Financial Well-Being from the Ground Up

Using technology and finance for good, we’re leveraging the power of community, social trust, and cultural assets to build financial power.

Photo of Jose
2 2

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

California: San Francisco (94110)
California: Marin (94924)
California: San Mateo (94602)
California: San Jose (94602)
California: Contra Costa (94509)
California: Alameda (94509)
California: Solana (94510)
California: Santa Cruz (95010)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • over $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

MAF was created in 2007 after the Levi Strauss Foundation donated proceeds from the sale of their San Francisco factory for community benefit. When Jose Quinonez was selected as the first CEO, MAF’s founding Board of Directors gave a clear mandate: help hardworking families in SF’s Mission District build and improve their financial security.
What was the best way to help low-income families in a community where 50% lacked a checking account and 44% were credit invisible? Jose knew the problem wasn’t that our clients lacked aptitude for handling finances; rather, families simply needed a bridge to connect them to the financial mainstream. This was MAF’s “aha” moment - discovering a way to build on what was already good in their lives.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Financially invisible people are locked out of the financial system, making it harder to improve their financial lives. High-cost predatory lenders erode their assets and perpetuate a cycle of poverty. Lack of credit creates additional obstacles, compromising choices for housing and employment. Dedicated to providing real solutions, MAF helps low-income households use their financial resources and cultural assets to break through this cycle.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

When people do not have access to financial institutions, they often turn to one another and create their own solutions. Across the world, from Mexico to the Philippines, lending and borrowing money to each other provides a way for people who lack access to financial services to leverage capital from family and friends. The problem? Because these financial transactions are invisible and unrecognized in the financial mainstream, these social loans do not help people move out of the financial shadows.

MAF’s solution is Lending Circles, a program that brings people together to pool their resources by lending money to one another. Our model links social lending to modern banking systems. By recording and reporting loan transactions to credit bureaus, participants build credit scores and credit histories.

MAF is further reducing financial invisibility with the MyMAF App. Designed for mobile devices, the app gives users access to financial programs, loan information, FICO scores, education videos, and personalized financial resources and recommendations. By opening this new pathway, technology is expanding our tried and true models accessible to more individuals.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

MAF serves low-income and immigrant people who lack access to the most basic of financial services, preventing hem from achieving their full potential. Through Lending Circles, 90% of credit invisibles successfully establish a credit score within 6 months, with an average increase of 0 to 650 points. Participants who begin with existing credit scores realize a 168-point credit score increase on average.
Lending Circles benefits clients like Alicia, who used to sell her homemade tamales door-to-door, making $20 or $30 on good days. Passionate about food, she struggled financially, but her business was impeded by her inability to secure a line of credit. Things changed in 2010 when Alicia joined Lending Circles. Over the years, she built her credit score and formalized her finances. Her business now employs 22 people and supplies tamales to 44 Whole Foods stores in Northern California

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

MAF helps low-income people achieve financial security; our target population needs to save, access credit for homes and businesses, and pay for immigration application fees. By delivering services directly and coordinating a national nonprofit network, MAF’s suite of financial services addresses these financial pain points. The new MyMAF App further expands access to our financial products, introducing new features like as a user loan dashboard, FICO scores, and financial education videos.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Financial service providers design products with well-off primary users in mind, relegating low-income consumers to secondary user status. When people like small business owners need credit access, they are often barred from accessing sources of capital. On the opposite extreme, households that lack basic banking services are forced to use predatory payday lending businesses. In contrast, MAF delivers financial solutions created by the community, for the community. From helping people establish credit to making small-dollar business loans, our solutions create a fair financial marketplace.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Since launching Lending Circles in 2008, we have managed over 9,100 loans totaling $8.4 million. San Francisco State University’s Cesar Chavez Institute recently conducted an evaluation of the program, finding that on average, Lending Circle participants increase their credit score by 168 points within 10 months of joining the program. The report also found clients decreased debt by over $1,000 while accessing mainstream credit; in fact, the typical client added two more tradelines (i.e., lines of credit) to their credit reports. Lending Circles is also extremely effective; the default rate is an incredibly low 0.7% compared to the micro-credit industry average of 14% to 15%.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

MAF’s approach to scale is additive; we create a menu of financial products that address specific needs, like building credit, saving for citizenship, or accessing small-dollar business loans, then we engage a national network of nonprofit organizations to deliver solutions most needed in their communities. We show our partners how to deliver our models, giving them customized training, tools, and resources. The cumulative effect of these local actions is profound; by building coalition, MAF is able to achieve much greater impact than we could on our own.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Campaigns
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

MAF is fortunate to be backed by private foundation and corporate funders, some of whom have made multi-year investments in our organization. In addition to grant funding, our diverse revenue streams include earned income from licensing fees, program-related investments, local government grants and contracts, and funding from CDFI to expand loan capital. In recent years, we have made excellent progress in building a strong individual donor program to ensure a healthy financial balance sheet.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

MAF’s Board and 22 FT staff comprises enthusiastic, committed innovators who excel in their field and bring exceptional talent. Our team believe that creativity leads to better solutions. We are: immigrants, parents, creative thinkers, constant tinkerers, and great storytellers. Our diverse, multi-lingual core team is headed by founding CEO Jose Quinonez, a highly respected visionary leader in the nonprofit fintech/asset-building field and a 2016 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 66.7%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 66.7%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 100%

Impact measurement - 66.7%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 66.7%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 66.7%

Potential to scale - 66.7%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 100%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 100%

Potential to scale - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Corner

Brilliant Idea and Great Work!

View all comments