Delivering Lending Circles to The Mile High City


Find out what connects a lunchbox, social loans, and Denver, Colorado.

As I carried my Dad’s tiffin (A small metal Indian style lunch) box through the airport before boarding my flight to Denver, a TSA agent dutifully inspected what appears to be an unusual metal container.

Without a liquid or even a semi-liquid like hummus to cause alarm, all I could offer the TSA agent, as would be my grandmother’s practice whenever she is stopped by Customs officials, was my food and my charm.

Yet that slight delay actually created an intriguing moment of cross-cultural exchange.  I described the practice of millions of lunch boxes being delivered in Mumbai every day. Each Tiffin is filled with food made at by someone in their home and expertly delivered to hundreds of thousands of workers, by bicycle, without ever getting lost. A premise that lent itself to the polite love story of a new cross-over Bollywood movie “The Lunchbox”.

My experience, however, was more educational than romantic and perhaps foreshadowed what was to come with the upcoming presentation I was giving in Denver.  I got to share something new (my tiffin) by relating it to something familiar (the Lunch Box).

Colorado is new territory for MAF.

Chase graciously invited us to have them show us around, introduce us to people and sponsored MAF’s presentation so we could share our Lending Circles program with potential non-profit providers.

My colleague Tara and I presented in during the convening of the Clinton Global Initiative with about 25 non-profit professionals who came to hear how Lending Circles could complement their mission.

MAF working with new partners in Colorado makes a lot of sense to me.  Like San Francisco’s Mission District, it is often referred to as “up and coming”.  I experienced the thriving nightlife, where the streets were scattered with various food carts, selling delicious treats among old Jazz venues and new dance clubs.  I also read a story on Sunday in the Denver Post about micro-finance opportunities for recently arrived refugees and immigrants.

A conversation I had one evening in Denver with a college friend of my Dad’s from India made me even more determined to bring Lending Circles to Denver.

He told me about the rental shortage, a housing crisis similar to the one that’s gripping the Bay Area right now, coupled with a high number of foreclosures in his neighborhood.

These moments reminded me that with any progress, there’s inevitably some who are left behind. There are those who haven’t built up their credit to rent an apartment, who are strapped by making payments on their mortgage and don’t know how to choose the best financial product for them. MAF provides a solution to non-profits who are interested in building or expanding their programs to serve underbanked communities living in the financial shadows.

We are on a mission to expand our Lending Circles program across the country and boldly say that we will bring on 40 partners by 2015. MAF’s innovative Lending Circles Communities platform enables people to sign up for social loans through a mobile device, but it’s built on a time honored tradition of borrowing and lending money to each other.

Just like a lunch box, Lending Circles may look like a new kind of social loan, but it’s actually incredibly relevant and familiar to many communities.

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