Month: September 2014

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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.rsz_1photo

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.

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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.

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When I came to MAF last year as New Sector fellow, I knew very little about domestic economic development policies, since I was more interested and familiar with international development in college. So when the opportunity came up to attend the CFED Asset Learning Conference, I was eager to hear about all the different approaches to big problems like alleviating poverty in the U.S. and addressing economic inequality and the nation’s wealth gap along with getting practical skills on how to build a movement to achieve these goals. There was so much covered over this three day conference but I took  away 3 main lessons:

We need an inclusive platform of products

10353633_799999116718988_2199692246998773878_nMichael Sherraden, professor and founder of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke in the opening plenary about research he conducted that shows increasing labor income is not enough to impact household wealth. Families also need additional support, and therefore the field needs to look at building their assets as a whole. One inspiring idea he offered is a universal savings account that starts automatically at birth for every child, leading to more savings and investment for children’s education. Sherraden said the product is already being tested in Oklahoma, and has a promising future.

I found the session on public benefits program really important because it touched on the numerous policy-related barriers for families trying to reach financial stability. Mariana Chilton’s research revealed how low to moderate-income people are less encouraged to save and report their full income because of fear that they will lose welfare even though they are barely scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck and working multiple jobs. Lucy Mullany from Illinois Asset Building Group shared their successful campaign in Illinois to remove TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) asset limits. It took a diverse group of co-sponsors to build enough support and push out the right messages that convinced the legislature it was a smart move.

Ezra Levin of CFED mentioned a few federal proposals to get rid of asset limits such as ABLE (Achieving Better Life Experience) Act and the CSA (Childrens’ Savings Account) Opportunity Act. There are a number of challenges in getting these proposals through, but they have the potential to help ensure hardworking families aren’t taken advantage of in the war on poverty.

Entrepreneurship is an asset for minority communities

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Bill Bynum of HOPE Enterprise Corporation works in the Deep South, in predominately African-American communities, which he described as “ground zero of poverty” in our country and spoke about the need for more accessible, affordable financial products to serve the financially insecure families, aspiring homeowners and small business entrepreneurs there. Lisa Hasegawa of National CAPACD (one of MAF’s partners) shared her experience working to empower Asian American and Pacific Islander communities with financial services. I appreciated the fact that she reminded the attendees that race still matters when it comes to economic equality as does citizenship status. Communities of color are facing rapid gentrification (something I see first-hand in the Bay Area) and are less likely to have investment in business, education, access to quality food, and financial resources in their areas. The AAPI community, for example, is one of the fastest growing poverty populations in the US after the recession. She pushed us all to build relationships between the racial justice and asset-building movements in order to close the racial wealth gap.

Panelists from Chicago, D.C. and L.A. shared positive stories and initiatives taking place in their cities to spur entrepreneurship and business development for communities of color.  Some of their innovative projects include a small business center with special trainings, business accelerators, and youth IT ambassadors, open co-working spaces, consulting for small business ideas, and accelerated education programs with local universities.

Coalition building is key

I got the amazing opportunity to go to Capitol Hill with a group of colleagues from Northern California to visit the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Barbara Lee to advocate for issues like payday regulation, child savings accounts,access to financial products and tax reform. I shared our recent success passing SB 896 and how it could be used as a model for other states to expand credit-building opportunity as well as the impact of Lending Circles on members’ credit scores and debt. Even though we all had different agendas, we were able to tie them together and present a cohesive narrative that showed we were on-the-ground experts on asset-building that could be a resource for the representatives. In total, there were 400 participants from 45 states that met with policymakers, which is sure to send a strong message about the urgent need for federal policies to expand economic opportunity. 
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Members of the Assets and Opportunity network got together for some leadership intensives on advocacy and op-ed writing. I gained a lot of useful strategies to implement into my daily work, such as writing an effective story pitch and who to send it to, crafting op-eds that are one part description of the problem and two parts prescription to the problem, including engaging anecdotes and tying stories to timely current events.

We also talked about how everyone could leverage the network more effectively to share best practices, learn more one another’s struggles and support any policy or advocacy campaigns taking place. Some ideas we came up with were creating virtual coffee hours, webinars and regional working groups within the network. It was great to hear how everyone was so motivated to help empower their communities economically whether it was regarding home ownership, financial education, citizenship, small business and credit-building.

My goal attending the Assets Learning Conference was to come out with more confidence and skills to be a more informed advocate for our clients and to elevate the need for investment in asset-building. I’m thankful for the opportunity to network with colleagues in the field, learn more about the various innovative research and programming available as well as have my first Capitol Hill experience!

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This week, The San Francisco Foundation announced the winners of the 2014 Community Leadership Awards, recognized for their outstanding contributions to the Bay Area community.

“Our work is to lift up the best practices and leaders who are building opportunities for Bay Area communities to thrive, both today and for generations to come,” said Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation. “This year’s awardees are a beacon of that promise.”

