure that our partners have the right tools and training to successfully implement Lending Circles in their communities.

I look forward to returning to my role as CEO in April 2016.

With renewed energy, we’ll continue to build on what’s good and forge ahead in our fight against poverty. Onwards!

Hierarchy of Financial Needs: An Introduction


MAF’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs provides a framework for evaluating every person’s economic well-being.

Eight years into our mission to build a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families, we at MAF know that Lending Circles are empowering participants to build credit, reduce debt, and increase savings. But how do those gains translate into greater financial security? Do they produce meaningful improvement in our clients’ larger financial lives?

As Lending Circles have flourished and expanded over the years, we’ve amassed data allowing us to better understand the program’s impact on clients’ overall economic stability and mobility. But as we began to dive more deeply into these questions, we realized that we lacked a clear definition of financial security and, by extension, a reliable way to measure it.

An Incomplete Picture of Financial Health

Typically, income or credit scores are seen as proxies for a person’s financial well-being. But these common metrics aren’t adequate for assessing a person’s full financial life. Knowing someone’s income alone does not say much about her expenses, debts or net worth — especially in cases where income is volatile, uncertain from day to day or week to week. And while credit scores predict the probability that a borrower will repay a debt, they tell us little about a borrower’s true ability to repay.

What will it take for a borrower to pay back that loan? Will she need a second loan to pay off the first? If so, can we honestly say she is able to repay that initial loan? And what about the myriad informal financial transactions our clients rely on to meet their financial obligations? Where do those fit in when assessing an individual’s financial security?

MAF’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs

For answers we turned to Abraham Maslow, the revered American psychologist who developed the “Hierarchy of Needs,” a model that outlines the physical, social, and psychological requirements that must be satisfied for an individual to realize her true potential. In his seminal work from 1943, Maslow organized human needs into five levels, ordered from the most basic (health and well-being) to the most complex (self-actualization), with each level facilitating the satisfaction of the subsequent, higher-order need. Using the same logic, MAF developed the “Hierarchy of Financial Needs” (HFN) to explain what individuals require to realize their true economic potential.

The HFN identifies financial parallels to physiological needs (income), safety (insurance), love and belonging (credit), esteem (savings), and self-actualization (investments):

  • INCOME: The most basic financial need is income to cover basic living expenses, such as food, housing, and utilities. Income can take many forms, from wages and dividends to government benefits or even transfers from family or friends. Income is the foundation of financial security.
  • INSURANCE: To protect earnings, people must insure against unforeseen events that create setbacks. This requires taking stock of assets, including cash, belongings, and health, and securing against loss, theft, damage, and illness.
  • CREDIT: To acquire assets such as a car, home, or education otherwise unattainable through income alone, people need credit. This requires individuals to have credit histories and credit scores to access, and leverage, low-cost capital.
  • SAVINGS: When individuals save, they put away resources for specific goals. The ability to save demonstrates discipline and engenders confidence, a sense of achievement, and respect for oneself and others.
  • INVESTMENTS: The pinnacle of the HFN is when people realize the dynamism of their economic potential. This is the stage where people can invest in ventures that carry risk as well as the potential for return. It represents a turning point because people have investments to generate income, rather than relying solely on earned wages. Through investing, people have the opportunity to attain important life goals such as achieving financial security for their families, retirement, and dignity in old age.

The Hierarchy of Financial Needs is a revolutionary yet simple model that provides clarity regarding what people need to do to realize their true economic potential. For most Americans, financial security starts with a job. People need income to pay for expenses and balance their budgets. They also need to insure against shocks; they need to leverage credit to acquire assets; they need to save for a rainy day; and they need to invest for future returns. Although every individual faces a unique set of circumstances and challenges in managing these needs, the model is applicable across all income and demographic groups. In the same way that Maslow’s model applies to all people, we believe HFN applies to everyone as well, providing a clear 360-degree view of people’s financial lives.

A New Framework for Moving Forward

Despite the fact that 1 in 4 Americans is financially underserved, there has yet to be a comprehensive framework for understanding an individual’s economic needs. MAF’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs fills a gap in the economic development field, giving us a means of evaluating every person’s financial well-being. Consumers — especially low-income consumers — have complicated financial lives, often mixing and matching different financial products, informal practices, and government programs to achieve their unique version of economic security. Our holistic view of their financial well-being enables us to identify their strengths and challenges at every level. This comprehensive approach will equip the nonprofit sector, financial services industry, and policymakers to provide far more meaningful and effective solutions to improve people’s financial well-being.

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