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©2019 by Community Credit Lab

  • Ryan Glasgo

In moments of turmoil or change, I've often turned inward and gone back to places of comfort and knowledge. These places include physical locations like Vermont, where I grew up; philosophical places like existential questions ("what is it all for"); and places or ideas constructed by others. In returning to known places recently, one of the books that came to mind in the midst of COVID is Immoderate Greatness by William Ophuls due to its focus on moderating exponential growth, adapting to entropy, and learning from the resulting challenges that societies have faced (or been ruined by) throughout history.

As I've come to learn, historical context is the most important factor to developing a lens capable of prioritizing approaches that reverse the negative effects of historical systems. It's through a basic understanding of history and an in depth understanding of the financial system that we seek to reverse course at Community Credit Lab by providing regenerative 0% interest loans when lending to underserved communities.

In times of bull markets and economic growth just a few weeks ago, this discount seemed absurd to many, but respected by those whom we seek to serve. Now, in a time of crisis, this discount is becoming increasingly commonplace and almost intuitive - waiving interest makes sense when we are designing for people first and foremost. As a community lender focused on 0% interest regenerative lending, we joined a movement of other affordable community lenders and seek to continue listening to social movement organizations that have called for increased affordable lending for decades. We're now excited to see more products rolled out that provide affordable lending programs. However, we also encourage people to look beneath the hood of these products and ask basic questions to understand the full terms, design, and motivations of these loans – what do they prioritize?

Although difficult, it's worth recognizing that at some point (hopefully soon), this period will be historic. It will be historic for many of its enormous negative ramifications, but it will also be historic for positive actions, community responses, and collective changes. At present, we must determine whether detrimental ramifications will outweigh our positive actions or vice versa. According to Ophuls, the only way to lean towards the latter is to look inward first:

"In the end, mastering the historical process would require human beings to master themselves."

We must look inward to reflect on our own nature and innate desire to prioritize each other, recognize that the whole of our civilization is the sum of its parts and the nature of our society is the sum of our individual actions. Historically, our collective aspirations have been set on exponential economic growth as the primary indicator of success - the precedent at the top has been that our collective nature should be to grow in perpetuity. Again, according to Ophuls, this has always been the case:

"For it is in the nature of civilizations to wax greater."

Perhaps now is the time to imagine a better way. Calls for COVID as a catalyst for change have been resounding and expedited changes have been coming steadily and deliberately in response lately. Let us keep in mind the purpose of this expedition: prioritizing humanity. Decisions are being made on a daily basis that weigh economic outcomes against health outcomes as if they are separate, siloed trajectories. Instead, now is the time to recognize the intrinsic intersections between these objectives, between geographies, and between each other. If we remain focused on prioritizing humanity, we inherently prioritize both economic and health outcomes across all communities.

In order to do this, something in society will need to change: we must turn to moderation before we turn back to expansion and through moderation at the top, expansion will come for those who need it most at the bottom. This approach has recently been dubbed Solidarity Economics and is summed up nicely by Ophuls:

"Wisdom consists in consciously renouncing immoderate greatness."

It is important to recognize that renouncing immoderate greatness does not mean we are lesser off -- yes, at the individual level, we may initially feel that way because many have been told there is a singular path where all roads end in greatness, but at a societal level, we may come to feel whole in ways that we did not foresee as possible. Just as COVID has forced us inward, to ourselves and our loved ones, it may also force us outwards to expand our conception of what it means to share life and resources with others. By turning inwards to reflect and outwards to support each other, we will lift our collective morale, a necessary ingredient per Ophuls:

"Maintaining a civilization takes a continuous input of matter, energy, and morale, and the latter is actually the most important."

The above rings true in our current state: morale is a tremendous factor in where we go from here. From recent experience, morale waivers significantly day to day, as anxiety looms and uncertainty unfolds. But, morale is also peeking her head out from behind the curtain like a child playing hide and seek, impatient with our stubborn searching. Morale is sparked through human interconnectedness: whether via a virtual hour with friends, a video call with colleagues, a dinner with family or a call to parents to check in. Morale also stems from action in the face of paralysis - deliberate and collective action towards a shared goal. For some, this goal may be survival in a time of crisis; for others, this goal may involve deeper personal reflection, per Ophul's guidance:

"Envision an alternative to civilization as it is currently conceived and constituted. This alternative, which could not be imposed but would have to emerge slowly and organically, should allow humanity to thrive. It would require a fundamental change in the ethos of civilization - to wit, the deliberate renunciation of greatness in favor of simplicity, frugality, and fraternity.”

Regardless of where we go from here, let us not forget the actions we took in a moment of crisis: whether they were small acts of kindness or large acts of policy, let us remember that these acts matter and will matter, not just to the people they directly benefitted, but to our collective societal trajectory. As we act in solidarity with others, let’s also remember the importance of listening to and elevating solutions that come from communities most impacted.

While we seek to prioritize humanity in a time of crisis, we must also remember that crisis has been commonplace for many throughout their lives. Our board member reminded me lately that there are many people in our society who have shown resilience since the day they were born and will continue to do so in the face of COVID. While resilience may be new to some, it is commonplace for many others.

When we look back on this moment, let us reflect on the fact that we stood together in support of those who were already resilient – those who have been focused on Ophul's principles of simplicity, frugality and fraternity by necessity. Let us take comfort in the fact that we prioritized humanity together. If we are capable of this, our collective morale will reach unprecedented levels and we will not fear the unknown because we will belong in solidarity together.

