José Quiñonez

Ashoka Fellow
San Francisco, California, United States
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when José Quiñonez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
José is positioning citizen organizations (COs)—starting with his—to become bridge-builders between unbanked and underbanked communities and the mainstream financial sectors in a way that builds new pathways to economic inclusion. With his team, José identifies popular informal financial activities (such as lending circles) and translates those activities into formal transactions that banks can formally recognize. The magic is that neither citizens nor financial institutions are asked to change much at all in the process. Low-income communities continue to engage in lending circles as they normally would, and José’s organization plays largely a facilitation role. Importantly, José reports every loan made and taken out to a credit bureau by issuing promissory notes, thus formalizing the activity. The benefits experienced—such as improving credit scores by 20 to 36 points—builds trust and captures people’s attention and imagination. José uses this opportunity to build pathways for the unbanked and the underbanked to integrate the financial mainstream as informed consumers, slowly graduating from one financial product to the next and transitioning them as quickly as possible to financial institutions—which are eager to absorb a new client base with virtually no effort on their part. Recognizing that these new clients will need guidance to make healthy financial decisions, José is using partnerships and policy initiatives to create incentives for banks to become more clear and transparent about their products and services.

Since 2008, José and his team have facilitated more than $2.4 million in zero-interest, zero-fee loans to more than 1,800 people. José has transformed the vehicle for this idea—the Mission Asset Fund—from an organization focused on the financial inclusion of the Latino community in San Francisco’s Mission district, to an initiative with national ambitions. José is currently replicating his approach through carefully selected community-based organizations in California, Nevada, and Minnesota.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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