Month: October 2014

 

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Here at MAF, we feel it is important for us to connect with our members on a deeper level. In gaining a better understanding of where they are coming from, we can help them better reach their goals. With a majority of our members being of Latin American descent, we felt there was no better way to strengthen this connection than to celebrate one of the most loved holidays of that region: El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The holiday is practiced in many Latin American countries and most festively celebrated in Mexico.

I had learned about the holiday in grade school but upon doing research for a staff presentation, I learned so much more. The reasoning behind the occasion was really great, beautiful even.

IMG_6505The thought behind those who celebrate the holiday is that death is only another part of life and shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated as your loved ones have in a sense graduated from this stage in life to the next. El Dia de los Muertos is the one day a year that our loved ones are allowed to return from their eternal slumber and spend time to celebrate the reunion with their living loved ones. Much of the decor may be seen as morbid or macabre to those unfamiliar with the holiday with the skulls, skeletons, alters, and cemetery visits, but this is due to a difference in cultural understanding.

We wanted our office’s Dia de los Muertos decorations to be as authentic as possible so we visited a store in the heart of the Mission District called Casa Bonampak, which ships its products from Mexico. We special ordered Papel Picado from Mexico, a traditional decorative streamer used for all types of festive celebrations. It included the MAF symbol and was made with the traditional chisels. Tracie, one of the store’s employees was able to assist in gathering the appropriate decorations for the occasion.

One of the most notable aspects of El Dia de los Muertos is the sugar skulls. We decided to buy blank skulls from the store and have the MAF staff decorate them. They were made in Mexico by a man who used clay molds that had been handed down to him for many generations. Before we began decorating, I gave a brief presentation on the holiday to the entire staff, so that everyone would have a better understanding of what the decorations meant.

The sugar skulls are representative of the loved one they are gifted to and the size of them is meant to represent the age of that person. The traditional way of decorating the sugar skulls, or calaveras de azucar, is not easy, and we learned that the hard way! Putting in the effort of decorating the skull shows dedication to the person you are gifting it to, whether that person is alive or has passed.

Isis PresentationThe skeletons, or clacas, are always seen as whimsical by families rather than sad. They are meant to represent the spirits that are happy to be able to see their loved ones again. As someone with a few relatives who have passed, I admire the idea of thinking happily of them, rather than mourning them.

Families also create altars where they leave offerings of food and gifts from the living in order to feed the spirits after their long journey from death to the world of the living. My favorite tradition is placing marigolds all over the altars and grave stones, sometimes leading from the cemeteries to homes. The sweet smell is said to be strong enough to bring the spirits back and they can follow the smell to the homes of their living loved ones.

The whimsy, joy, and love displayed on this holiday is really something to be appreciated. Our office completely transformed once we finished putting up all the decorations. The hope is to create a positive and trusting environment for our members in every Lending Circle formation, financial management training class and every conversation they have with our staff. Making these reflections enables us to see the role MAF plays in the long arc of each member’s life as we acknowledge and celebrate their past while also watching them build their own brighter futures.

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The San Francisco LGBT Center, as part of it’s 7th annual bi-coastal LGBT Economic Justice Week, awarded three exemplary community members and one community organization for their work in ensuring the economic stability, and mobility of the LGBT community.

MAF was honored to be chosen as the winner of this year’s Ally Award.

MAF has been talked about a lot lately. We’ve been recognized by various groups in many ways for the work that we do. The national recognition has been tremendous, but accepting the Ally Award at the LGBT Center on behalf of MAF was a particularly special moment for me.

IMG_7181Bank of the West representative Justin Knepper presented the award with the following introduction, “The partnership between MAF and the Center has served as a crucial resource for the local LGBTQ community, granting clients access to secure, affordable and socially responsible capital – opening doors that previously were far too often slammed shut. Participation in a MAF-powered Lending Circle at the LGBT Center has helped more than 150 clients to save money, develop their credit histories, boost their credit scores, and improve their overall financial health.”

For seven years the San Francisco LGBT Center has been creating visibility around the financial shadows that many LGBT people find themselves in.

In San Francisco alone less than 50% of economically stable LGBT couples own property. LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to find themselves homeless or in a state of economic uncertainty. We’ve worked with many LGBT couples who have been living in the financial shadows. I shared the story of Edgar and Gustavo, a couple who experience financial instability because they are undocumented and LGBT.

