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MacArthur Foundation Honors California Man for Helping Poor

Jose Quinonez, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, and his Mission Asset Fund have formalized the "lending circle" practice, tracking borrowing and repayment activity and helping people to build credit histories, Sept. 12, 2016. (Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacAr
MacArthur Foundation Honors California Man
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A private group has recognized a California man who helps poor people and immigrant families.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced last month that Jose Quinonez is receiving one of its "genius” grants. He was one of 23 people to get recognized.

Quinonez was born in Mexico, but moved to the United States as a boy.

Today he is a financial service innovator. Quinonez set up a not-for-profit organization called the Mission Asset Fund. Its job is to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families.

Borrowing money is a big step for people who want to start a business.

Quinonez says his goal is to make loans available to individuals who have limited finances. He said about seven percent of Americans do not have a bank account and do not show up on the credit rating system. Without a credit history, it is difficult for them to borrow money, get a job or start a business.

Quinonez is using money lending traditions from Latin America, Asia and Africa to help those in need. He organized "lending circles," where groups of neighbors and others combine their money to make small loans.

Each individual has to attend a final education class, and persuade others in the lending circle to repay the money.

Quinonez says more than 99 percent of the loans are repaid.

He and the Mission Asset Fund follow borrowing and repayment activity. They report results to major credit rating agencies. This information gives the individual a proven repayment history. A good credit history makes banks more willing to make loans to these clients in the future.

Jose Quinonez’ work with the fund and minorities in San Francisco helped him earn a MacArthur Fellowship.

A number of other organizations are now using Mission Asset Fund as a guide to setting up similar programs in other cities.

MacArthur Fellows are chosen for their creativity, past successes and potential. They get $625,000 over five years in an effort to give them the financial freedom to follow through on their projects.

The MacArthur Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Its website says the group “supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.”

The foundation also honored a number of people for their work in other areas. This year’s class of MacArthur fellows include a human rights lawyer, an expert on languages, a microbiologist, computer scientists and a poet.

I’m Lucija Millonig.

Jim Randle wrote this story for Jim Dresbach adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

geniusn. a very smart or gifted person

grantn. an amount of money that is given by an organization or company to be used for a purpose

innovator – n. a person who does something in an new or unusual way

client – n. someone who pays a person or organization for services

potential – adj. having the ability to become real

institution - n. an established organization

verdantadj. green, with growing plants