Category: Stories

Follow our Champion Spotlight series, where we introduce you to our great Social Investors and honor their actions to support financial empowerment through credit-building.

Meet Gaby Zamudio, a bilingual developer specializing in UI and an all-around positive, people person who’s always looking for opportunities to use her tech skills to support local nonprofits. Gaby is the Co-Founder of Meraki Creative, a community for women entrepreneurs and a former developer at Thoughtworks. Since 2016, she’s been a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council (TAC), a group of professionals from leading Bay Area tech companies who provide leadership, advice, and counsel to help MAF use technology to best meet the financial needs of low-income consumers.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Gaby and learn more about what drives her to support MAF.

MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?

GZ: I’m trained as a UI developer and designer, and I love finding creative ways to display data and information. I recently had the opportunity to serve as an instructional assistant in a front-end development course at General Assembly here in San Francisco.

A fun fact that most people don’t know about me is that I played table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong) growing up, and had the chance to represent my region at competitions. Usually I was the only woman participating, which prepared me for the tech industry, where I often have a similar experience.

MAF: What issues spur you to action?

GZ: First, social justice has always been important to me. I was raised during a period of internal conflict in Peru when there were two powerful terrorist parties, so it was a dangerous time. Many people disappeared. My mom worked for a human rights organization and my dad was a sociologist and activist. My mom put so much into her work. As a child, I remember wishing I could see her more, and then opening my heart to realize that maybe other people needed my mom more than me. I felt conflicted because unlike many others, I had food and a safe place to sleep. But I so easily could have been in their position. This experience shaped my commitment to creating a more socially and economically just world.

Second, I care deeply about immigrant rights.

I moved to the U.S. from Peru by myself at age 19, so I can relate to the experience of immigrants in this country.

Finally, I’m passionate about the environment. Growing up in a mining town, I’ve seen how these industries contaminate our communities. If we don’t protect our environment, we won’t be able to make progress on other issues like social justice and education.

MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?

GZ: I first heard about MAF through a friend who had participated in a Lending Circle, and I immediately recognized the practice. In Peru, many people participate in panderos to save money for big purchases while being accountable to a group. I love how MAF connects the practice of saving in a group with credit-building and financial education.

When I moved to the U.S. by myself, the financial system here was completely new to me. I didn’t know what credit was.

When I started college, it was confusing to navigate the student loan process. I could have easily taken out more loans than I needed and gotten myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But my experience taught me that everyone – not just immigrants – can benefit from more information and tools to navigate the financial system.

A few years after first learning of MAF, a friend suggested I look into MAF’s new Technology Advisory Council (TAC). Nonprofits don’t usually have the same resources for tech that for-profit companies do, and I’m honored to use my technical expertise to add to MAF’s tech capacity and help create a bigger impact.

MAF: Why do you invest your time and skills in the work we do together?

GZ: For me, it’s about empowering people. At the first TAC meeting, I had the chance to meet Luis, who now owns D’maize, a Salvadoran restaurant in San Francisco. A loan from MAF enabled him and his wife to build credit scores and then access bigger loans to grow their business. They eventually hired staff from their community, and now they give back by donating catering for their son’s events.

I hope to be a granito de arena (grain of sand) supporting this amazing ripple effect.

MAF: What are you looking forward to in your work with MAF in the next few months?

GZ: I’m looking forward to supporting the development of the Lending Circles App and seeing the final version once it’s ready. I feel proud to have helped shaped the design of this one-of-a-kind app. I hope the MAF team feels just as proud! I’m also excited to reflect on what we’ve learned from this process as we move forward with more tech products.

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When Claudia’s husband was offered a job in the United States, she encouraged him to take it and insisted that the entire family—the two of them and their two children—move from Guatemala to build a new life for themselves. It was important to Claudia that their family stay together.

From Guatemala to Virginia

Three thousand miles later, their family reached Virginia, their new home.
Claudia’s husband started his new job, and Claudia devoted herself to caring full time for the children and improving her English skills. She did this with a specific goal in mind: she wanted to start a bakery business, just like the successful one she had proudly founded and operated in Guatemala.
Claudia and her family had been living in Virginia for just over a year when Claudia had a fainting episode and had to be rushed to the emergency room. She had low blood pressure, and her blood sugar had dropped suddenly.

Credit invisible

Shortly before, her husband’s employment contract had ended. Claudia no longer had health insurance. The doctors quickly cleared her and ran minimal tests, but the hospital bill still added up to $6,000, far more than she could pay out of pocket. Claudia had no option but to enroll in a payment plan with the hospital.

