Lesson Earned #3: Think Small


With such a heavy focus on bringing organizations to scale, we’ve forgotten the power community holds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As our community grows through these partnerships, we get to see all the exciting ways Lending Circles programs can be adjusted to meet more and more needs, like access to affordable housing.

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

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

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

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