“Whether human beings are capable of such sagacity is a question only the future can answer."

If you are funder or investor interested in capitalizing our 0% interest lending programs, please contact us soon: ryan@communitycreditlab.org;

If you are a nonprofit interested in designing a 0% interest lending program, please contact us: sandhya@communitycreditlab.org;

If you are individual interested in supporting our lending programs, please join us by subscribing on Patreon. We are hoping to reach 100 supporters as soon as possible to continue rolling out affordable lending programs.

Ref: William Ophuls, Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail, CreateSpace, 2012.

  • Sandhya Nakhasi

At times when Ryan and I feel stuck or unsure of what path to take, we try to reflect on natural systems and patterns to give us insight and perspective. We are taking lessons from how mycelium, through its connectedness, builds healthier ecosystems by shifting resources from those with excess to those that require support. We are training ourselves to flow and adapt to change like water [1] filling in empty spaces. Most recently, to guide us as we move forward - we tried to figure out a natural analogy for our work and its connection to others. This analogy is imperfect and highly simplified - with time and more learning will likely evolve, so bear with us as we explore this together.

We are starting to see ourselves as organisms at the edge (fringe) of a long-standing forest (traditional financial system) – one that has been developed over a long period of time with structures and dynamics that have been reinforced over centuries. But, it’s important to note that just because the ecosystem of that forest exists, does not mean it is healthy. This forest has evolved focused on a hierarchy – placing the importance of some over the balance of all. Looking around the edge of the forest, other organisms are also creating and reacting to the environment around them – innately we know that organisms can flourish by working together. As organisms in conversation with the each other and the environment, we are not creating from a vacuum, but rather we are evolving elements of the existing ecosystem. And what we collectively choose to take or leave behind from the long-standing flora is important: we seek to build using existing financial tools and structures in new ways by reconfiguring them to prioritize humanity.

Community Credit Lab’s first lending program pilots launched over the last few months have drawn from several existing approaches: trust-based underwriting that is utilized with lending circles, no-interest lending concept seen in informal lending that happens between friends and family, and the flexibility and patience in repayment seen in revenue-based lending models or equity investments. What is being taken and tested from each of these models is intentionally emergent and reactive to feedback from community members and our partners.

People sometimes ask us if we would ever consider using “insert specific financial product here.” These are often products or models like revenue-based or income-sharing loans/structures, lending circles, alternative payday loans, convertible notes…the list goes on. We generally reply by saying – each of these financial products and tools are just that - tools. Any lending product can be used to support people effectively or can be punitive and extractive. It is how we orient the design that matters. What we choose to take or leave behind is important.

Recently, we’ve seen how income sharing agreements, initially created to offer a flexible way for students to pay for higher education, have been shown to charge higher rates to majors with less earnings potential – majors that are predominately chosen by women and people of color. Alternatively, we are also seeing models of how lending circles – a model that has existed in communities for centuries – can be formalized to help people build credit history. Because we seek to be part of a collective that changes the financial system to prioritize humanity, two simple and initial questions we ask on a weekly basis are:

  • Who are we designing for?

  • Which elements of tools that exist can be reconfigured (or created) to support them?

It is hard to avoid wedding ourselves to one tool or model that can scale, but it will never be just one tool, product or model that is the solution. We know that it will require many organizations championing change to create an abundance of financial products that are oriented around the challenges people face in order to tip the scales towards creating shifts and actions across the broader forest (system). People have different challenges and different needs – the tools that are created to meet these needs will be many in number, will need to be flexible, and most importantly, will need to prioritize humanity first and foremost.

As I think about the systemic change Community Credit Lab desires to see, I try to remember the advice of author, educator and producer, Tananarive Due in her note to author and social change facilitator, adrienne maree brown:

“Life and true change are bigger than all of us…the journey is the work, the work is the journey.”[2]

We are not the first and we will not be the last ones to work on shifting to a more equitable financial system. But, it is important to remember that the work is never lost. All of us around the fringe working towards equity are constantly drawing from existing models and what we build will be further iterated. To change the orientation of our financial system will take time and will require us to remain in conversation. If we are collectively building on existing tools and models with deliberate intention to prioritize humanity – this shift will happen.

[1]Bruce Lee on being like water. Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey (Warner Home Video, 2000). [2]Brown, A.M. (2017). Emergent strategy.California: AK Press.


Updated: Mar 26

Community Credit Lab is excited to announce our newest partnership with Jewish Family Service of Seattle to provide access to 0% interest loans to support living expenses for foreign educated immigrants and refugee professionals participating in the inaugural complimentary coding bootcamp with Coding Dojo. Participants will receive comprehensive employment case management support, monetary support for some living expenses and access to professional mentors from Jewish Family Service, coding training and employment facilitation from Coding Dojo, and living stipend loans from Community Credit Lab.

As a part of enrolling in the Coding Dojo bootcamp offered in partnership with Jewish Family Service of Seattle, participants will be given a $1,000, 0% interest loan from Community Credit Lab to pay for living expenses during the course. The amount due back to Community Credit Lab will only be the amount borrowed paid over time and will be repaid when participants gain access to employment. We are excited to pilot this multi-pronged partnership and support people who have relevant skills from foreign countries as they seek to access training and career support, increase income, and establish themselves in the community.

If you're interested in supporting these and other loan programs, join us on Patreon!