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$2,500,000+ FUND TO HELP DREAMERS
RENEW DACA BY OCTOBER 5

San Francisco, CA – September 22, 2017 – Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announced it has surpassed its original fundraising goal and will now be able to provide $2,500,000 in scholarships to 5,000+ Dreamers to pay for DACA renewals by the October 5 deadline.

Early this month, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program is ending. DACA has provided security, safety, and a livelihood for 800,000 young people commonly known as “Dreamers.” Of the 154,000 Dreamers eligible to renew their DACA permits before the program ends in six months, most will be able to cover the application costs themselves. For those Dreamers who are eligible for renewal but can’t afford the $495 application fee, MAF is stepping in with a solution now available nationwide: scholarships to help Dreamers renew their DACA status (LC4DACA.org).

Between now and the October 5 deadline, MAF will provide 5,000+ Dreamers with scholarships of $495 to renew their DACA permit. 3,000+ scholarships across the United States have already been issued to DACA recipients through this fund. Dreamers are urged to not delay – sending in their applications before the October 5 deadline is crucial – get a scholarship in 48 hours at LC4DACA.org. Capital to finance these scholarships come from the DACA Renewal Fund, launched earlier this month with growing support from the philanthropic community.

“We were shocked and horrified to learn that President Trump ended DACA,” says José Quiñonez, MAF’s CEO and 2016 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. He added, “We sprang into action once we saw a small window of opportunity to help thousands of Dreamers to renew their protective status. The time to help these young people is now.”

DACA recipients with a permit expiring between now and March 5 across the nation are eligible to receive the scholarships. As time is of the essence, this online scholarship will be processed within a day, with same-day checks available in San Francisco and by overnight mail in other parts of the country.

MAF has a long history of working with Dreamers and has helped hundreds to pay for DACA application fees using a 0% interest loan. This initiative—offering scholarships within 24-48 hours to Dreamers—builds on this track record of success. DACA recipients with expiring permits are encouraged to visit LC4DACA.org and apply immediately.

Philanthropic supporters of this fund include: the Weingart Foundation, The California Endowment, The James Irvine Foundation, The Marin Community Foundation, The Klarman Family Foundation, The Crankstart Foundation, The Chavez Family Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, The Department of OCEIA in SF, and from the generosity of individual donors across the country.

About MAF

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a 501c3 nonprofit on a mission to build a fair financial marketplace for all. Over 7,000 people across the country have used MAF’s award-winning financial services programs to increase credit scores, pay down debt, and save for important goals like becoming a homeowner, a student, or a U.S. citizen. MAF currently manages a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact:
(888) 274-4808 x206
[email protected]

$1,000,000 FUND ANNOUNCED TO HELP DREAMERS
RENEW DACA BY OCTOBER 5

San Francisco, CA – September 13, 2017 – Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announced it will provide $1,000,000 in scholarships to 2,000+ Dreamers to pay for DACA renewals by the October 5 deadline.

Last week, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program is ending. DACA has provided security, safety, and a livelihood for 800,000 young people commonly known as “Dreamers.” Of the 154,000 Dreamers eligible to renew their DACA permits before the program ends in six months, most will be able to cover the application costs themselves. For those Dreamers who are eligible for renewal but can’t afford the $495 application fee, MAF is stepping in with a solution now available nationwide: scholarships to help Dreamers renew their DACA status (LC4DACA.org).

Between now and the October 5 deadline, MAF will provide 2,000 Dreamers with scholarships of $495 to renew their DACA permit. Capital to finance these scholarships come from the DACA Renewal Fund, launched this week with growing support from the philanthropic community.

“We were shocked and horrified to learn that President Trump ended DACA,” says José Quiñonez, MAF’s CEO and 2016 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. He added, “We sprang into action once we saw a small window of opportunity to help thousands of Dreamers to renew their protective status. The time to help these young people is now.”

DACA recipients with a permit expiring between now and March 5 across the nation are eligible to receive the scholarships. $500,000 of the fund is being specifically targeted to California students attending community colleges, at California State Universities, and the University of California. As time is of the essence, this online scholarship will be processed within a day, with same-day checks available in San Francisco and by overnight mail in other parts of the country.