Before applying for the payment plan, Claudia hadn’t given much thought to building a credit history. Moving to a new country required her to navigate countless unfamiliar systems and bureaucracies. Claudia had enough on her plate. Building credit simply hadn’t been a priority.

But when she applied for the payment plan with the hospital, Claudia had her first encounter with the costs of being credit invisible in the United States. Without credit, she was subject to high-interest rates on the bills that were already a burden to her household budget. She had to use her husband’s credit card to make the payments on her medical bills, and the medical debt resulted in his credit score dropping considerably.

With her bakery aspirations in mind, Claudia decided to prioritize building her own credit history. But motivation wasn’t enough. She had no idea where to begin.

A friend encouraged Claudia to visit Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), a social services nonprofit that supports families throughout the region and facilitates leadership-building and innovation among community members. One of NVFS’s programs, called Escala, provides one-on-one small business development counseling to Latino families. A long-term goal of the program is to contribute to asset-building and wealth creation for low- and moderate-income Latino residents of Northern Virginia.

Claudia enrolled in a seminar called “How to Start a Business.” It was in that course that she first learned about Lending Circles.

NVFS had joined MAF’s nationwide network of Lending Circles providers in 2015. Given their existing programs to support asset-building, credit-building, and small business ownership throughout Northern Virginia, and their reputation as a trusted provider of culturally relevant programs, the partnership was a perfect fit. By integrating Lending Circles into the existing suite of programs, NVFS was able to offer a proven path to better credit for clients already dedicated to improving their family’s financial health.

Without her own income, Claudia was not eligible to join a Lending Circle on her own. But the Escala staff helped her leverage her husband’s income to meet the eligibility requirement. This accommodation captures what makes the Lending Circles approach different than the rigid requirements of many standard financial institutions’ credit-building opportunities. The Lending Circles program is built to work with families, not against them. It takes into account the reality of their lives, and the services are tailored to meet people where they are.

Claudia joined a Lending Circle and began making payments to build herself a credit history. The financial education integrated into the program provided her with tools she could use to pursue other credit-building opportunities and develop her financial health. She opened her first bank account, set a savings goal for herself, created a budget that would help her achieve her goal, and began exploring the financial products that would be available to her once she had established sufficient credit.
Through Lending Circles, Claudia’s credit score has increased from 0 to 680.

Becoming credit visible was empowering for Claudia. She felt an expanded sense of hopefulness and opportunity. Doors were opening for her. She was getting closer and closer to her dream of opening her own bakery.

With her new credit score, Claudia first turned to her medical debts. She was able to refinance her payment plan at the hospital to lower her interest rates, immediately saving herself $200 that the previous interest rate had added.

Next, Claudia applied for a personal loan that she used to contribute to her nephew’s tuition in Guatemala. Her credit score was a personal feat, but it also had important implications for both her immediate and extended family. The opportunity afforded to her by her credit score transcended her social network and crossed international borders.

Claudia has since joined a second Lending Circle. Beyond continuing to build her credit score, Claudia’s goal for this circle is to use her loan to finance the startup costs of getting her bakery business off the ground, including business registration, access to a commercial kitchen, and business supplies.
Every day, Claudia’s credit score, her financial savvy, and her determination and perseverance take her closer and closer to her dreams.

Special thanks to NVFS Lending Circles Site Coordinator Karina for her contributions to this story.


MAF is thrilled to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors! They bring rich experience in law, financial tech, consumer advocacy, and business. Read on to learn more about these inspiring leaders and what motivates the work they do.

Meet Alexandra

Before joining her current law firm as a Financial Services Partner and lead of the FinTech team, Alexandra worked as Senior Counsel in the CFPB’s Office of Law and Policy.

Alexandra learned about the power of informal lending practices at an early age while growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.

Her grandmother, a landlord, used to organize tandas to help tenants afford rent and other expenses.

Alexandra remembers witnessing firsthand how the capital from tandas helped people cover medical bills, car repairs, and other unexpected expenses. She’s eager to bring her legal training, experience in consumer protection, and deep personal connection to fair lending to her role with MAF.

Meet Cara

As a corporate attorney for Dropbox, Cara brings valuable experience in the legal, finance, and tech spheres to her role as a Board Member. Before Dropbox, she held the role of Vice President & Counsel at BlackRock, where she specialized in alternative investment vehicles and provided advice on legal, regulatory, and general corporate matters.

Cara has an inspiring track record of leveraging her skills and expertise in the interest of justice.

Since becoming an attorney, she has provided pro bono immigration legal services to many of the same communities that are part of MAF’s Lending Circles network.

When asked what drew her to MAF, she shared, “What I see in MAF excites me deeply: an organization that has already found a sustainable, elegant, and effective way to foster financial inclusion of communities most in need.”

