May 13 '21

Introducing Filene's Research Center Fellow, Dr. Mai Nguyen

Filene's Fellow, Dr. Mai Nguyen, joins the Filene Fill-In to chat about her work and her vision for the opportunities credit unions have to change their members lives, positively transform their communities and strategically grow and differentiate their businesses while doing so.

Holly Fearing:

Hello everyone and welcome to the Filene Fill-in. I’m Holly Fearing with Filene. The Filene Fill-In is the podcast where we fill you in on what’s been going on here at Filene’s home-base and out and about in the financial services world. Last fall, Filene launched a new research center to focus on the power of credit unions’ social and community impact — not only to explore the way that this type of work being done by credit unions, if strategically maximized, partnered and amplified, has potential to significantly and positively transform entire communities, but also to explore the way that, through putting a focus on making transformative change for those they serve, credit unions can rightfully claim a key differentiation point in a crowded financial services space. In other words -- To be able to have a research-backed, emotionally compelling, empathetic an irrefutable answer to the theoretic and existential question “why should someone choose to do business with you over anyone else?”

To move this focus into action, we needed to find exactly the right person to lead the work. This is where Dr. Mai Nguyen comes into the Filene picture. And lucky for you, credit unions, for you as well. Officially, through her role as fellow for the Center for Community Social Impact, Dr. Nguyen seeks to measure and expand credit unions' social impact and help credit unions develop strategic advantages in their communities as they affect long-term positive community transformation. Dr. Nguyen, however, is known to be refreshingly unconventional through her work that speaks to the power of what research can do to move people to action when it is translated in ways that are emotionally compelling. For an example, look no further than her multi-media project called “In the Shadows of Ferguson” that tells a 100 year history of how housing and urban policies have racially divided U.S. communities, through an empathetic and accessible approach that bridges research, social science, history, performing art, media, and digital humanities.

As you’ll soon hear, Dr. Nguyen’s research is inspired by the goal of creating equitable and resilient communities through structural and systemic change. She is the director of the design lab at University of California San Diego, a professor of city and regional planning and a housing and urban scholar who seeks to improve the lives of vulnerable and underserved populations. In this episode, you’ll get an introduction to her work and her vision for the opportunities credit unions have to change their members’ lives, positively transform their communities and strategically grow and differentiate their businesses while doing so. So, let’s get to it!

Okay, welcome to the podcast, Dr. Mai Nguyen, and congratulations on being Filene's newest research fellow.

Mai Nguyen:

Thank you so much for having me here today.

Holly Fearing:

And welcome back to the show, Taylor. How is life with two babies now?

Taylor Nelms:

We are sleeping less, but other than that, enjoying family time, for sure. Thanks for having me back, Holly.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah, of course. We're so happy to have you back. Okay, Mai, can you get us started a little bit, talking about what it means to you to be leading Filene's research on community and social impact for credit unions?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. I am just so incredibly excited to lead this new Center on Community Social Impact because I get to work with credit unions to think more systematically about how to tackle root causes of inequality and to try to track and monitor progress in order to make effective change. And for me, a powerful lever for community social impact is building capital, human, social, and financial capital, in communities that have been systematically and historically excluded from access to capital.

Holly Fearing:

And what is your background area of study? Because this is a very specific type of research. So, can you tell us a little bit more about what your background is and then what led you to find this position to become the research fellow for Filene's Center on this topic?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. I'm an urban planner by training and within urban planning, my expertise is in housing and community development. My research is often focused on the community scale and helping to make communities more equitable and resilient in the face of shocks, whether it be an economic recession, a pandemic, like what we're going through now, or hurricane. When we build strong communities from the inside out, they are better able to withstand these intense shocks to their system and can recover more quickly.

So, in essence, they're more resilient. And I became interested in this Center because it sort of combined so many things that I'm interested in. It focuses on this community scale, as I talked about, and it's working with institutions that have capital to really affect change in communities and build resilient communities that can withstand these sort of, what I call shocks, to their system. And so, this for me seemed to be the perfect opportunity for meeting engage in this type of work with credit unions.

Holly Fearing:

It's really interesting when you put it in that perspective around shocks to communities and the analogy of, or comparison between a physical event, like a hurricane to a more social or political in nature event, but it really makes it so tangible to see how it is also an equal shock and that resiliency is needed for social elements as well.

