• MissionMuralFoundingStory SliderFINAL
  • FoundingStoryCart SliderFINAL
  • MissionViewFounding SliderFINAL
  • WE STARTED IN A NEIGHBORHOOD IN SAN FRANCISCO WHERE 44% OF RESIDENTS HAVE NO CREDIT SCORES.

  • SOCIAL LOAN PROGRAMS BRING HARDWORKING PEOPLE TOGETHER TO LEND AND BORROW MONEY SO THEY CAN INVEST IN THEIR LIVELIHOODS.

  • SOCIAL LOAN PROGRAMS BRING HARDWORKING PEOPLE TOGETHER TO LEND AND BORROW MONEY SO THEY CAN INVEST IN THEIR LIVELIHOODS.

OUR STORY IS ABOUT HOPE

Levi Strauss Foundation LogoMAF is located in San Francisco’s vibrant Mission District, a neighborhood known for its street festivals, colorful murals, and super burritos. It’s home to cooks, house cleaners, and small business owners who dream of someday sending their kids to college or owning a home. But without bank accounts or credit histories, everyday activities like paying bills or renting an apartment can be a daunting challenge.

MAF was founded in 2007 when the Levi Strauss Foundation and a dynamic group of community leaders came together and imagined a different future for Mission residents. They founded our organization using a million-dollar investment funded by the sale of the last Levi Strauss denim factory in San Francisco. With a little creativity, they hoped that everyone in the community could have a chance to reach their dreams, one step at a time.

 

BUT IT’S ALSO ABOUT INNOVATION

Early on, we surveyed low-income residents to better understand their lives and learned that 44% of all households in the Mission Districts had no credit scores. As a result, many families turned to fringe financial services like payday lenders, which have more locations than McDonalds and Starbucks combined.

As an alternative to these fringe services, many residents turned to the time-honored tradition of coming together to lend and borrow money with each other. Known as “tandas” within the Mexican immigrant community, this informal borrowing practice helped people meet immediate needs. But it didn’t help people build credit history or become savvy banking consumers – both critical steps toward a better future.

Building on this idea, MAF launched the Lending Circles program in 2008. This first-of-a-kind social loan program rapidly proved its ability to help people open bank accounts, avoid predatory lenders, and quickly and safely build their credit history. Word spread throughout the neighborhood and social lending continued to grow.

 

AND WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF TECHNOLOGY

To take our ideas to market meant building systems that could service zero-interest loans and report to credit bureaus – something most nonprofits would never have to think about. But we approached this challenge like all others. First, we imagined what could be and then we built it with the help from the brightest and most passionate. Each month, we continue to innovate and improve what we’re building to make it easier to do just about everything – from expanding our reach to streamlining enrollment. We prioritize making it work better because we want the nonprofit partners to be able to focus on what they do best: helping people.

 

WE ARE ABLE TO HELP NONPROFITS EVERYWHERE

In 2011, we expanded our programs to the entire Bay Area and participated in an academic evaluation with San Francisco State University. The results proved that Lending Circles had a significant impact on low-income borrowers. As word spread, nonprofits across the country began asking to bring our programs to their communities. And as soon as the systems were built, we began working with nonprofits across the U.S., quickly joining forces with 20 organizations in the first two years.

 

BECAUSE HELPING MORE NONPROFITS MEANS HELPING MORE PEOPLE

Our vision is to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking people. Because when one person is invisible, stuck or strapped, it hurts an entire family. And when one family suffers, the whole community suffers. That’s why we work to make Lending Circles and other loan products available nationwide. Our work is built on hidden strengths: of people, of nonprofits, of communities. And we’re continuing to expand our network of nonprofit providers across the country to help build a brighter future for the millions of people who live in the financial shadows.