The temperature crept down to -1 degrees on the streets of Jackson Heights, New York. Even in the frigid conditions of this harsh winter evening, the Jackson Heights neighborhood is the quintessential American melting pot. People from all walks of life, all cultures, and all ages existing together. Even in the frigid dark of night, smiling, laughing people walked hurriedly over icy streets, through a light curtain of snow. The whole area is bathed in a flickering yellow and red glow, emanating from the neon lights floating in the night. Right off the bustling streets, away from the hum of the overhead train tracks, in a snow cloaked brick building, the Chhaya CDC offices released an unusually warm and inviting glow.
In the early 2000s, Chhaya, which means shade or shelter in many South Asian languages, came together to help provide housing assistance and community support to South Asian families. To ensure the long term stability of their community, Chhaya complemented their successful housing program with an economic development program. Through these programs, Chhaya was able to directly impact a larger range of social outcomes, including physical health, mental well being, increased financial security, community pride, and self worth.
With an already robust housing and economic programming, Chhaya was looking for a way to have their clients actually put their skills into practice, building their financial skills while building assets.
When they heard about Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles program, they knew it would be the perfect accompaniment to their financial education curriculum. Chhaya applied through an intensive RFP process with National CAPACD (Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development) to receive technical support, training and financial assistance to implement the social-loan program with MAF.
Chhaya staff member Zarin Ahmed was one of the first staff working on the Lending Circles program after it had been implemented. “It was very daunting at first, selling the idea of Lending Circles to our clients,” she says as she lets out a little laugh.
The idea of informal lending is not new to South Asian populations.
Most know the Hindi term chit funds. Normally chit funds are done within family groups, so presenting the idea of social loan between community members was a little bit of a hard sell.
But Zarin and the Economic Development team at Chhaya had a great idea. They started their first circle with Zarin and several women who knew each other from a community group that Chhaya runs. Even though people loved the idea of Lending Circles, they were wary of this brand new program. But once people saw how safe it was, and when the women who were in the circles started telling their friends and family about it, there was an increase in interest in the program.
In its first year of partnership, Chhaya has provided access to $16,000 in Lending Circles to their clients.
The program is popular with their clients because they can put all of the economic training that Chhaya has provided them into action, while building the credit they need to thrive. They have already completed 3 Lending Circles with a fourth ending in March of 2015.
Along with Chhaya, National CAPACD sponsored three other Asian American development organizations with generous support from Citi. National CAPACD has recently funded a second cohort of non-profits whom are about to launch their lending circles as part of their service delivery to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
MAF is proud to collaborate with National CAPACD and organizations like CHAYYA to implement Lending Circles. We’re excited to see where we go next!
Thanks to Jon D’Souza for his contributions to this post.