Month: February 2015

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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.IMG_8829

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.

IMG_8837But 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. 

 

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Growing up, Mia Hamm posters plastered my walls – I even put one above my bed so the thought of joining the U.S. Women’s National team was my last thought at night and the first when I opened my eyes. Needless to say, I had a “sky’s the limit” mentality.

As I’ve grown older, I haven’t stopped dreaming big.

I searched for ways to achieve big impact in the world of civic engagement during my freshman year of college. That’s when I stumbled across social entrepreneurship, and immediately recognized the the opportunity social enterprises had to solve a social problem and scale it to reach more people.

It was through my work with social enterprises that I latched on to the Lean StartUp Movement. Last December, I was able to snag a free ticket to the Lean StartUp Conference.  Most people associate this movement with failing fast. More specifically, this method calls for commitment to iteration. Build. Measure. Learn. The conference shed light on what makes my work with MAF so fulfilling.Mia_Hamm_corner_(cropped)

In the nonprofit world, there is a tendency to expand organizations as far and wide as possible.

This makes sense, of course, because social services should be given to all those in need. The trouble is, non-profits will build, measure and learn once (if at all) and then replicate the exact same model every time they expand to a new location. Yet what works in one community might not work in another. Your expanding organization most likely has no idea how to successfully implement its fantastic solution in a completely different environment.

The Lean Startup thinking is embodied in MAF’s partnership efforts. By working with partners to bring Lending Circles to different communities, we ensure not only efficient implementation of our programs, but also effective implementation.

Expansion through partnerships enables our mission to grow deeper instead of just wider.

This philosophy has manifested itself most recently through the Better Bay Area Campaign. This initiative allows us to reach more nonprofit organizations in the nine Bay Area counties working to improve the lives of those lost in the financial shadows. The Bay Area is pretty small, but the range of communities nestled within it is vast, each one with its own nuances.

As our community grows through these partnerships, we get to see all the exciting ways Lending Circles programs can be adjusted to meet more and more needs, like access to affordable housing.6b2958f4-6126-4ba6-81ec-4839eb68b4b5

This interaction sparks new programs like Lending Circles for Homeownership, initiated by long-time MAF partner, CLUES, in Minneapolis. The staff at CLUES realized that as their organization offers resources for homeownership, many of their clients were using the social loan received through Lending Circles to finance homeownership costs like down payments and other fees.

Since good credit scores and sufficient savings are vital to purchasing a new home, the Lending Circles program was the perfect path for these prospective homeowners to take. Iteration on the traditional Lending Circles program came easily and CLUES has already had 20 participants join this new program.

As we take on new partners at MAF, I’m excted to see how we can tailor the Lending Circles program to best meet the needs of the communities they serve. These small leaps from partner to partner lead to big impact – nearly $4,000,000 in social loans, over 3,000 clients served and 32 partnerships formed. Such results prove that small thinking is really anything but small.

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When Passion Ignites a Path

 

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As a young child in her home country of Honduras, Reina Aguilera found herself cleaning and organizing her house so often that her family used to joke about her incessant need to organize.

When she grew older, she pursued an education in international business, unaware that her childhood habit would eventually turn into a career path. After four years in college, Reina got married and decided to move to the United States after seeing all it offered during her honeymoon in the Bay Area.

Though her husband found work in the United States quickly, Reina did not have the same luck.

reina 9Feeling homesick and frustrated that she didn’t have a fulfilling job, Reina began to question their big move to the United States. She made the best of the difficult situation by exploring San Francisco, taking English classes and developing a new network of friends.

Eventually, she landed a job as a housekeeper working for a cleaning service in the Bay Area. She loved the work and was eager to learn more about the business. But there was one problem: her boss made Reina’s work very stressful and unpleasant. This job challenged her idea of the U.S. as a place where anyone could pursue his or her dreams – a place where nothing bad could happen.

She felt like her world had been turned upside down.

The harsh introduction to the cleaning services world left Reina determined to be her own boss; she wanted to start and run the best cleaning services company on her own terms. And that’s exactly what she did.