Meet Lissa

With 12 rich years of experience as a management consultant at McKinsey, Lissa is passionate about all things teams: cultivating and retaining talent, adapting to change, and building a purposeful culture. As Co-leader of McKinsey’s OrgSolutions, which provides clients with innovative design technology and advanced analytics to help them make the best decisions for their organizations.

Lissa shares that she’s long been dedicated to tackling income and asset inequality at its roots.

Over the past year, she’s found herself growing ever more passionate about defending the idea of an inclusive America.

She sees great potential in MAF’s Lending Circles model, which she describes as “both powerful and powerfully simple.”

Meet Sagar

A seasoned tech and finance professional with a passion for social justice, Sagar currently directs Strategy and Operations at Salesforce. In addition to his tech savvy, he brings valuable experience as a former member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters leadership board in Chicago.

His passion for financial inclusion stems from his family’s immigration story.

When his parents came to the U.S. from India, they had little savings and no credit history, and they struggled to make ends meet.

It was the generous help of family friends that helped them get on their feet and begin to build a future for themselves. Sagar knows that a strong social network can make or break someone’s ability to thrive, and he sees his role with MAF as an opportunity to build that network for others.

We’re delighted to welcome Alexandra, Cara, Lissa, and Sagar to MAF’s board!

We’re grateful to them for lending their skills and talents to help us take our work to the next level. ¡Adelante!

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At MAF, we’re always looking for an excuse to share stories. In celebration of Mama’s Day 2017, a few MAF staff members and Lending Circles clients told us about their moms, grandmas, and chosen mothers—and just what makes them so special.

She’s an inspiring example of resilience for me.

Charu, aka “mom” (Chicago, IL)

Well, aside from the fact that she’s simply the most radiant woman I know, she’s hilarious—especially when she’s feeling #nofilter. She has the best commentary when we’re watching Bollywood movies together.

I also admire her creativity and her drive to keep learning and trying new things. In addition to being my mother, she sells her handmade jewelry at trunk shows and craft fairs around Chicago, and she teaches, performs, and delights her family with her Indian classical music singing!

$$ LESSONS: She taught me the importance of financial independence. As a result, I’ve made an effort to spend wisely, save consistently, and manage my debts responsibly.

– SAMHITA, Partner Success Manager

I lost my mother 10 years ago, and Reyna stepped up to the plate.

Reyna, aka “mama” (San Francisco, CA)

Reyna is my best friend’s mother, but I felt a very motherly love from her from the moment I met her. She is hilarious, hardworking, and she has a drive at the age of 52 that can barely keep up with! She told me, “no matter what you need, I am here.” She has done that—and more.

$$ LESSONS: Never give up. Reyna struggled as an immigrant coming to this country 25 years ago. I went through similar immigration battles, but thanks to her guidance early on and her unconditional love and support, I was able to persevere. She even told me about a traditional lending circle (long before I discovered MAF!) she had been part of, and she encouraged me to join. That helped me save money for all the costs that came along with my immigration process.

– SHWETA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s the most selfless person I know.

Irene, aka “mom” or “Reeny” (Long Island, NY)

She is a deeply and naturally generous person. I always joke that she never sits down at dinner because she is making sure everyone else has what they need. She’s taught me to find the humor and a silver lining when things don’t go as planned. This was especially relevant while we were planning my wedding!

$$ LESSONS: Her own mother passed away when she was 19, so my mom had to learn by necessity how to save for the future, spend wisely, and stretch a dollar. She instilled in me from an early age the value of being intentional about spending. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little extra for something if you anticipate keeping it for a long time. Don’t be tempted by things that are inexpensive in the short term—that’s often a waste of money.

ALYSSA, Partner Success Manager

She’s always been hardworking and trustworthy. Now she has the credit score to prove it.

Celia (San Francisco, CA)

Oh, my mother is so special! She is my inspiration, my role model. She is joyful and courageous. No matter what life obstacles she faces, she is fearless with a smile on her face.

$$ LESSONS: She’s a natural leader, and people flock to her for advice. People would come to her with their money problems. She created many lending circles in her community to help people pool resources and build savings. Although my mother has always been a dedicated saver, she didn’t have the opportunity to establish a credit history. I was thrilled to introduce her to MAF. After participating in a few of MAF’s Lending Circles, she’s built a beautiful credit score for herself!

PATRICIA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s a fighter.