MAF has a long history of working with Dreamers and has helped hundreds to pay for DACA application fees using a 0% interest loan. This initiative—offering scholarships within 24-48 hours to Dreamers—builds on this track record of success. DACA recipients with expiring permits are encouraged to visit LC4DACA.org and apply immediately.

Philanthropic supporters of this fund include: the Weingart Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The Chavez Family Foundation, and San Francisco Foundation.

About MAF

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a 501c3 nonprofit on a mission to build a fair financial marketplace for all. Over 7,000 people across the country have used MAF’s award-winning financial services programs to increase credit scores, pay down debt, and save for important goals like becoming a homeowner, a student, or a U.S. citizen. MAF currently manages a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Meet the Adelante Advisory Council

At the end of 2016, an exciting group formed at MAF: the Adelante Advisory Council (AAC) is MAF’s first-ever committee devoted exclusively to leveraging the best of fundraising and marketing resources to garner support for MAF’s programs and, more importantly, to raise awareness about the issues facing people living in the financial shadows.

The seven members of the AAC are passionate Bay Area professionals, each of whom brings a unique set of skills and expertise. They are united by their shared belief that everyone deserves a fair shot at financial freedom. AAC members collaborate with the MAF team to support fundraising initiatives, provide strategic advice, and serve as ambassadors for MAF’s work and mission.

Please join us in welcoming the Adelante Advisory Council to the MAF family! If you’re interested in becoming a member of the AAC, please reach out to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

Read on to get to know a few of these new MAF ambassadors and learn why they joined the AAC.

Sally Rothman

Director of Operations at Wanelo

Why I joined AAC: “I joined MAF because I believe that everyone deserves equal financial opportunity. Certain communities, particularly low-income and immigrant families, are currently excluded from the financial marketplace. The work that MAF does is crucial to building opportunity and an even playing field for all.”

Jessica Leggett

Founder and CEO of Seven + Gold LLC, MAF Board Member

Why I joined the AAC: “I’m hoping to help spread the news about the incredible work MAF is doing and grow our supporters so we can expand and deepen our impact.”

Cyana Chilton

Equity Investment Analyst at Capital Group

Why I joined the AAC: “I joined because I am inspired by MAF’s work and I’d like to participate in making our financial system more inclusive.”

Peter Meredith

Marketing, Design, and Fundraising Consultant
Why I joined AAC: “I believe that innovation is essential in creating a more just world. I look forward to helping MAF build its base of support so it can expand its pioneering work.”

Dave Krimm

President of Noe Valley Advisors, President of the Board of Directors at MAF

Why I joined AAC: “I joined MAF because I’m passionate about the positive impact that microloans can make for low- and middle-income families and individuals, particularly in immigrant communities. I joined the AAC to help broaden and strengthen MAF’s outreach to individual donors, and shape our communications at a time when low-income and immigrant communities are under extraordinary pressure. Now more than ever, MAF’s financial services can be a critical resource.”

 

Many thanks to all of our Adelante Advisory Council members:

Cyana Chilton, Capital Group
David Krimm, Consultant
Jessica Leggett, Seven + Gold LLC
Peter Meredith, Independent Consultant
Sally Rothman, Wanelo
Jesus Sandoval, Shoreline Investment Management Co.

Special thanks to Sally Rothman for contributing content to this article.

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Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants

Detention and deportation can have a huge impact on a family’s finances. What happens to a car, apartment, or money in a checking account?

MAF’s new Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants is an action-oriented tool that offers concrete tips to help families plan ahead and keep their money and belongings safe in the case of an immigration emergency. Topics include:

  • Protect your money: Simple steps to keep your money safe and accessible – from setting up online accounts to automatic bill pay
  • Protect your belongings: How to take stock of your belongings, why to consider getting insurance, and how to make a plan for all your belongings
  • Prepare for an emergency: Tips to help you set a savings goal, protect your credit card or set up a crowdfunding campaign
  • Create an action plan: Each section includes checklists and templates so you’ll know exactly what to do to prepare

Upcoming events

Join us for one of our upcoming information sessions via webinar or in-person. These are great opportunities for nonprofit, foundation, or government staff to access to the guide, get trained on how to implement the content, and start sharing it with the community.