For me, standing on this stage with Celve Jones, Miss Major, and Dr. Kortney Zeigler, people who have fought hard for their communities, and have become icons of movement building and empowerment is an honor. Just being mentioned with these amazing community leaders is a testament to how Lending Circles are building bridges toward brighter futures for communities across the nation.

MAF will continue to work closely with the LGBT Center, to be an ally to all families, no matter what form they take. MAF will continue to bring our voice to highlight the issues of financial invisibility and uncertainty among the LGBT community. MAF will continue to help all communities out of the financial shadows and create pathways toward the financial mainstream.

We want to help everyone move past just surviving, we want to see them thrive. The stronger our families are, the stronger our communities become.

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A Time to Celebrate MAF 2.0

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Last Monday, October 20th we opened our doors to over 150 members of the MAF family in celebration of MAF 2.0: the exciting new phase of our organization. Everyone from funders to clients and friends came to discover our new space and learn about the launch of our social loan platform.

006_102014MAFThe evening was full of excitement as the room was abuzz with thoughts on MAF’s continued growth and development. The incredible catering from some of our favorite credit-building clients (Alicia’s Tamales, D’Maize and Delicioso Creperie) only added to the jovial atmosphere. It was a time to reflect on how far we’ve come and how what was born in the Mission District is now resonating throughout the country.

With the launch of our new platform, we are empowering other organizations to do similar work in their community.

Shweta Kohli, a Lending Circle client, shared her story recently chronicled in the New York Times. Her journey beautifully exemplifies the strength and resilience of all our clients.

Kari Dohn Decker, Executive Director of the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Responsibility for the West Region spoke to the current status of credit-building efforts, expressing that “this is a national issue”. She praised MAF’s partnering efforts which are bringing help to people in need across the United States. She capped off her speech by announcing MAF as the recipient of another round of funding from JPMorgan Chase of $300,000.

San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros closed out the program. He presented MAF with an award from the city making sure to point out that MAF has “really moved the needle” on the credit building issue.maf party professional 2

“You’re building a stronger community. You’re building a stronger San Francisco. And now I’m confident that you will do the same across the country,” said Jose Cisneros.

Every day we meet more and more individuals and communities eager to use our services. To meet our growing needs, we took two steps: The first, finding a bigger office and the second, improving and expanding our technology. Our new location means bigger meeting spaces and easier access so we can better serve our clients.

Technology has been essential to everything we do at MAF from loan management and accounting to communication and fundraising. Over the past five years of using Salesforce, we learned and observed where there were bottlenecks in our application and enrollment process, especially in our Lending Circles partner provider experience, so we wanted to address those areas with our new Social Loan platform. Our guests got to see a demo of the platform’s features during the party and learned more about our deepened commitment to partnerships in the Bay Area and beyond.

Looking ahead, we are rapidly expanding our programs and bringing on new organizations to partner with us, so we needed a new system that would enable us to handle working with many more organizations and individuals.

The MAF 2.0 Launch Party marks a step in a new direction for our organization and we were thrilled to be able to celebrate with members of our community. Everyone who walked through our doors is an important part of our family. Their support and energy make us who we are and we are grateful that we were able to include them in our efforts to bring more hardworking families out of the financial shadows.

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Javier: Striking Gold by Building Credit

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Javier began his entrepreneurial career in the United States with a carpet business. Now, as a licensed contractor, he renovates old rental properties to manage or resell. After spending nearly a year working on the first property he bought, when he sold it at a profit, he was thrilled. He had found his American Dream. Javier thought that “flipping houses” was going to be his most lucrative business strategy yet. But when the market took a turn for the worst, he borrowed as much as he could from friends and family to pay his mortgages, but ultimately lost two of his properties and filed for bankruptcy.

Javier suddenly found himself at the bottom of a hole that banks and lawyers couldn’t help him get out of.

He opened one credit card before but after losing his properties, his score plummeted. He tried to apply for loans but the banks wouldn’t touch him. Not having credit was particularly difficult for Javier because it meant he couldn’t even rent tools from Home Depot.