Ana, aka “mami” (San Francisco, CA)

My mom? She raised three girls on her own. She overcame enormous obstacles to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

$$ LESSONS: When I was about ten years old, before we moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, my mom helped my sister and me get a little business going that we ran out of our house. We offered two distinct services: photocopying (we’d invested in a printer) and chocolate-covered bananas (official name: chocobananas). We didn’t even have to advertise—people just knew to come to us for their printing and chocobanana needs. And we learned some very valuable lessons from this entrepreneurial venture, most importantly: 1) work hard; 2) try not to eat all the chocobananas in your inventory. Those lessons continue to guide me to this day.

KARLA, Client Success Manager

She was one of the first women from her home state of Orissa, India, to attend medical school.

Sarat, aka “Mama” (Odisha, India)

There’s so much I admire about my grandmother: her ambition, intellect, passion, and humor, just to name a few. And she’s given me so many gifts throughout my life. My grandmother has been my yogi. It’s thanks to her that I developed my own yoga practice and have even taught yoga a different points in my life. Another gift that I cherish: her stories. Her letters, previously handwritten and in more recent years delivered by email, are simply the best.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother taught me the importance of savings and frugality. She would know. It was her rupee-pinching and homemaking that ensured opportunities for her children and grandchildren. She instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of being able to stand financially on my own two feet.

MOHAN, Director of Programs and Engagement

My 엄마 / umma is my #1 bae.

Young Ki, aka 엄마 (Queens, NY)

She’s her own type of “tiger mom.” She never pressured my brother and me to get straight A’s but instead to find and pursue our passions. She’s a fierce dreamer who came to NYC with no idea what was going to happen to her. I’ve definitely inherited that idealism and rebellious spirit. I also inherited her love for food. Growing up, we weren’t always able to communicate in Korean or English too well. I learned that a pungent bite of kimchi could literally mean “I love you.”

$$ LESSONS: My mom taught me the importance of taking risks. She never saw money as an end goal but always as a means to something more. She was the one who pushed my dad in owning our grocery business, purchasing our first home, and investing in my brother’s and my college educations. Her financial philosophy guides and inspires me.

JAY, People, Fun & Culture Coordinator

She exudes joy, warmth, and love.

Nilsa, aka “mama” (Mission District, SF)

My mom is the most powerful woman I know. I look up to her, and everything I do is to make her proud. I feel very fortunate and honored that she is the woman that raised me into who I am today. She’s given me so many gifts over the years: excellent hugs, wise and compassionate advice, and a love for music and salsa dancing.

$$ LESSONS: My mom has taught me so many important financial lessons that have saved me money and heartache, and I’ve been sure to pass them down to my own children. And those lessons have been about more than just money. They’re about life: save consistently and manage your money wisely, no matter how much you have or earn. Focus on paying your bills and rent on time; worry about the wants later.

DORIS, Client Success Manager

She is one of my “five stars,” the five most influential women in my life.

Sulochana, aka hajurmuma (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Hajurmuma is the official term for grandmother in Nepali – hajur means “with respect” and muma means “mom.” And my grandmother is worthy of every ounce of respect. I so deeply admire her strength, grace, and beauty. She’s taught me so many important lessons that have made me the person I am today. Her best piece of advice? That no matter what happens in life, you must always remember to dance. It keeps your spirit alive.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother’s life is an example of the lessons she’s taught me: the importance of working hard, getting a good education, and achieving financial independence. As a young widow, my grandmother managed to successfully run a business in her community in Nepal. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to do that. I am so inspired by her bravery and independence! She also bought me my first piggy bank and taught me my first lesson in finances: “save, save, save.” That’s a lesson I have practiced to this day, and finance has become my life’s work.

SUSHMINA, Accounting Specialist

No one can make spare ribs and asparagus like she does…

Chau Phung, aka “mom” (San Francisco, CA)

There are many things I love about my mom… But one of the first things that comes to mind is her cooking! She is a very talented cook and baker. And she has shared those skills and her passion with me!

$$ LESSONS: Well, considering I’m the Financial Services Associate at MAF, you can probably guess that finance is pretty important to me. And that’s all thanks to my mother. From the time I was very young, my mom always made a point to teach me important financial skills so I would be independent and prepared for the future. She taught me how to make a budget, stick to it, and save for a rainy day. She’s a dedicated saver—no matter what challenges came up, she always had savings to count on. She’s diligent about living within her means and not overspending. I’m grateful to have learned those skills from her.

JENNIFER, Financial Services Associate

My mother is superwoman incarnate.

Sonia, aka “mami” (Key Biscayne, Florida)

Take for example: her daily routine when we were kids. She would get us all fed and out the door, go to work managing senior home care services, squeeze in a quick 30-mile bike ride, and finish the day off cooking a delicious dinner while singing along to her iPod. Her energy and upbeat attitude radiate from her. Through the ups and downs of life, she keeps us all in good spirits.

$$ LESSONS: Starting when I was little kid, my mom would “encourage” (um, force) me to put my birthday money straight into savings. She even gave me a credit card on my 18th birthday to teach me about credit and how to build it slowly! It was painful back then, but I’m forever grateful for those lessons.