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah, I think about these as systems and if you have a strong interconnected system that has a lot of support, right, I think of it like scaffolding where if one thing breaks, then the whole system doesn't break because it's strong and it's integrated and there's redundant systems. And so, you have to build that in times when there isn't a disaster, so you can withstand a disaster, and communities are like that. They need to constantly be fed and supported and strengthened in order to withstand the shocks.

Holly Fearing:

Taylor, I'm curious about how this topic even just came into the fold for Filene. So can you talk a little bit about where this need came from and what were the challenges that you were hearing about in the credit union industry that kind of led us to making an entire research center around this topic?

Taylor Nelms:

Yeah, absolutely. As everyone who listens to this podcast will know, obviously credit unions have long been mission-driven member focused organizations, hybrid organizations that obviously are deeply committed to the wellbeing of their members and their members' communities. What we've started to see from credit unions that we work with and more broadly in the space of social impact and philanthropy is a real sea change in the ways that organizations credit unions included approach the community focused work that they want to do. And that sea change really has a few components. So first, folks are really looking for strategies to enhance their impact, to strategize and focus around the resources that they have available to be able to invest directly in their communities, whether that's financial investment or and this speaks to the sort of second piece of that sea change, through the products, services, and other work that they do. So, I think a of credit unions are looking for ways to align their actions as a service provider with their actions as a true community organization, as a coach for their members and households, as an advocate for their members and communities. And as a leader, right, in their broader neighborhoods, regions employer groups, associations, and communities writ large. So, credit unions are really looking for ways to target some of those downstream concerns that Mai mentioned whether those are some of the root causes of poverty and inequality in communities, or some of the root causes that undermine community resilience. And at the same time, they're looking for ways to better measure and demonstrate the impact that they're already having and the impact that they hope to have as they really strategize for ways to deepen their positive impact in their communities.

Holly Fearing:

And why was it that Dr. Nguyen was selected specifically to be the Fellow for this work?

Taylor Nelms:

I'm really excited to be working with Mai. There's a whole range of reasons why she really rose to the top of our search. I would say that her research background is first and foremost the thing that gets me most excited, she combines that focus on poverty and inequality and trying to understand the economics, social political dynamics of poverty and inequality with a real focus on place. And as an urban planner, she understands geography and the role that geography plays in poverty and inequality. But she also has a long history of working with community organizations as an urban planner and as an academic in really participatory ways. And she has a long history of doing the hard work of translating research insights into actionable formats and ultimately into the kind of impact that Filene itself wants to have. I think that one thing that Mai and I have talked about that we're really excited about is, just as credit unions are on this social impact journey, so too is Filene. And as we dig into the work through this Center, we'll really be collaborating with our credit union and credit union system partners to up our own game in terms of deepening our impact, expanding our impact, and then measuring and demonstrating it.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah, it is absolutely true that everyone at Filene is very excited to be working with Mai. And some of the past work that we've seen of hers is getting all of our wheels turning and thinking about what the future of the Center will look like. Mai, you've stated that the inspiration for your research is in that goal of creating equitable and resilient communities through structural and systemic change. I love this quote that we've seen from you, that you are fascinated by the idea of "geography as destiny." Can you explain what that statement means and how your work strives toward that goal?

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah. When I first began my doctoral studies and became interested in how people sort out in space; why do some people choose to live in cities, why in suburbs, why this neighborhood, why that neighborhood, what I quickly began to realize is that while residential preferences can be realized for some groups, for a large segment of our society, there are tremendous barriers to living where you want. For example, the suburbs at the mid-century were exclusive and did not allow non-whites to live there. Black neighborhoods were redlined, so that black families couldn't receive a mortgage and housing values in redline neighborhoods did not appreciate in value. And home ownership has also been out of reach for so many families due to the high cost of land and housing in hot housing markets. So, some families are really left out of that ability to build wealth through buying homes and living in quality neighborhoods. And what you see is this growing inequality and residential segregation. And when you have such differences across neighborhoods, where some neighborhoods accrue wealth while others don't, then what you also see is that there are so many outcomes that are linked to that, right? Living in a low-quality neighborhood often means your children go to schools that are under-resourced, underfunded, that they're often disconnected from transit and not accessible to healthcare facilities. And so, there's a snowball and compounding impact of where you live and your outcomes.

