Month: December 2016

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It’s hard to believe Jessica Leggett joined the MAF Board of Directors just a few months ago – it feels like she’s been with us forever! Jessica joined the Board this past summer, and she’s hit the ground running. She supported us in the preparations for the Lending Circles Summit, delivered remarks at the MAFter Party, and even joined us for our holiday party at Urban Putt! But most importantly, she’s leveraged her investment, entrepreneurial, and business experience to provide invaluable guidance to us on our development efforts.

Here’s a little about Jessica.

What do you do in addition to being a MAF Board Member?

I run my own business: 7 Gold, an angel-investing platform that invests in mission-driven, early-stage businesses. I started 7 Gold almost 3 years ago after working for several large investment firms in New York.

How did you first “meet” MAF? What inspired you to join the Board?jessica-leggett-headshot

When I first moved to the Bay Area, I got involved in the Tipping Point Community. I had been involved at the Board level with an organization back in New York, and I wanted to find a way to get involved out here. Being a Tipping Point grantee is a badge of honor, so it said a lot to me about MAF that they’d earned that recognition. I was interested in FinTech businesses – I’d invested in one. So MAF caught my attention.

In my non-MAF work, I’m meeting and working with a lot of companies that are very innovative, and that are at the stage of focusing on rapid growth – and changing the world! I’m excited to take the exposure I have in my for-profit work and apply it to MAF’s continued growth.

So what’s next? What are you looking forward to in your role on the MAF Board?

I see MAF at a really interesting crossroads. We’ve identified a problem, figured out a solution, created a product, and proven it to be successful. Now we’re at the moment of determining how much we want to continue scaling the solution and how much we want to drill down more deeply into the problem to find other powerful, complementary solutions. I’m excited to be part of that process: strategizing and figuring out next steps!

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Welcome to the family, Jessica!

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Carla’s first experience with a lending circle came long before she began working with Brown Boi Project, and long before she’d heard of MAF.

She knew them as “cundinas,” and she first encountered them at the Los Angeles clothing factory where she started working as a teenager.

She and her coworkers formed the cundina to support each other in saving money. They each agreed to make a weekly contribution of $100.

It wasn’t an easy amount to save. Carla worked overtime to ensure she could make each payment. Eventually, she saved enough money through the cundina to finance a trip to Mexico, where much of her family was living.

Carla had taken the factory job knowing that her ultimate goal was to continue her education, and soon she enrolled in night classes at a local community college.

Money was tight, and the classes were expensive, so she took on heavy debt to finance her studies. She didn’t realize that she could have qualified for financial aid.

Shortly after beginning her studies, Carla suffered a back injury at work. Her employers stopped giving her hours, and she eventually went on disability and became a full-time student. She transferred to UC Santa Cruz, and a professor assisted her in applying for financial aid. Carla loved her coursework in Feminist Studies and Sociology, but the burden of her growing debt lurked in the background. She began skirting calls from debt collectors. She scraped by this way for years.

She spiraled deeper into debt. Her strong credit score of 720 plummeted, dipping below 500.

maf-day-1-049From Cundinas to Lending Circles

Shortly after graduating from college, Carla came across an job opening announcement with Brown Boi Project, an Oakland nonprofit that brings together masculine-of-center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen and allies to change the ways communities of color talk about gender.

She knew right away – this job was for her. Brown Boi’s mission and values echoed her own identity and experience. She applied without hesitation. Competition was steep, with over 80 applicants vying for the position. But Carla was right about her fit for the role. As she tells it, she and the staff at Brown Boi “just kicked it off well.”

She’d landed her dream job. But her debt and damaged credit continued to limit her.

She struggled to find housing in Oakland that would accept her low credit score. Fortunately, Carla had a friend who helped her find an apartment. But without a credit card, she couldn’t afford to furnish her new home.

“All of those things are so emotionally draining and stressful. I was feeling depressed. Your credit score can almost feel attached to your own worth.”

It was at Brown Boi that Carla learned about the Lending Circles program that MAF manages. She was familiar with the concept from her earlier experience with the cundinas. The promise of improving her credit score through participation lifted her spirit – she began to imagine the relief she would feel if her life were no longer controlled by debt, her options no longer curtailed by her credit score. After so many years of financial exclusion, Carla appreciated that Lending Circles were open to her regardless of her credit score.

Carla brought the same discipline and dedication to her Lending Circle that she had brought to the cundina years before. After Brown Boi became an official Lending Circles provider, Carla seized the opportunity to become the lead staff organizer for the program.

Carla finished her Lending Circle with 100% on-time payments. She paid down her debt and even managed to build up savings.

But despite her perfect track record, she was nervous to check her credit score. She had come to equate a credit score with feeling disheartened, discouraged, and stuck.