CARLOS, Partner Success Manager

Thank you, Mom.

With love,

The MAFistas

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Follow our Champion Spotlight series, where we introduce you to our great Social Investors and honor their actions to support financial empowerment through credit-building.

Meet Jessica Leggett, a skilled and experienced investor and entrepreneur. Originally from Texas, Jessica spent 15 years investing in commercial real estate in New York City while supporting several youth-oriented education organizations in her spare time. When she and her family relocated to the Bay Area two years ago, she combined her passion for service with her career aspirations, founding Seven + Gold LLC, a mission-based investment platform that provides capital and strategic advisory services to early stage companies.

A dedicated donor, Jessica joined the MAF Board of Directors in the summer of 2016. She also serves as the Co-Chair of MAF’s Adelante Advisory Council, a group of Bay Area innovators helping to raise financial support and awareness for MAF.

We had the chance to sit down with Jessica to chat with her about her professional journey and what motivates her to do the work she does.

MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?

JL: Supporting social impact is a cornerstone for my family, whether it’s volunteering in my son’s preschool class to serving meals to those in need or investing in mission-driven companies. By focusing on social innovation, my goal is to leave a positive legacy for my children and future generations. I also take great satisfaction in the creative arts and design in any form – whether it’s personal endeavors like pottery, home design, or even enjoying beautiful spaces like my local coffee shop! I also love being outside and especially being near water, so I enjoy going on hikes, fly fishing, and boating. The energy and pace of the city have really helped me appreciate the contrast and importance of getting outdoors.

MAF: What issues spur you to action?

JL: For me, it all boils down to creating opportunity for all. I want to help solve systemic issues that create disadvantages for certain communities. Within that construct, I’ve focused on a few major issues. First, economic inclusion: making sure that everyone has access to opportunities to live a good life and a safety net for the inevitable bumps in the road. Second, education: making sure every child has access to age-appropriate curricula and appropriately resourced learning environments. Many areas within our communities are severely resource-constrained, putting children at a disadvantage. Third, the environment: minimizing our impact on natural resources and identifying ways we can take responsibility and be accountable for improving our world.

MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?

JL: Shortly after my family moved to San Francisco, I spoke with MAF’s executive team at a Tipping Point Community board match event. A goal of mine was to join the board of a small but impactful organization, with potential to grow and serve clients across the country. I was really drawn to the organization’s focus on creating system-wide change with broad scalability. I was attracted to MAF’s national reach and scalable approach, and appreciated the professionalism of MAF’s staff and the data-driven approach to creating social impact. Joining the board was a perfect fit!

MAF: What are you looking forward to in your work with MAF in the next few months?

JL: I am excited to see how MAF continues to address the ever-changing needs of its constituents, like developing innovative products to address the current crisis facing the immigrant community.

I can’t wait to see MAF continue to challenge the status quo and create broader and deeper impact. I am really proud to be part of this terrific organization.

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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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On Food & Family: Isabel’s Story


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.


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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Isabel es una empresaria y cliente de MAF que usó a Lending Circles para expandir su ya exitoso culinario. Ella tuvo esto que decir en la MAFter Party, una celebración de la red nacional de Lending Circles que se llevó a cabo el 27 de octubre de este año. 

Mi amor para la comida empezó desde que estaba pequeña, cuando vivía en México D.F., donde nací. Mi máma y mis 7 hermanas cocinaban para toda la familia, especialmente para los días de fiesta – el cocinar siempre me llamó la atención.

Cuando mi familia se mudó a San Francisco en el 2001, empecé cocinando desde mi casa en el Tenderloin.

isabel-mafter-blogFue una manera de crear comunidad en un lugar nuevo.

Preparaba comida tradicional que me recordaba de México: como guisados, arroz y frijoles, y tortillas hechas a mano.

En el 2007, una amiga me recomendó visitar La Cocina, una organización que apoya a mujeres emprendedoras — para formalizar mi negocio. Así fue como mi negocio empezó a crecer. Abrí un puesto en el Farmers Market de Noe Valley y empecé a cocinar los breadsticks para la pizzeria Delfina en La Misión. Decidimos llamar el negocio “El Buen Comer” y me dediqué a crear platillos auténticos mexicanos. Todavía uso la receta original de mi mamá para el mole verde.

