Imagine you are traveling through the hills outside of Oaxaca. Rugged mountain vistas, multicolored buildings peppering a hillside, ancient ruins under a bright blue sky. What would be on you mind? Banking options perhaps?
If you’re Tricia McKay, that’s exactly what you’re thinking about.
In Oaxaca, a small credit union and micro-lending agency has sprung up to foster financial stability in communities where seven out of ten individuals have no access to banks or other financial services. Hearing about this development, Tricia began thinking about her own city of Seattle.
Twenty percent of Seattle’s population is unbanked and those individuals are often forced into predatory lending cycles. “Someone we supported would be coming out of a shelter, get a payday loan, start a cycle of debt and wind up right back in that homeless shelter,” Tricia tells Seattle Times’ Kristi Heim.
Even once the check is cashed, individuals still face the possibility of theft. In neighborhoods where people don’t use banks, crime rates spike every pay day. “People simply know when folks will bring home cash,” explains Tricia.
So what is the solution? Inspired by what she had seen in Oaxaca, Tricia and her colleagues at the Medina Foundation began exploring the idea of a business that catered specifically to Seattle’s low and moderate income communities and first time bankers. Five years later, a new kind of bank opened its doors.
Read about Express Credit Union and hear from the clients it serves in Kristi Heim’s Seattle Times article…
For the Medina Foundation, which primarily focuses on social services, this endeavor was far outside their comfort zone. “We actually had to redefine our mission to recognize financial services as a basic human service,” says Tricia.
“Foundations have such an amazing perch from which we can see connections, gaps and abuses. With that gift of sight, and the ability to act, how can you not?”
Fortunately for the Medina Foundation they did not have to act alone. Limited in their financial expertise they merged their project with an existing credit union. Funders from around the region stepped forward to contribute and BECU offered additional infrastructural support.
The Medina Foundation’s nonprofit partners, such as Hopelink and the YWCA, provide social service programs and trusted faces for the people Express hopes to serve. Tricia recalls pitching the idea to local social services organizations. “They nearly grabbed us by the collars and said ‘Yes!’ They have worked with us for three years, volunteering their time to help develop a solution that meets the needs of their clients. They are the true heroes in this story.”
A huge number of individuals also volunteered their time during the planning stages.
“At one point there were 70 people on various advisory boards. It is a true partnership model.”
Some of the Express task forces included SVP Partners, two of which now serve on the Express twin boards (one for the credit union, and one for the nonprofit arm). “I was able to tap the skills and expertise of my fellow Partners, who have been really generous with their time,” says Tricia. “I got some of my best contacts through SVP.”