MAF_members_staff-165Javier wasn’t sure what to do next. He had heard of Lending Circles and was familiar with the concept from growing up in Mexico. His mom would participate in tandas very often and buy things for him and his five brothers and sisters. Now as a father of three and the only source of income, it was critical for Javier to pay off his debt and take care of his own family. He decided to join a Lending Circle to build up his credit and learn more about financial management.

“Cash is good to buy, but credit makes it easy in the United States. Credit is gold. You don’t have credit, you don’t have anything,” Javier says.

With three years left in his bankruptcy program, Javier balances running his remaining properties and construction business and paying off his debt.

After finishing his Lending Circle, Javier now has a repaired credit score, which makes him more confident about going to banks and applying for credit cards. He is happy he has taken the first step towards improving his financial health and changing his life. Javier was even featured in a video for MAF’s 2014 Community Leadership Award, where he shared his story and how proud his family is for what he’s accomplished.

After working so hard, his goal is to take his family on a well-deserved vacation to Puerto Vallarta and Cancun to celebrate overcoming a difficult challenge and looking positively towards the future.

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Jennifer is one of the most inquisitive people I know. Though she works on the Finance Team as the Finance Associate, I’m lucky enough to sit across from her every day. Despite the fact that our job descriptions vary so much, since the first day I met her I got the sense that she wanted to get to know me. She constantly expresses interest in my life both in and out of the office and makes it easy to share a conversation.

When sitting down in the kitchen for lunch, she always looks to see what others are eating in hopes of discussing what each type of food says about a certain culture or region in the world. We were all surprised to discover that she was once an avid Yelp reviewer, so she can dish out the best and worst Bay Area restaurants at any moment.

The reason she’s so curious about other people and other cultures probably stems from the fact that her own story is so interesting.

Untitled-2She credits her family and faith as the tools that shaped her as she spends her weekends at church and with family and friends. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and always encouraged her to get an education. It was her family’s difficult financial transition that convinced her of the importance of understanding economic policy, and what brought her to study the topic in college and enter the field upon graduation.

Having gone to high school and having spent a lot of time in the Mission, Jennifer came to know the area well. She saw a neighborhood full of life, but sadly found that the “community is neglected in terms of social services.”

“People try really hard to achieve the American dream, but there are so many barriers to success,” she explained.

Having received the benefits of non-profit services growing up, Jennifer had always wanted to work in the non-profit world. With the position at MAF, she saw the opportunity to support a community she knew well while also applying her financial set.

“I was interested in working for a nonprofit because I wanted to be able to use my accounting skills while contributing to a greater purpose”

A typical work day doesn’t just involve Jennifer asking questions about her fellow staff members and sharing her life story, she spends them asking questions about her work. As I type this, she’s asking about a potential oversight with a client’s account. She works with John, our Finance Manager, to ensure the smooth operations of both MAF’s finances and its members.

She sees each day that “every client is unique and each has her own financial situation.” Though she loves working on Excel spreadsheets, her favorite part about her job is asking the right questions in order to meet every members’ needs.

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MAF Presents at Dreamforce

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MAF has had a very long and successful history with Salesforce, both as a community and financial partner, so we were excited to participate in several presentations at this year’s Dreamforce conference. One of our sessions was incredibly special, because we gave a first ever public look at our new Salesforce-based Social Loan Platform.

Without Salesforce, we would not have been able to create the Social Loan Platform that creates easy access for Lending Circle clients, and streamlined Lending Circle management for our partners. Salesforce is an integral part of MAF’s network approach to scale.

We wanted to take some time after our busy schedule at Dreamforce to talk to one of the people behind this amazing, unique platform to learn a little more about how this magnificent piece of technology was forged.

After the Dreamforce dust settled we took a moment to sit down with Jeremy Jacob, our Product and Research Manager, to pick his brains about the new Social Loan Platform and how we turned an idea into reality.

How did we first get started with Salesforce?

Back in 2007, MAF was granted 10 free licenses to what, at the time, was a rapidly growing CRM company. The grant was part of this company’s 1:1:1 philanthropy plan of donating 1% of its product, 1% of its equity, and 1% of its time. Early on we saw the potential of this system as not only an internal tool, but rather as an entire platform for our programs. Little did we know at the time that the decision to start using Salesforce on day one would lead us down the path that we’re on today.

While we had been building out our original system, MAF 1.0, Salesforce had also been building out their product. What had started out as a customer management tool had rapidly begun much more than that. It had become a platform that easily allow any organization or business to create customized products and systems with an incredible degree of flexibility and efficacy. So when we started to think abou the next step for MAF, we knew exactly where to look first.