Holly Fearing:

Many of us here at Filene have recently watched one of your recent projects, it's called "In the Shadows of Ferguson," and it is a performance art piece telling the story of the 100+ year history of how housing and urban policies have racially divided US communities. It's a really powerful piece, and it's done in an unconventional way. Can you tell us a little bit more about this presentation of your research and how it all came to be?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. First, thanks for actually watching it. This project really, for me, was, the spark of it really came after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and what seemed like two very short years later, the killing of Mike Brown Jr. In 2014, both of them unarmed black teenagers killed in the suburbs. I was devastated by the repeated violence and injustice against African Americans. And I think because of social media and just how much media we're fed these days, just those images, reoccurring images over and over again, were traumatizing for so many. And for me, these events and the brutality against African Americans, is a legacy of slavery. But also that it's a legacy of a nation that hasn't really truly reckoned with the compounding injustices that are due to our racist and discriminatory housing and urban policies. And I wanted to use performing art as a way to tell the story about the legacy of racism in US housing and urban policies, so that it could reach a broader audience and disper audience members to social action. Academics were often just talking to other academics and that's not going to lead to the type of social change that we want. And so, "In the Shadows of Ferguson" begins with the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling in 1896. The Supreme court ruling that legalized a system of segregation in the US and then ends in modern day Ferguson around the killing of Mike Brown Jr. And the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the aftermath, and it links those two events. And the story arc is about what typically is pretty dry housing and urban policy. But, because it's told through the experiences of residents of St. Louis, then it becomes more tangible, more real. And I think it evokes empathy for groups that are not like yourself, that are other groups. And it builds compassion. And I think that in our society building empathy and compassion for others is important for social change.

Holly Fearing:

I recommend everyone actually go out and watch that presentation, because it is exactly what you said. It encourages empathy in a really tangible way. I thought a lot as I was watching it, about how I live in a house in Madison, Wisconsin that was built in 1917. And it really put into perspective for me, the landscape of what the housing market was like in when my house was built and who my house was built for and who my neighborhood was built for, and that we really regulated systems of racial inequality into law by the way our housing regulatory structure was established. And I never really thought about it quite so tangibly until I watched that. Taylor, I'm curious to know your reactions to, I know you watched it as well. What were your thoughts on it?

Taylor Nelms:

Yeah, I mean, I think it's an incredibly powerful piece. You know, the thing that really, a couple of things really strike me. One, obviously, is this is an important history for financial services professionals to know. And I think increasingly folks in the credit union industry and more broadly, in consumer and cooperative finance, are starting to reckon with this history, but it's an important first step to be aware, Holly, as you said of, not just the physical landscape, but the business landscape, the regulatory landscape that shaped the kinds of decisions that institutions as well as actors within those institutions, right? So, credit unions and banks and thrifts, and all the other kinds of financial services providers that played a role throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, in many cases, in shaping some of these unequal outcomes in not just where people live, but as Mai's work really shows the life outcomes that are linked to where people live and the access to social services and public provisions that are regulated by geography and by other forms of inequality. So, I think that that's the really key thing is that this is not something that's somehow happened apart from financial services, but that financial services have a really central role to play in it, in that story. And then the second thing is I really think it really speaks to the power of what research can do to move people to action when it's translated in ways that is emotionally compelling and empathetic. I'm really excited for both of those reasons. Both, I think the topic is really critical obviously, and I think it remains a challenge for us. And also, I think that it's really a good example of, it's a very creative, right, and I think that there's a lot that we can do here at Filene in collaboration with Mai, and her collaborators elsewhere to put research into action.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah. I love the thought behind how it all came to be a performance art piece like this. And I'm curious to know from both of you, I know you guys have been collaborating and brainstorming for a little while now around what kinds of things you're going to be doing in the Center for our credit union audience. Do you have thoughts on what's going to be coming in the future for new and unique ways to deliver the results of the research that comes out of the Center to affect a greater impact on our credit union audiences?