Al principio, fue muy difícil: tuve que invertir bastante – en una camioneta, pagando permisos y comprando equipo para mi negocio. No tuve ninguna ganancia. Me sentí desmotivada – recuerdo que comenté a mi esposo, “no sé si quiero continuar.” Pero mi familia me apoyó. Uno de mis hijos me escribía notas con mensajes positivos para darme ánimos. Estaba determinada, y no me permití a rendirme.

Necesitaba comprar una vaporera industrial para vender mis tamales en el Farmers’ Market, pero el costo era de $1,400 dólares, y no teníamos suficientes ahorros. Fue en ese momento que escuché de MAF por una amiga que había participado en una tanda (Lending Circle) con MAF. Formé parte de un Lending Circle, y por primera vez, tuve manera de ahorrar dinero de forma segura y confiable.

buen-comer-familyEn el mes de junio, abrí mi restaurante, El Buen Comer, en la calle Mission en Bernal Heights. Mi esposo, mis hijos y yo corremos el negocio juntos, y mi esposo sigue en el Farmers Market los sábados.

Aunque el negocio ya no está físicamente en mi casa, el restaurante prácticamente es mi hogar. Pasó más tiempo allí que en mi propia casa!

Decoramos el restaurante con artesanias mexicanas y los carros de juguete con los que jugaban mis hijos cuando eran pequeños.

Esto nos ayuda a recordar como y a donde empezó nuestro sueño.

Lending Circles fue nuestra primera puerta financiera – me dio acceso a préstamos para abrir el restaurante, algo que nunca inmagine. Pero más importante, he podido manejar el sistema financiero, para abrir más oportunidades en el futuro. Mi sueño continua…estamos planeando hacer una tanda entre familia para nuestro crédito y emprender en nuestro próximo sueño.

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Jasmine and Pasha’s friendship began during childhood, when the two girls were elementary school classmates. Eventually they were assigned to different middle schools, and they lost touch. But the two young women shared a deep commitment to their educations and their futures. It was this quality that would reunite them and that would ultimately lead them to join Game Theory Academy’s first Lending Circle.

Their reunion was unexpected and unplanned. In 2015, when Jasmine and Pasha were in their senior years at two different Oakland high schools, they both enrolled in “Make Your Decisions Count,” a class on financial decision-making with the Oakland nonprofit Game Theory Academy (GTA). They resumed their friendship as if no time had passed and began parallel learning journeys that would prepare them for lifelong financial security.

jasmine3GTA’s mission is to equip young people with the decision-making skills and economic opportunities needed to achieve financial stability in adulthood. In “Make Your Decisions Count,” Jasmine and Pasha practiced slowing down their decision-making process and carefully considering the pros and cons of each step. They cultivated the habit of pausing before acting and considering the questions, “What’s in my best interest? And what do I need to know before I decide?”

Jasmine and Pasha knew these skills would aid them tremendously in important future decisions, such as selecting the best bank or making a plan to pay for college.

But a key to Jasmine and Pasha’s success – and their ongoing engagement with GTA – was the opportunity to put their newly acquired financial skills into practice.

They did this first through GTA’s internship program, and eventually through Lending Circles.

Job Skills: A step toward financial independence

After completing Make Your Decisions Count, both Jasmine and Pasha became interns with WOW Farm, GTA’s urban farming and business program. They were eager for the chance to apply their new skills to a real business. And on a practical level, they both needed the job experience.gta_pasha1

Pasha spoke to the value of learning and doing:

“By getting the GTA paychecks, we experience how to save it, budget it, take out $40 each time you get a check. You can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Jasmine and Pasha successfully completed their internships and graduated from high school. But their learning wasn’t over: they both immediately enrolled in GTA’s “Crash Course in Job Readiness.” While many young adults who do not go directly to college get caught in a chaotic web of disconnected or stagnant activities, these two impressive young women refused to lose focus. They remained committed to their goals and took advantage of all GTA had to offer.

Lending Circles: Safe credit-building as the missing link

Jasmine and Pasha were skeptical of Lending Circles when the program first began at GTA.

Jasmine, for example, was uneasy with the emphasis on credit. The only way she knew to build credit was with a credit card, and she wisely thought of credit cards as risky for young people without steady incomes.

But Lending Circles provided her with a way to build credit that she trusted. She described her comfort with the program: “You don’t have to worry about going over your credit limit since it’s always a set amount.”

Pasha was similarly wary of credit cards. But at the same time, she recognized that not having a credit score would prove to be a barrier:

“You need a credit score to get a car, to do a lot of things. When you turn 18 and you’re about to go to college, all the banks send you credit card offers and sometimes the APR is really high and that can you mess up.”