For almost a month after the Lending Circle ended, Carla delayed checking her credit. The same month Carla completed her Lending Circle, she was invited to attend a summit for innovators of color at the White House. She took herself suit shopping, comforted by the fact that she now had enough savings to cover the costs.

Carla found the perfect outfit: a grey suit with a red tie. At the register, the cashier offered her an application for the store credit card. Carla was accustomed to declining these offers, knowing she would likely not qualify. But this time, she applied.

And to her shock, she qualified.

“I qualified at a $500 limit! I was super surprised. I said, wait… What? I qualify?!”

Buoyed by this news, Carla finally pushed herself to check her credit score. She checked: it had risen 100 points to 650.

She paid off the store credit card and applied for a different card that offered airline miles. Again, she was approved – this time for a $5000 limit. Her next goal is save enough money to fly her mother to Europe next year.

What the Future Holds

Financial stability has transformed Carla’s outlook on life.

“I’m gonna be real,” she says. “I feel good. I have a credit card in case of emergency. I’m less stressed knowing that when I need the money, it’s there.” She adds, “I feel more grounded, like my life is coming back together.”

Carla feels passionate about starting more Lending Circles and encouraging more open conversations about financial exclusion with people of color in the LGBTQ community:

“There’s a lot of shame. It’s often taboo to talk about financial struggles in our community… Sometimes we think we don’t have these types of problems, but we do.”

She now keeps her spending under 25% of her credit limit and pays off the full balance of her cards each month. These skills are practical, but they have a larger significance to Carla. She sees financial education as a powerful way of mastering an economic system that so often excludes and disadvantages people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

“No one has taught us how to play this game,” Carla explains. “But with financial education modules, we learn the rules.”

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When MAF was founded in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2007, the vision was always to grow. MAF’s leadership and supporters saw the potential of taking Lending Circles to communities across the country, to make affordable, safe loans and credit-building opportunities available to as many people as possible.

And oh, how we’ve grown! Since 2007, MAF has grown into a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states (and Washington, D.C.) across the country.

The Lending Circles Summit that took place in October was an opportunity to learn, to share strategies, and, of course, to celebrate. And celebrate we did. Lunchtime on the second day of the Summit was a formal affair: Elena and Mohan, Directors of Partners & Programs, gave out 12 awards to exceptional Lending Circles partners. The prizes: custom-made action figures.

Here are the winners.


The Squad Award: For outstanding commitment to PAC

Some squads are legendary, like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Squad Award goes to the 7 outstanding members of MAF’s newly formed Partner Advisory Council (PAC) who have pooled their talents and strengths to form an unbeatable squad.

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Jorge Blandón (FII), Leisa Boswell (SF LGBT Center), Madeline Cruz (The Resurrection Project), Rob Lajoie (Peninsula Family Services), Gricelda Montes (El Centro De La Raza), Judy Elling Przybilla (Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership)  & Alejandro Valenzuela Jr. (CLUES)


The Little Giant Award: For creating huge results with a small team

This partner has proven that big things can come in small packages. This award goes to a partner with a small staff that has worked together exceptionally well to create big results.

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Center for Changing Lives (Chicago, IL)


The Wacky Races Award: For creating a culture of fun and humor

This is a partner that understands that the prescription for vibrant relationships is a good laugh. From movie nights to scavenger hunts, this organization remembers to keep it fun. We recognize this partner for cultivating a meaningful culture with roots in humor.

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Game Theory Academy (Oakland, CA)


The Batman Award: For soaring high with a 0% default rate

One of the most known and recognized, this partner continues to “spread its wings” with Lending Circles and soar very high with a 0% default rate and over $125k in loan volume.

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Fremont Family Resource Center (Fremont, CA)


The Force Awakens Award: For being a force to reckon with

This partner is newer on the scene, but has already proven itself as an adept user of The Force like Finn and Rey. They advocate for their community, ask great questions, and continue taking on new challenges in the spirit of serving their clients.

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Hacienda CDC (Portland, OR)


The Thor Award: For demonstrating enduring strength

This provider has flexed its Lending Circles muscles by running three different programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, and Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

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Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) (Los Angeles, CA)


The Wonder Woman Award: For exceptional support for women

This heroic provider works with many immigrant women who are establishing economic independence in the US for the first time.

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Chinese Community Center (Houston, TX)


The Falcon Award: For elevating the conversation

The Falcon Award goes to a Lending Circles provider that really knows how to speak up and “Tweet!” This award goes to an organization who is actively sharing creative, informative (and bilingual!) content, both about their programs & about relevant news and current events.

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Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) (Washington, D.C.)


The Flash Award: For remarkable implementation speed

This relatively new provider has hit the ground running so fast that if you blink, you might miss them! They formed four Lending Circles within their first five months. We’re blown away by this world record for speed and excited to see what more is in store.