Removing barriers and creating opportunity for economic growth are essential for our region to thrive. This year’s Community Leadership Awardees, as individual and organizational leaders, are addressing some of the most pressing issues in our region: ensuring that no one is left on the brink by creating pathways to financial security and academic achievement, and by preserving cultural programs and supporting artists and in the Bay Area.

TSFF celebrates people who are rolling up their sleeves, taking initiative, and solving problems in their neighborhoods and communities.

Javier getting interviewed by Citizen Film
Javier getting interviewed by Citizen Film

The Community Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations whose leadership has made a significant impact in their specific Bay Area communities. This work may confront societal or civic issues, address health or environmental concerns, or promote arts and humanities. The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) is the community foundation serving the Bay Area since 1948, granting more than $808 million over the past ten years.

Out of the four award winners this year, there are only two organizations being honored with a prize of $20,000 each:

  • Mission Asset Fund – Awarded the John R. May Award, made for organizational initiatives in response to a significant contemporary problem.
  • Headlands Center for the Arts – Awarded The San Francisco Foundation Award: a community choice award made to an organization demonstrating exemplary commitment to creating greater equity and opportunity in the Bay Area.
Jose interview SFF award
Sophie interviews Jose on Mission St.

The remaining two awards of $10,000 will be given to notable individuals (Linda Tillery and Luis Granados).

MAF’s long-time board member, Santiago Ruiz, the Executive Director of Mission Neighborhood Centers was responsible for nominating MAF for the award. Thank you, Sam! And a big thank you to the San Francisco Foundation!

As part of the award, last week I got to spend time with Sophie Constantinou from Citizen Film in the cool offices at Salesforce downtown, right on the corner of Mission Street with our CEO Jose, and at the construction site of one of our amazing clients, Javier. They’re currently editing the film that will be unveiled at the ceremony on the 7th. We can’t wait to see it unveiled!

The awards will be presented on October 7 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Will we see you there?

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SB 896: A Special Policy Briefing

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Mission Asset Fund warmly invites you to our SB 896 Policy Briefing webinar on Monday, September 29 at 10:00 AM PST. MAF’s CEO, Jose Quinonez, will lead the discussion on the historic passing of California’s SB 896 from its initial conception to finally becoming law on August 15th, 2014.

6-30-JB-budget-hector-bee-poolThis event is open for all nonprofit staff, policy advocates, and anyone interested in advancing the financial advocacy and asset-building fields. With this law, credit-building becomes the next frontier for asset-based policy.

This is a momentous occasion for us, but an even bigger moment for the asset-building field.

On August 15th, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 896 into law, making California the first state to regulate and recognize credit-building as a vehicle for good. We will be talking about how MAF and it’s supporters worked to get this new law written, supported, and signed into law.

We encourage you to check out our SB 896 fact sheet prior to the webinar and be ready with questions!

Our discussion will cover the barriers we faced in creating the law, the vital support we received from our partners and community leaders to create momentum for this significant legislation. Finally, we will dive into how SB 896 will pave the way for more hardworking people to access 0% credit-building loans.

Please sign up today to join us on September 29th! REGISTER NOW

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Introducing our Donor Spotlight series, where we share a little about one of our Social Investors and thank them for taking action to support the financial empowerment of communities through credit-building.

MEET ROBBY

PictureA Trinity grad, Robby works in energy research with the Royal Bank of Canada. Last year, he and his wife moved from Austin to San Francisco. Robby has come to love San Francisco’s staircases on hills, food and culture.

Even as a new resident, he started to notice how rapidly San Francisco’s neighborhoods are changing and gentrifying. Because of this reality, he knew that it would be imperative to invest in the right kinds of support for the city’s lower-income individuals.

Every year, Robby and his wife pick different local organizations to support and get involved with. His interests in finance, policy and the environment motivate him to think constantly about how to make positive change. After he heard about MAF on Marketplace and walked by our old office on Valencia, he did something unusual.

Before he decided to invest, he wanted to meet us first. So last year, we had the opportunity to sit down with Robby, find out about where he grew up (DC), share with him our favorite neighborhood events (Dia de Los Muertos) and talk about our vision for the future.

A few months later, we got word that Robby decided to donate to MAF (and was able to double it with the Royal Bank’s employee matching program!). He told us that he felt Lending Circles was a great antidote to a growing citywide problem.

We recently gave Robby a call to ask him – “Wait, why did you donate to MAF?” He told us: “When I think of charitable giving, I want to make a sustainable impact.”

Because the idea of building people’s credit, helping them start businesses and taking care of their finances so that they can give back to the community is something he believes will make a lasting impact.

When we talked to Robby last year, we were knee deep in a website redesign. Now, with an active blog (and editorial calendar to match), we just had to ask him for some feedback.

Out of curiosity, we asked, “Wait, can you tell us what you think we are doing well? Or what do you want to hear more about?” Robby didn’t hesitate.

He said he loved hearing about how members are using Lending Circles and checking out our website for statistics on our program impact. We invite you, our readers, to check out his favorites today.

Thank you Robby for the talk and for choosing to invest in MAF and in the future of hardworking families in San Francisco and beyond.

Join Robby and Give Credit today!

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