For many young adults without much experience with formal financial transactions, the Lending Circles commitment can seem intimidating (a regular monthly payment!) and its value abstract (credit score, what?). But Pasha and Jasmine drew on their strong foundation in financial education to consider the benefits of the program. And more importantly, they had built a trusting relationship with GTA over the course of their participation in programs. So they took a chance and joined a Lending Circle.

The program was a success. Both Jasmine and Pasha began with no credit history at all — not uncommon for 18-year-olds. Now they each have a credit score over 650, which is 30 points higher than the average Millennial.

But a Lending Circle is more than a credit-building tool — it’s akin to a crash course in money management: participants have to save for a goal, repay a loan, plan ahead, and manage auto-pay transactions.

Thanks to Lending Circles, Jasmine and Pasha do not have to learn about credit the common way– by making mistakes that are hard to reverse. They’ve been able to build their credit safely, and with it, to build the foundations for a future of financial security.

Aligning participants’ and GTA’s goals

Game Theory Academy’s ultimate goal is to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate what are often mystifying and high-stakes financial decisions.

jasmine2Lending Circles are still gaining traction with GTA’s youth. But in a short time, the program has already gone a long way to deepen the organization’s financial capability services. GTA’s existing financial education modules expose young people to topics they don’t learn in school, and Lending Circles provide the opportunity to put what they learn into practice.

Jasmine now studies Mathematics at Chabot College, works
at a popular restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown, and interns with a bookkeeper. Pasha has a role in community affairs with a construction company and studies at Merritt College. They are graduating from Game Theory Academy with what every young adult needs and deserves: strong skills in financial and strategic decision-making, extensive job readiness training, solid work experience, and a fantastic credit score.

Like most of us, they don’t know exactly what’s next. But they are well-prepared for whatever it may be.


jd2-1Jasmin Dial, the author of this post, ran student engagement at Game Theory Academy from 2014-2016, including the launch and implementation of Lending Circles. She holds a B.A. from University of California at Berkeley and currently studies Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

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La amistad de Jasmine y Pasha empezó durante su infancia, cuando ambas chicas eran compañeras del colegio. Con el tiempo fueron asignadas a diferentes escuelas secundarias y perdieron el contacto. Pero las dos jóvenes compartían un profundo compromiso con sus educaciones y su futuro. Fue esta cualidad lo que las reuniría y lo que finalmente las llevaría a unirse al primer Lending Circle de la Game Theory Academy.

Su reunión fue inesperada y no planificada. En 2015, cuando Jasmine y Pasha estaban en sus últimos años en dos diferentes escuelas de educación media superior de Oakland, ambas se inscribieron en “Haz que tus decisiones valgan,” una clase sobre toma de decisiones financieras en una organización sin fines de lucro de Oakland, la Game Theory Academy (GTA). Reiniciaron su amistad como si no hubiera pasado el tiempo e iniciaron un viaje de aprendizaje paralelo que las prepararía para la seguridad financiera de por vida.

jasmine3La misión de la GTA es equipar a los jóvenes con habilidades de toma de decisiones y oportunidades económicas necesarias para conseguir estabilidad financiera en la vida adulta. En “Haz que tus decisiones valgan,” Jasmine y Pasha practicaron el hacer más lento su proceso de toma de decisiones y considerar con cuidado los pros y contras de cada paso. Cultivaron el hábito de detenerse antes de actuar y pensar en preguntas como “¿Qué es lo que me conviene más?” y “¿Qué necesito saber antes de decidir?”

Jasmine y Pasha sabían que estas habilidades les ayudarían de gran manera en importantes decisiones futuras, tales como seleccionar el mejor banco o al desarrollar un plan para pagar la universidad.

Pero algo clave en el éxito de Jasmine y Pasha – y su compromiso constante con la GTA – fue la oportunidad de poner sus recién adquiridas habilidades financieras en práctica.

Esto lo hicieron primeramente mediante el programa de interinato de la GTA y eventualmente a través de Lending Circles.

Habilidades de trabajo: Un paso hacia la independencia financiera

gta_pasha1Al terminar “Haz que tus decisiones valgan,” tanto Jasmine como Pasha se convirtieron en pasantes en la Granja WOW, el programa de agricultura y negocios urbanos de GTA. Ambas estaban deseosas de poner en práctica sus nuevas habilidades en un negocio real. Y en un nivel práctico, ambas necesitaban la experiencia laboral.gta_pasha1

Pasha habló sobre el valor de aprender y practicar:

“Al obtener un salario en la GTA, practicamos cómo ahorrarlo, presupuestarlo, y tomar $40 cada vez que recibíamos un cheque. No solo se trata de palabras sino también de acciones.”

