Month: November 2016

Words from the Wise #LCSummit16

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One of our favorite parts of the Lending Circles Summit was hearing from wise members of our community on what Lending Circles mean to them. Here are a few highlights.

fredFrederick Wherry is a Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He studies how immigrant and minority households become more equitably integrated into the financial mainstream. In partnership with MAF, he’s interviewed hundreds of Lending Circles clients to understand their experience of Lending Circles and the significance of credit in their lives. His research has led him to broaden the concept of financial inclusion and propose a framework of financial citizenship. His book is forthcoming in 2017.

In his keynote address, he emphasized the importance of practicing deep empathy so that we can not just hear, but genuinely listen to what our clients need and value – rather than prioritizing our own assumptions.

He told us, “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

Leisa Boswell is the Financial Services Specialist at the San Francisco LGBT Center, one of the earliest Lending Circles partners.

leisaShe is dedicated to empowering the community through financial education.

In her remarks, she spoke to the particular value of Lending Circles for the LGBTQ community:

“The LGBT community has always been one of chosen family. We have had to take care of each other when our given families would not. Mission Asset Fund has understood this concept from the beginning. They know that communities take care of their own.”

And she shared this story of one of her earliest Lending Circles clients:

“One particular story I recall is that of a woman who has worked her entire life as a musician and in that industry money is unpredictable and often on a cash basis. Her dream of becoming a homeowner seemed impossible due to her lack of access to credit. The lending circle gave her the opportunity to build credit rapidly and qualify for a mortgage and I’m happy to report she is now the proud owner of a below market rate condo in NOPA.”

“All of this happened in less than a year. That is how powerful the lending circle is.”

danielDaniel Lee is the Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation in San Francisco, CA.

MAF and The Levi Strauss Foundation share a long history: MAF was lucky to have the Levi Strauss Foundation as its very first supporter. Daniel, a self-proclaimed history nerd, graced us with his own telling of MAF’s origin story.

It went like this:

“Levi Strauss & Co. had a factory that was in continuous operation for 96 years at 250 Valencia Street. When that building was sold, a $1 million seed grant from its proceeds went to MAF.”

Daniel closed his remarks with a memorable toast to Lending Circles providers all over the nation:

“For your remarkable bias toward action as leaders and your insistence that solutions sprout organically from the community (not airlifted in GMO form);

for bringing your full selves to this path-breaking work;

for using every tool at our disposal and embracing unlikely allies and bedfellows.”

These remarks were delivered at the Lending Circles Summit, which took place from October 26-29, 2016, in San Francisco, CA.

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On Food & Family: Isabel’s Story

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Isabel is a MAF client and entrepreneur who used Lending Circles to expand her already successful culinary business. She gave these remarks at the MAFter Party, a celebration of MAF’s national Lending Circles network that took place on October 27, 2016. Her new Bernal Heights restaurant El Buen Comer helped cater the event.

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My love for food began as a young girl, when I was living in Mexico City, where I was born. My mother and my seven sisters used to cook for the whole family, especially for the holidays. Cooking always caught my attention.

isabel-mafter-blogSo when my family moved to San Francisco in 2001, I began cooking from my home in the Tenderloin.

It was a way of creating community in a new place.

I prepared traditional foods that reminded me of Mexico: stews, beans and rice, and tortillas that I made from scratch.

In 2007, a friend recommended that I visit La Cocina, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs, so I could formalize my business. That’s how my business began to grow.

I opened a stand in the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market and began baking the bread sticks for Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission. We decided to call our business El Buen Comer. I dedicated myself to creating authentic Mexican dishes. To this day, I still use my mother’s recipe for mole verde.

At first, it was hard. I had to invest so much — first in a truck, then in paying for permits for my business — that I didn’t have any profits at all. I felt discouraged – I remember commenting to my husband, “ I don’t know if I want to keep doing this.”

But my family supported me. One of my sons started writing me notes with positive messages to encourage me. I was determined, and I didn’t allow myself to give up.

I needed to buy an industrial steamer to sell my tamales in the Farmers’ Market, but it cost $1,400, and we just didn’t have enough saved. It was in that moment that I heard of MAF through a friend who had participated in Lending Circles with MAF. I joined my own Lending Circle, and for the first time, I had a safe, reliable way to save money.

In June, I opened my restaurant, El Buen Comer, on Mission Street in Bernal Heights. My husband, sons and I run the business together, and my husband still works at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

buen-comer-familyEven though the business isn’t physically in my home anymore, the restaurant practically is my home. I spend more time there than in my own house!

We decorated the restaurant with Mexican crafts, and also with the toy cars my sons used to play with when they were little.

This helps us remember how and where our dream began.

Lending Circles were our first financial door – they gave me access to loans to open my own restaurant, which is something I could never have imagined. But more important than that, they helped me learn to manage the financial system to open even more opportunities in the future.

My dream continues. We’re planning to form a Lending Circle within our family to keep building credit and help us realize our next dream.

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