IMG_6984Why did we choose Salesforce as the core of MAF 2.0?

We had several requirements for the next version of MAF’s loan servicing platform. #1 was that it had to be much more than just a loan servicing platform! We needed to build a system that would allow us to efficiently bring Lending Circles to communities across the country. One that would enable us to serve clients from the moment they hear about Lending Circles until the last day of their loan. And one that would be so intuitive that any staff at our partner providers could organize a Lending Circle.

The increadile flexiblity of the Force.com platform allowed us to build a product that was intuitive and effortless for all users, from our clients, to our partner providers, to our own internal staff. By building off of the platform, we were able to use a combination of out-of-the box solutions and components, including Conga, Docusign and Cloud Lending’s NEON product, to build a system that would allow us to easily service hundreds of highly customizable social loans a month.

 

What does the new system allow us to do?

As I said earlier, we needed this system to do more than just service social loans, we had already developed one of those. We wanted a build a system that encompassed all facets of the loan process.

Our new hub for all things Lending Circles, LendingCircles.org, allows prospective Lending Circle clients to locate a Lending Circle provider in their area on their PC, mobile phone, or tablet and then submit an application. By utilizing Docusign, Clicktools, Conga Composer and Everfi, we’re able to offer online financial education along with a paper-free enrollment process.

Once an applicant applies, the Community Cloud allowed us to easily set up a one stop shop where our partner providers can manage applicants and form Lending Circles. By utilizing VisualForce pages we’re able to create an intuitive and accessible way for any partner providers to easily form Lending Circles and manage their loan portfolios.

Using Salesforce also allows us to streamline our other business processes, from marketing to financial accounting, enabling our internal teams to work more efficiently. This will allow us to bring Lending Circles to more and more clients and partners across the country at the lowest cost possible.

By choosing to build our social loan platform with Salesforce, we were able to build a system that brings Lending Circles to to communities across the country, in turn helping to create a fair financial marketplace for all hardworking families.

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Isis has a calm and steadied presence about her that can be felt all the way across the office. From what few office environments I have been in, I’ve come to see that the office manager rules all, and Isis is no exception. She interacts with everyone on the team everyday. So when she is out of the office – whether its for vacation or just going out to lunch – she’s greatly missed.

After a quick look at the job description for the People, Fun and Culture Manager, Isis’ interest was peaked. She’s worked in admin before and was therefore well acquainted with the multidimensional nature of admin work. So from a pure job description view, MAF’s “People, Fun and Culture manager” position seemed like a clear fit.

She loves “being able to pinpoint whatever this issue is and fix it”

And at MAF she wastes no time getting to it. She reflected on her first couple of weeks expressing her gratitude for the fact that she did not go through weeks of training. Instead she was able to apply the “I do it, I learn it” approach because thats the type of culture MAF embodies.

Isis PresentationThe nature of her job doesn’t allow time for training since she’s responsible for making so many of MAF’s wheels turn. Her tasks include everything from watering the plants to managing MAF’s move to helping with all of MAF’s event logistics. The upside to jumping into these wide-ranging projects from the start is that Isis came to see how much she connected with our mission.

“Having been raised in Watsonville where the majority of the community is immigrants…driving off the freeway [I saw] all the workers in the field unable to build credit because they are being paid under the table and below minimum wage.”

She has a deep appreciation for MAF’s role in credit-building especially in regards to immigrant populations. Her aunt participated in a Paluwagan, an informal lending circle in the Philippines. Her mother was an immigrant herself, so Isis knows first hand the challenges that arise when trying to become a citizen and acclimate to the United States.

“That aspect is what touched me initially,” Isis said.

Isis’ personal and professional life have blurred at a more basic level than this familial connection to MAF’s mission.

She laughs about restocking items in her own home well before they run out; the best occupational hazard I know of. But her life is much more than checking the pantry, of course. Isis loves hiking and has become a bit of a foodie since coming to SF for college.

Looking forward, she can’t wait to watch MAF continue to progress because it ensures that she never “knows what [her] day is like until [she] gets here.” Without a set routine, she sees the opportunity to grow along side such an innovative organization building its vision for change from the ground up.

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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.

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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.

 

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