After quitting her job, she took on a position at a taqueria during the week and slowly took on houses for her cleaning service on the weekends. Reina began with one client whom she found through her church community, and Reina’s Cleaning Services was born.

Slowly but surely more and more clients came her way as word got out about her excellent services.

When she and her husband divorced, Reina had to face many emotional and spiritual battles. Overcoming three miscarriages placed a heavy toll on her and made her feel that she would never be able to bear children. After separating from her husband, she now had more time to devote to her dreams.

She soon met the man who would become the father of her child. Despite the odds against her, Reina discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in 2007. As her personal life took an exciting turn, so did her professional life.

Reina started taking business classes at Women’s Initiative (ALAS), and when time came to expand her business, her teacher referred her to MAF to get a loan. She joined Lending Circles in 2009 and used the money from her first loan towards the purchase of her first car, an essential investment that allowed her to travel to her clients’ homes. Since then, she has participated in 9 Lending Circles. She has used her loans to buy equipment for her business like a new vacuum and for repairs on a car.

reina 7Her participation in Lending Circles has enabled her to invest a total of nearly $4,000-$5,000 in her business.

Reina’s involvement with MAF has led to more than just investment in her business. She has watched her credit score increase with the scale of her business; a total of 77 points.

At age 39, Reina continues to stay active in the Lending Circles program and with MAF not just to continue building her credit, but also to pursue the other opportunities MAF offers her like business classes and new programs like the Lending Circles for Business Owners. She has also referred many of her friends to MAF’s services.

For Reina, MAF represents much more than just a place to grow her business; it’s a place where she can be empowered to grow as a person.

Reina looks forward to day she can hire her first employee, and hopes to hire those are in the position she was once in herself – those struggling to achieve their dreams. She also wants to her daughter to grow up and look to her business as a source of pride.

Reina ended our conversation by expressing her desire to inspire others. Despite all that she has been through, she has made it through and MAF is proud to have played a small part in helping her make her dreams come true.

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Partner Spotlight: Henry of CLUES

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A firm believer in experiencing a product before trying to sell it, Henry was quick to jump on board to the Lending Circles program at MAF’s partner, Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) in Minneapolis. He first learned about Lending Circles while working at Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Both organizations were involved in a social innovation fund that Henry was particularly interested in. Through this connection, Henry discovered the Lending Circles program.

He immediately sensed that LSS clients could benefit from the program and asked his staff to learn more by forming a Lending Circles themselves. Though his primary goal was to experience the program first-hand, Henry was also eager to rebuild his financial footing after getting a few blemishes on his credit report.

“I was 100% in from day one,” he said.

His first Lending Circle had a contribution amount of about $30. The LSS staff quickly realized just how feasible such payments were and102814clues029 (1) grew even more excited when they began to notice the effects on their credit report. It was at this point that Henry began to see the value the Lending Circles program provides.

“We were all trying to accomplish the same thing and that’s really financial stability.”

As the Lending Circle cycle went on, Henry found himself setting small financial goals around the pending distribution. He chose to use his savings to buy his wife of 22 years a bracelet for their wedding anniversary. Henry has gone through two different Lending Circles, and continues to participate in order to save for a new car and build credit to get the best interest rate possible on the car loan.

Henry remembers his family as being committed to financial austerity from an early age. Even with this strong financial background, Henry saw how easy it can be to make financial mistakes. He has taken extra steps to ensure his daughter is well prepared for financial independent.  At age 8, she has a $2/week budget and has strict instructions to spend some of it, save some of it and donate what is left.

“If I had my dream, my daughter would be learning about financial literacy in elementary school”.

Henry believes strongly in the need for financial management training and credit-building opportunities within his own community. In his current role at Project for Pride and Living as the Housing and Financial Coaching Coordinator, he works with potential home buyers to build their financial portfolio in order to become strong candidates. Many members of the community he works with have a mistrust of the banking system and as a former banker, he hopes to help address this stigmatization. He feels the Lending Circles program can act as a vital step towards achieving that goal.

