Community Letter: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

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The Mission Asset Fund and the Community Music Center are both up for Google Grants of $500,000.  They are among a group of finalists and each needs your vote. Here is a letter from Jose Quinonez, the chief executive officer of the Mission Asset Fund. Vote Today.  You have four votes so you can vote for both Mission organizations! 

 Almost ten years ago, something amazing happened. Instead of pocketing the proceeds of the sale of the Levi Strauss factory on Valencia St. (now the SF Friends School), they decided to invest in the local community. Together with community leaders, they imagined a new kind of future for the residents of San Francisco’s Mission District and invested $1 million dollars to create something new: a nonprofit that would provide innovative and impactful services to help low-income families improve their financial capability. And so, Mission Asset Fund was started, and I was hired to lead it.

With a background in asset-building policy at the state and national levels, some of my friends were confused by my new job. I remember people asking “Why are you taking a job running a small nonprofit in the Mission?” But I knew something they didn’t know. That the answers to the policy problems we worked so hard to solve could be found at the local level, within the community itself. We just needed to demonstrate how we could help real people improve their financial lives.

Soon enough, we found that hardworking people were helping each other by lending and borrowing money to each other with informal lending circles. We realized that we could help by providing a formal structure so people could keep doing what they were already doing, but with the added benefit of building credit scores that could unlock access to the world of mainstream financial products and services.

With Lending Circles, our credit-building social loan program, we built a unique solution that honored the ingenuity of the everyday, hardworking people who sewed jeans in the Valencia Stre. factory.  And we didn’t stop there. We took a page from the Levi Strauss family’s book, and we shared the wealth. We made sure that other nonprofits across the Bay Area were able to offer this program to their clients, too.

Fast forward to today. MAF is a finalist in one of the largest tech philanthropy contests I’ve ever seen. That means we’re being featured throughout the world as an innovative solution to the problems facing low-income families. Without credit scores and bank accounts, over 200,000 people in the Bay Area are left with few options outside of predatory lenders and check cashers. With the Google Impact Challenge grant, we’re aiming to change those options.

People across the U.S. and even around the world are recognizing that together, we built something amazing, right here in San Francisco. Please join me in honoring the heritage of our community and #VOTEMAF at BITLY.COM/VOTEMAF today!

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