A New Mindset: The John R May Leadership Award

An award recipient reflects on the meaning of success

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This week, the San Francisco Foundation presented MAF with the 2014 John R May Community Leadership Award for addressing an issue that has particular relevance to the present time and place.

The SFF Community Leadership Award recognized our many accomplishments in helping hardworking families improve their financial lives. The award lifted up our cutting-edge technology making our Lending Circles Program efficient and scalable, it acknowledged our partnerships that amplify our impact nationally, and our advocacy for policy change that led California to becoming the first state to recognize credit-building as a force for good.FullSizeRender (5)

An awards ceremony is just the right moment to pause and reflect on our journey.

Over the past 7 years, we have been hard at work finding creative ways to break the barriers keeping millions of families in the financial shadows, with little access to mainstream, middle-class financial products and services. Early on, we knew that our clients were stuck with very bad financial options, making it that much harder for them to improve their financial lives.  From day one, we had the sense that hardworking people needed much more than another lecture from another do-gooder nonprofit on how to manage their money, or yet another brochure on how to balance their check book.

They needed actual tools that were responsible and relevant to their daily lives, tools that could actually breakdown barriers keeping them from accessing a world of possibilities in the financial marketplace. Understanding their perspective, appreciating their struggles and respecting the magnitude of their challenges, we set out to do just that with launching Lending Circles. And without a doubt in my mind, it’s working. But for MAF, it doesn’t end there.

FullSizeRender (2)Success is not merely to scale Lending Circles and serve more and more clients in communities through the Bay Area or even across the country. Success is actually about changing hearts and minds, especially in the nonprofit sector.

From program practitioners and policy advocates to funders and policy makers, we all need a new story about what is possible in the fight against poverty. We want to encourage and inspire others to move away from creating programs based on deficit models that belittle people. We need to create programs based on the inherent value of human beings — programs that recognize their dignity and strengths. We need bold policies that honor people, especially during their time of need. We need policies steeped in empathy, policies that recognize that everyone is deserving of help at one point or another.

We are grateful for the recognition and celebration of our work, validating that we are on the right path. And yet we know that our journey is far from over.


Jose Quinonez is the founding CEO at MAF. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a recipient of the James Irvine Leadership Award, inaugural Chair of the CFPB's Consumer Advisory Board, and serves on the Board of Directors for Credit Builder's Alliance. As a life long advocate for social justice, expanding opportunity and improving lives motivates his work.