Want to request a speaker?

In the media

Thanks to our collaborators

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Citizenship for New Yorkers

Building a wall, the Muslim and refugee ban, sanctuary cities, an uncertain future for DREAMers: under the current administration, immigrants from all walks of life are under attack.

In February, NPR reported that even green card holders are afraid; they’re now applying for citizenship at unprecedented rates.

That’s because citizenship offers protection and security.

America has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world. During the last decade, the U.S. added more than 6.6 million citizens into the fabric of our nation, with 730,000 in 2015 alone. But there are many people eligible for citizenship who don’t apply.

One of the biggest barriers? Cost.

Lending Circles can pave the way to opportunity.

In the 2017 State of the State Book, Governor Cuomo makes a commitment to protect the safety, security, and dignity of immigrants. In just a few months, nonprofits in New York State will be able to offer Lending Circles loans to people who can’t afford to become citizens or lack access to financial products.

Why is this work critical?

  • Because immigrants represent one out of five New Yorkers and contribute significantly to the state’s economy as business owners, workers, consumers, and taxpayers.
  • Nearly one million New Yorkers are eligible to become U.S. citizens, but many are unable to do so because they cannot afford the $725 application fee.
  • While some qualify for fee waivers, this cost barrier stands between 158,000 New Yorkers and citizenship.
  • MAF is proud to join forces with the good people of the State of New York to pave the way to financial security for New Yorkers through 0% interest loans.

Want to help?

  • Get informed. Check out the State of the State book (page 172) and keep an eye out for more updates coming soon.
  • Get invested. Any new expansion or effort requires new support. Help us build our Lending Circles community in New York!
  • Get in touch. We’ll be in New York soon and would love to continue the conversation in person. Email us at [email protected].

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awards-blog-banner

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.

pac-square

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.

centerforchanginglives

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.

gametheoryacademy

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.

fremontfamilyresourcecenter

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.

haciendacdc

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.

mexicanamericanopportunityfoundation

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.

chinesecommunitycenter

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.

ledc

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.

koreatownyouthcommunitycenter

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.

sflgbtcenter

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.

catalyst-square

Catalyst Miami (Miami, FL)


Congratulations, #LCHeroes!

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LC Summit 16: Top 16 Moments

Blog

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.

drone-prototype

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.

partner-superhero

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.”

gustavonpedro

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.”

fred

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.

mohan-shark-hat

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.

josespeaking

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!

futureisfemale

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.

 fremontfamilyresourcecenter

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.

nerdwallet

Ready for the next one in 2018!?

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Words from the Wise #LCSummit16

blog-audience

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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Jose Quinonez Bullard Award MAF

Katherine Elgin Photography

Thank you so very much. It means a great deal to me to receive this award.

I remember organizing the 2nd symposium back in 1996.

The number of attendees at that event may not have been as great as today’s. But I remember feeling the same energy and excitement over the wonderful opportunity to step back from our busy student lives and meet with alumni – to hear their stories, to learn from their experiences, and to gain some perspective about our own experiences here at the Wilson School.

And now we’re here, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Students and Alumni of Color coming together. And for that we owe Ed Bullard and Jeffrey Prieto and John Templeton and all the MPA students who organized these weekends a great deal of gratitude for their vision and hard work that got us here today.

Soon after I got the call from Renato Rocha and Gilbert Collins about the Bullard Award, I reflected back on my experiences here and how they shaped my career and ultimately my life.

Jose Quinonez Gilbert Collins SAOC Wilson School
Katherine Elgin Photography

Thankfully, I was able to forget all the painful and sleepless nights from working on econ problem sets or writing five-page policy memos or cramming for this or that exam. I’m really super thankful that my brain was able to erase all those memories so that I could focus on all the good stuff.