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Doing More with Partners

MAF is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Mexican Consulate in SF to support Mexican nationals applying to DACA through the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program. Through this program, DREAMers are offered a zero-interest loan to help finance the cost of the $465 DACA application fee while building credit history and gaining access to financial education.

MAF’s Lending Circles for Deferred Action program was created to help low-income DREAMers overcome the cost barrier of applying for three-year relief from deportation after Obama’s announcement of executive action on November 20, 2014.MAF_members_staff-344 (1)

The government is taking a step forward for immigration action and we are ready to help families who need the financial support to apply for administrative relief.

Thanks to the Consulate General, up to 150 DREAMers of Mexican nationality will have the special opportunity to receive a 50% match, making applying for Deferred Action through Lending Circles an even better value! Participants like Alan Santos have already benefited from the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program.

As one of the first Lending Circle for Deferred Action participants, Alan is able to pursue his education and work as an advocate for undocumented youth. He hopes to become an immigration lawyer to alleviate the confusion and pain many youth go through in the Deferred Action application process.

MAF is looking forward reaching more hardworking families and youth like Alan with the support of the Mexican Consulate.

If you’re interesting in applying for the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, visit lendingcircles.org and submit an application to MAF. Look out for enrollment and formation dates beginning this month.

For organizations currently working with DREAMers, you can learn more about how to get involved with the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program here. 

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Looking Ahead in 2015

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It’s a new year and we’ve got a number of new changes in our programming in 2015 as we take steps to help more people navigate the financial marketplace and realize their full economic potential.

Origination Fee

After the enactment of SB 896 in August 2014, we now have recognition in California for zero-interest, credit-building loans as a tool for good. As we scale and expand in the San Francisco Bay Area, sustainability is a key element to MAF’s ability to reach more clients. In order for us to continue delivering the quality level of service and products, beginning in 2015, we are instituting a small origination fee of 5 to 7% for MAF’s clients in California.

092_102214_MAF_PageBertelsenOur loans will still remain zero-interest but this new fee supported by SB896 will allow us to cover the administrative costs from providing financial education, reporting the payment data to credit bureaus, facilitating transactions, and securing the private data with the best technology in the field. With this new source of funding, we plan to invest deeply in the community and ensure more people are able to participate in the Lending Circles program.

We’re also excited to share some new programs rolling out this year:

Lending Circles for Deferred Action

With President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, about 5 million more immigrants to the United States have the opportunity to apply for Deferred Action, an administrative relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants.

At MAF, we’ve offered two specific programs, Lending Circles for Citizenship and Lending Circles for DREAMers, to helping aspiring citizens and youth finance the cost of their citizenship and DACA applications. We’re proud to deepen our support for hard working immigrants with the launch of Lending Circles for Deferred Action to include anticipated applicants to the new DAPA program in the upcoming months. Expansion of this new program is made possible thanks to a PRI from the Rosenberg Foundation.

Lending Circles for Deferred Action will be kicking off in Los Angeles, thanks to a grant by the Roy and Patricia MAF_members_staff-291Disney Family Foundation. The program will support 300 eligible applicants to reduce the cost of applying for Deferred Action by 33% – from $465 to $310. Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Pilipino Workers Center and Korean Resource Center are the first Lending Circles partners to offer this program to the community.

And in San Francisco, we’re partnering with the Mexican Consulate to support Deferred Action applicants of Mexican descent with a 50% match.

Lending Circles for Business

MAF has many Lending Circles members who are building or repairing their credit to invest in their small businesses, so we’ve created Lending Circles for Business. This program is specifically focused on aspiring and current business owners who have completed a Lending Circle before. Participants will get an up-front loan that helps build credit and open doors to more affordable business lending options in the future.

Check out what some of our entrepreneurial members have accomplished so far to see how important good credit is to running a successful business.

If you’re excited about these opportunities, be sure to check out more about Lending Circles and sign up to join!

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