Taylor Nelms:

I'll mention one thing, but Mai, I know that you have a couple of ideas actually, that I'm excited for you to maybe float here. And we're in the process of working with some of our industry partners as well, to really uncover in this participatory way that Mai works, what their stakeholder needs are. And so, we're working, we're going to be working with credit unions to really identify those, but I'll mention one thing. You know, I think that it will be really exciting for us to work with credit unions, to understand, to really, baseline the, their current social impact work, whether that's how they align and target their financial services, right, for a high financial inclusion impact or financial wellbeing impact and how they measure then, how what that financial wealth inclusion or financial wellbeing impact actually is. How they align and allocate resources on the philanthropic side of the house, whether that's actual financial dollars or whether it's volunteer hours, or in-kind support community organizations, what are credit unions doing today to strategize? There's so much for us to learn there. And so, I'm really excited for us to do what kind of year over year, the state of credit union social impact, kind of report where we really highlight, what's cutting edge for credit unions right now. What are some of the gaps and what can we learn from outside of the credit union space, and then really kind of highlight some success stories from credit unions who are doing innovative things to advance impact across their organization for their communities. Mai, I know that you had a couple of ideas too, around, some kind of map or resource repository. Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about those.

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah. I've been thinking about in what way could I serve credit unions and provide a tool for them to have to identify the most socially vulnerable in their communities and perhaps target their activities towards serving those communities. And so I've been thinking about creating what I'll call an Atlas where it's interactive, and it's a tool that has a lot of data that can be compiled in order to create maps of where socially vulnerable populations are in a certain geography that credit unions might be interested in, let's say their service area, or maybe in a city that they're working in, but the map could be interactive in that you could click on different dimensions that you're interested in. Say the percent of poverty in census tracks, which are the unit where we consider to be neighborhoods or racial and ethnic, or the percent elderly or a percent foreign born. If you think that foreign born populations are more under-banked for example, so they might have some questions as to who they could better serve. And we could create a tool where they could enter, they could go online and play around with some of these maps in order to better understand who the population is, what, what the socio-demographics of the population that they'd like to serve. So that's one thing that we've been talking about Taylor, and I've been talking about. And then the other thing is to really identify, I think Taylor mentioned this earlier, identify credit unions already doing this work in terms of community social impact, and they may be doing it very well. So, to identify what those credit unions are, what they're doing, and to look at it from a lens of, is this scalable, are there lessons learned here that other credit unions can learn? Can we evaluate it? Can we quantify or put some metrics around what they're doing and then amplify so can we create a repository of best practices or promising practices in order that there's a way in which credit unions who want to do this work have sort of a one-stop shop where they can go and look at what's been done and what's been done successfully, and what's scalable.

Holly Fearing:

And what are you maybe most looking forward to in the first couple of months as you get into this role as the fellow for the center, is there a specific project or just a specific effort or learning that you are most looking forward to?

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah, I think I'm really excited to hear from credit unions about what social impact activities they're already engaged in and to hear about what their needs are. I think that for me learning about credit unions, how credit unions are thinking about strategic partnerships across different sectors, such as the public sector, the private sector, the philanthropic sectors, whether or not they have those strategic partnerships in order to have greater impact. I also want to better understand how they leverage additional resources so that they are getting the biggest bang for their buck, so to speak. I think in the short term, I'm here to learn more about what research can be most useful to credit unions, but also to perhaps get them to get credit unions, to think about strategic partnerships and to also think about geography as a potential area for a collective social impact.

Taylor Nelms:

I think that that's actually a really interesting point that credit unions, we've seen a deal of movement by credit unions in focusing their social impact strategies around particular areas of need that align powerfully with their with their own value proposition as financial services organizations, whether that's focusing on financial education for example, or children's health or transportation or affordable housing. But I think what Mai is proposing here is, is really potentially transformative for credit unions. Uh, what she's suggesting is that credit unions find a way to tackle not just the topical areas of need, but the actual neighborhoods and populations of need in ways that can have really potentially transformative positive impact. And for credit unions really aligns with their history and their operating model as community financial organizations. I think it's really an interesting proposal for credit unions to think about how can we recover our history as membership-based organizations in ways that then allow us to leverage our social impact work to greater effect. So, I think it's a really powerful starting place and provocative for credit unions. And I'm excited to see where it goes.

Holly Fearing:

If I could ask you Taylor, to look ahead into the future five years from now, I know that's essentially 50 years from now in the way change is happening in our world, but can you talk a little bit about what you think credit unions might be able to know or do, or what they'll be better at and how they'll be better at helping their communities and their members five years into this research project?