I’m sure all alumni in this room can say the same, right? Well, fine — I’ll speak for myself.

But earlier today I walked into a Bowl downstairs – and for the first time I did not get nervous. My heart rate didn’t go wacky, my leg didn’t get restless. Really. After 20 years I was able to just sit back and enjoy being here at Princeton. (Yeah. It took me that long to get over it.)

Thinking back on my life, I was able to trace much of my current work at the Mission Asset Fund to what I learned here at the Wilson School.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, for example, he opened my eyes to the horrific injustices of people falling prey to predatory lenders in the financial marketplace. His class was about financial management, which was a little boring and dry. But in his subtle way, he would insert stories in his lectures about how lenders manipulate loan terms to load borrowers with extra fees and costs. I remember feeling disgusted over how easy it was to rip people off – and angry that lenders could get away with taking people’s hard-earned money with impunity.

Reinhardt’s stories allowed me to see finances not as dull but rather as a social justice issue that could materially improve people’s lives.

And there’s Professor Alejandro Portes. He taught me a very important lesson, one that is actually the cornerstone of Lending Circles, a program that we offer at the Mission Asset Fund to help hardworking families build and improve their credit.
Lucero Hotdog Cart MAF

Portes taught me to see and appreciate the incredible economic activity that happens informally.

We see it all over the world. The street vendor selling tamales on busy street corners. Or the day laborer working odd jobs.

He showed us that what the street vendors do, the economic activity they generate in the informal economy – while invisible, it is still very similar to the economic activity that happens in the formal economy. It’s not less than, not criminal, not inferior, but the same – with the only difference being that economic activities in the formal economy have laws and regulations to protect and secure and make them visible to the broader economic systems.

I used this idea to create Lending Circles.

Our clients – largely unbanked, low-income Latino immigrants – have a time-honored tradition of coming together in groups to lend and borrow money from each other. In Mexico, these are known as tandas or cundinas, and they go by many, many different names throughout the world. These loans are informal, based largely on trust.

But nobody really knows about them except the people involved. Nobody knows that participants actually pay these obligations first, before anything else. Really, the financial industry has never appreciated the fact that tandas are a phenomenal financial vehicle – helping participants manage the intense income fluctuations in their lives.

Why is that? Because tandas are informal, taking place outside of the financial systems.

They’re invisible. But at MAF, we changed that.

We created a process to make this activity visible by getting people to sign promissory notes, allowing us to service loans and report payment activity to the main credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. And thereby we’re helping our clients start a credit history and improve their credit scores.

The program works. In 2014, Gov. Brown in California signed a law recognizing lending circles as a force for good. So, as you can imagine — and I can say this in this room of full of fellow policy folks – getting a bill enacted into law is pretty cool. I was excited.

I was proud of myself for getting this done!

I was flying high as a kite when this happened. But In time I realized that this achievement was no accident. You see, I’m the product of the Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) program, a program dedicated to increasing the number of students of color in public service.

I did my Junior Summer Institute here, at the Wilson School in 1994. And because of that experience and support and people I met, I was able to see myself here at the School as a full time student, getting an MPA, and building a career in public service.

It was no accident. I’m doing exactly what this program was designed to accomplish.

Wilson School Students and Alumni of Color
Katherine Elgin Photography

Through the years, the PPIA program has built an incredible cadre of professionals of color, working in public service. It’s wonderful. We can see it in this room right now. Look around.

It’s incredible to see a room full of beautiful and talented and passionate people dedicating their careers – their lives – to public service. Half of MPA students of color come through the PPIA pipeline.

But when you consider the enormous problems we face as a nation: from the lack of public trust in our institutions and leaders; to the appalling inequalities from wealth to income to educational opportunities; to the disenfranchisement of millions of people from electoral process; to the devastating effects of climate change… well, you know we can go on for hours listing all the issues we face as a nation.

The point is that there are not enough professionals of color in public service confronting these issues.