Jasmine y Pasha terminaron con éxito sus interinatos y se graduaron de la escuela media superior. Pero su aprendizaje no había terminado: ambas inmediatamente se inscribieron en el  “Curso Intensivo de Preparación para el Trabajo” de la GTA. Mientras muchos jóvenes adultos que no van directamente a la universidad quedan atrapados en una caótica red de actividades desconectadas o estancadas, estas dos jóvenes emprendedoras se negaron a perder el enfoque. Mantuvieron el compromiso con sus metas y tomaron ventaja de todo lo que la GTA tenía para ofrecer.

Lending Circles: El eslabón perdido del desarrollo de crédito seguro

Jasmine y Pasha eran escépticas de Lending Circles cuando el programa empezó por primera vez en la GTA.

Jasmine, por ejemplo, se sentía incómoda con el énfasis en el crédito. La única forma que ella conocía para desarrollar crédito era mediante una tarjeta de crédito, y ella pensaba sabiamente que las tarjetas de crédito eran muy riesgosas para los jóvenes sin ingresos estables.

Pero Lending Circles le ofreció una forma de desarrollar crédito en el que ella podía confiar. Describió así su comodidad con el programa: “No tienes que preocuparte de sobrepasar tu límite de crédito, ya que siempre es una cantidad establecida.”

Pasha tenía una desconfianza similar hacia las tarjetas de crédito. Pero al mismo tiempo reconoció que no tener una puntuación de crédito llegaría a ser una barrera:

“Necesitas tener una puntuación de crédito para obtener un auto y para hacer muchas cosas. Cuando cumples 18 y estás a punto de ir a la universidad, todos los bancos te envían ofertas de tarjetas de crédito y a veces la TAE es muy alta y eso te puede complicar las cosas.”

Para muchos jóvenes adultos que no tienen mucha experiencia con transacciones financieras formales, el compromiso en Lending Circles puede parecer intimidante (¡un pago mensual constante!) y su valor abstracto (puntuación de crédito… ¿qué?). Pero Pasha y Jasmine recordaron sus fundamentos fuertes en educación financiera y consideraron los beneficios del programa. Y más importante, habían desarrollado una relación de confianza con la GTA durante su participación en otros programas. Así que le dieron una oportunidad y se unieron a un Lending Circle.

El programa fue un éxito. Tanto Jasmine como Pasha empezaron sin ningún historial crediticio; algo que no es raro para los jóvenes de 18 años. Ahora ambas tienen una puntuación de crédito de más de 650, que es 30 puntos más alta que el promedio de la generación del milenio.

Pero un Lending Circle es más que una herramienta de desarrollo de crédito; es similar a un curso intensivo de manejo de dinero: los participantes tienen que ahorrar para una meta, pagar un préstamo, planificar con anticipación, y gestionar transacciones de pago automático.

Gracias a Lending Circles, Jasmine y Pasha no tienen que aprender sobre el crédito de la manera común; cometiendo errores que son difíciles de arreglar. Han logrado desarrollar su crédito de forma segura, y con esto, han sentado la base para un futuro de seguridad financiera.

Coincidiendo las metas de los participantes y de la GTA

El objetivo final de la Game Theory Academy es equipar a los jóvenes con el conocimiento y la confianza que necesitan para navegar lo que a menudo son decisiones desconcertantes y de alto riesgo financiero.

jasmine2Lending Circles sigue ganando terreno con los jóvenes de la GTA. Pero en poco tiempo, el programa ya ha logrado bastante en profundizar los servicios de capacitación financiera de la organización. Los módulos de educación financiera actuales de la GTA presentan a los jóvenes con temas que no aprenden en la escuela, y Lending Circles les da la oportunidad de poner en práctica lo que aprenden.

Jasmine ahora estudia matemáticas en Chabot College, Trabaja en un restaurante popular en el Uptown de Oakland, y tiene una pasantía con un contador. Pasha tiene un puesto en actividades comunitarias con una compañía de construcción y estudia en el Merritt College. Se están graduando de la Game Theory Academy con lo que todo joven adulto necesita y merece: fuertes habilidades en toma de decisiones financieras y estratégicas, amplio entrenamiento de preparación para el trabajo, experiencia laborar sólida, y una fantástica puntuación de crédito.

Como la mayoría de nosotros, no saben exactamente qué viene después. Pero están bien preparadas para lo que sea que se presente.


jd2-1Jasmin Dial, la autora de esta publicación, se encargó del compromiso estudiantil en la Game Theory Academy en el período 2014-2016, incluyendo el lanzamiento e implementación de Lending Circles. Ella tiene una licenciatura de la Universidad de California en Berkeley y actualmente estudia Política Pública en la Universidad de Chicago.

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