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Korean Youth + Community Center (Los Angeles, CA)


The Spiderman Award: For casting extensive webs of support

This “friendly, neighborhood” superhero uses all tools at their disposal – social media, press opportunities, referrals, and creative events like Lending Circles brunches – to cast extensive webs of relationships. They even describe Lending Circles outreach as “a breeze”!

theresurrectionproject

The Resurrection Project (Chicago, IL)


The Yoda Award: For sharing a wealth of wisdom

This learned and wise partner was one of the first to join the Lending Circles network. Since then, they’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge. But what’s even more amazing is how generous they are with their expertise. Just like Yoda, they are a mentor and coach, and they spread their wisdom across the galaxy.

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The San Francisco LGBT Community Center (San Francisco, CA)


The Iron Man Award: For leveraging technology for good

Check out this tech-savvy superhero! They’ve really figured out how to combine technology and social justice. In addition to offering Lending Circles, this organization regularly partners with FinTech startups to offer their community members new apps to meet their clients where they are and help them reach their financial goals.

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Catalyst Miami (Miami, FL)


Congratulations, #LCHeroes!

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LC Summit 16: Top 16 Moments

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Call me biased, but here are 16 reasons why the LC Summit was not only beautiful but hands-down one of the most exciting conferences of 2016:

1. This amazingly smart team built a prototype of a “Document Drone” to make sure that forgetting your bank statement at home wouldn’t cause unnecessary delays for hardworking clients at the Go Go Gadget Arm: Build an App with Design Thinking Workshop hosted by Catapult Design.

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2. You gotta love this high-flying #LCHero sneakily enlisting the help of her friend to make her cape fly! First glance at this, and I didn’t even realize there was a hand there.

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3. When the Yoda Award (for “Sharing a Wealth of Wisdom”) was awarded to the SF LGBT Center. Yes! Leisa Boswell said it best at the opening night reception: “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. Communities take care of their own.” Speak, Leisa, Speak.

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4. When we realized that Pedro Diaz from The Resurrection Project is in fact a doppleganger of Gustavo, a famous DREAMer client who used Lending Circles to apply for DACA. Here they are, side-by-side. Right? Even Pedro agreed. He was all like “yeah – I can totally see it.”

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5. Hearing Fred Wherry speak is like food for your brain and your soul. He said “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

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6. When Holly Minch from Lightbox Collaborative was literally jumping during her True Heroes: Engaging Clients in a Digital Age panel. This woman loves a good GAME Plan! There’s nothing like that kind of energy.

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7. When you got to demo the Lending Circles App! Right? You might have been confused – was this a nonprofit or tech conference? Sidenote: We also got to hear Santos (his lovely mug is in the App banner) speak on the How to be a Hero of Your Own Story panel, and be upfront about how his mom made him do Lending Circles. Listen to your mother, folks.

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8. When Mohan enthusiastically wore the “predatory lender shark hat” at the MAFterParty. It was weird. It was funny. But it also made for a very fun raffle experience. Here he is with Rob Lajoie from Peninsula Family Services winning the raffle to see a show at BATS Improv.

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9. When the Lords of Print set up their screen printing station for t-shirts. It was seriously like watching Bumblebee transform back into a car.

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10. José’s keynote address included an unexpected twist: he led the group in a brief guided meditation to launch us into the conference with open hearts and minds.

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11. Oh the Pins, oh the Flair! These amazing pins designed by Raul Barrera took off. Attendees won them for collecting business cards, speaking up and asking interesting questions, playing games, and completing challenges.

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12. When Isabel from El Buen Comer shared tasty delights and an amazing story about food, family and love. Foodie tip: She has arguably the best Chilaquiles Verdes in all of SF.

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13. Lending-Circles Fueled Chocolate Tres-Leches Cupcakes? Yes please. Missed out on this action? You can visit Elvia at La Luna Cupcakes in Crocker Galleria in SF.

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14. #FutureisFemale all-woman panel Using Tech for Good at the Federal Reserve featured dynamos Mae Watson Grote, Megan McTiernan, Alexandra Bernadotte and Karina Moreno. Go, ladies!

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15. When Judy from Fremont Family Resource Center responded responded to the question “Why is the lending circle program important to you?” with “It works!” Simple, yet persuasive.

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16. When we saw six lightening fast tech demos in The Flash: ‘Super Speed’ Demos Showcasing Tech for Good workshop – from saving with EARN, coaching with Beyond 12, fighting payday lenders with Nerdwallet (pictured below), getting organized with Box.org, fundraising for good with Classy, and even using SMS to send a billion messages for good with Twilio.

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Ready for the next one in 2018!?

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