I look around this room and I’m amazed with everyone here. But frankly, I don’t think that there’s enough of us. There is simply not enough people in the trenches that come with different perspectives, different ideas, different life experiences that can add significant insights to solutions to our nation’s problems. The number of people in this room, quite frankly, should be double or triple.

While I love that the Wilson School has made these weekends a tradition. I think the time has come for the School to do more. The status quo is simply not acceptable anymore. We need to double down and widen the pipeline. We need more students of color getting exposed to careers in public service. We need more students graduating with MPAs. We need more professionals of color working to create the America we deserve.

As you know, the urgency on this issue is not new.

Many times, we’d talked about diversity and inclusion and getting more students of color in this School. But to me it hit home last June. I was getting ready for work the morning of June 18, listening to the news about the horrific massacre of nine people in Charleston South Carolina. The shooting happened the day before, during an evening prayer service at the AME Church.

The senior pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those killed. I was stunned.

Rev. Pinckney was a PPIA fellow – we did the Junior Summer Institute program together. He went on to become a State Representative in South Carolina, and later State Senator. He was only 41 years old when he was killed. He did so much at such a young age. Apparently, he was shot dead to ignite a race war. But his death was the impetus that finally took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina, that shameful symbol of racists.

While in the Bowl earlier today, I looked over to where Clem use to sit, remembering his easy smile and deep voice. We spent 10 grueling weeks in those bowls over the summer of 1994. And just thinking of him there, in that room, for at least a moment, it brought me hope. Hope that our lives’ work in this world can be truly consequential.

We need to remember Clem and honor his life.

In my view, he is a true example of what it means to live life in the Nation’s Service. America needs more people like Clem. And I believe the Wilson School has the responsibility and obligation to do more to find and train the Clementas of the world so that we can have a real shot at solving our nation’s problems.

Thank you.

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Helen Daughter Strengths MAF

 

Last week Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and senior scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families, published an article in the Washington Post arguing that “American policy fails at reducing child poverty because it aims to fix the poor.”

The headline grabbed my attention.

It succinctly captured what decades of work with low-income communities have taught me: We don’t need saviors to teach poor people the right morals. We need advocates to recognize and cultivate their strengths so that they move out of poverty themselves.

Current anti-poverty policies that aim to fix them, actually work against them.

Cohen’s piece scrutinizes this current approach, and dispenses with it. He challenges the motives, logic, and outcomes of anti-poverty policies that pressure poor parents to get married or find jobs as a precondition for government assistance:

We know growing up poor is bad for kids. But instead of focusing on the money, U.S. anti-poverty policy often focuses on the perceived moral shortcomings of the poor themselves. … Specifically, we offer two choices to poor parents if they want to escape poverty: get a job, or get married. Not only does this approach not work, but it’s also a cruel punishment for children who cannot be held responsible for their parents’ decisions.

Tax benefits like the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit are reserved for those able to find and hold a job, which can be all but impossible for people struggling to care for young children or older parents and people with disabilities that make it difficult to work. Welfare payments are restricted by work requirements and time limits that leave millions of families out.

Other past, present, and proposed anti-poverty policies are designed to incentivize marriage, effectively penalizing parents who choose not to marry – a choice that everyone, rich or poor, should be able to make freely.

Policies like these fail to treat poor people with the respect they deserve.

And they fail to provide solutions that work for all families. Cohen proposes simpler alternatives, programs that serve all parents equally and offer poor families a leg up without imposing moral judgments on their individual decisions and needs.

This brings us to a broader lesson that all of us – policymakers, nonprofit leaders, community members – can learn from: We must meet people where they are, respect what they bring to the table, and build on the strengths they have.

This approach is not a pipe dream. I see it work every day with Lending Circles.

MAF’s social loan programs begin from a position of respect, acknowledging and valuing the rich resources and financial savvy that our clients already possess. We then build on those strengths by integrating their positive behaviors and informal practices into the mainstream financial marketplace.

Poor people are not broken. They have strengths that we too often fail to recognize.

Rather than judging their behavior and imposing our own values on them, we must treat them with dignity and seek out solutions that work for everyone, whatever their background, abilities – or marital status.

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