Taylor Nelms:

Yeah, it's hard because I don't know what I'm going to have for lunch today. And so, who knows? No, I mean, in an ideal world, I would love for credit unions at the end of this project to have proven strategies to align their value proposition and business and operating models with their community's real needs. So, to have the resources and tools to uncover what those needs are and to have the resources and tools to develop a powerful product set of powerful social impact and giving and volunteering strategy that really all aligns around those needs. The second is I would like them to have access to some proven strategies for tackling, not just the symptoms of poverty and inequality, but its downstream causes. So that credit unions can really dig deep around some of the most entrenched, longstanding and persistent problems that their communities face and that we face as a country and as a world. And then finally, I think at the end of five years, I would really like us to have a playbook or a toolkit or a resource guide with case studies and examples of not just effective things that credit unions can do themselves. But as Mai was really emphasizing effective partnerships that will help credit unions and their partners implement those strategies that I talked about. And then most importantly, I think track measure demonstrate and communicate the impact of those strategies. So at the end of five years, if we have catalyzed action by credit unions to move in a coordinated way to adopt some of those proven evidence-based solutions to crowd in around what we know can have impact over the medium and long term I'll consider that a profound success.

Holly Fearing:

Mai, one of the greatest reasons why this is so important to bring in academics from a broader perspective is you've really come to us from outside of the financial services space to broaden our perspective, open our eyes, to seeing the work that's being done in this effort, in other spaces, other industries. Have you seen this work being successful elsewhere or insights that you've learned, or solutions implemented through your experience in your work outside of the realm that we're talking about here today?

Mai Nguyen:

I'll say that actually right now in this very moment in this very historic moment, I'm actually seeing the most collective or the biggest collective understanding about structural racism and inequality that I've seen in my entire career, meaning that across these different sectors, people are talking about it. People organizations are wanting to make change and real systemic change. And I think it'll require all of us, right? This multi-pronged multi-sector commitment. In order to actually have real social change and credit unions can be a real powerful player in this. And so, to answer your question, have I seen this elsewhere? A number of years ago, few years ago, the Ford foundation shifted all of their grant making to fight inequality. That was their one goal, and they announced that they would be tackling financial, racial, and gender inequalities. And they're actually providing operating funds, operating support to organizations that do this work. Now, this is it's pretty unprecedented that a philanthropic organization would do this. And this is them shifting about a billion dollars of their funding over five years for operational support, for organizations who are fighting inequality and that's subsidized substantial. In the last few years, I've also seen local elected officials in cities really thinking about dismantling structural inequality, such as eliminating single family zoning, that has been an exclusionary mechanism to keep out low income families in amenity rich neighborhoods, right cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota have done this. And the state of Oregon has implemented this throughout the entire state in all of their cities and they're even cities talking about reparations planning cities such as Evanston, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Portland, Oregon, and Asheville, North Carolina have adopted reparations plans. And then when you think about nationally, this election has brought to the forefront, the need for national policies to promote racial equity. And the current president elect has, has a proposal to promote racial equity in terms of the recovery from this current pandemic and recognizing that the economic and health crisis that we face right now has hit Brown and black communities the hardest. And I believe having a national framework with laws and policies to advance opportunities for these communities has the potential to have a great social impact. So, I think many different sectors are actually tackling this in this very important historic moment.

Holly Fearing:

Taylor, how would you recommend that credit unions get involved in this work? Because, as we start to dive in and all of the things we've been talking about here today, there's no need for them to sit around and wait until the research is produced. How can credit unions get involved right away on the front end of this work?

Taylor Nelms:

Yeah, I mean, there's a bunch of ways that we work and really are excited to work with credit unions in this area in particular going forward. First of all, we source our research questions from our credit union partners and credit union system partners. So, what questions do you credit union folks have on your minds when it comes to community social impact? We want to hear those. Second, we work with our credit union and credit union system partners to collect data, quantitative data case study data. All of the work that we do is really only made possible in partnership and collaboration with credit unions. And so, yes, we want your data, but we want to do it in a way that is beneficial for you and mutually valuable. Um and I think that there's some really amazing opportunities with a researcher like Mai, at the helm of this center of excellence to partner with organizations to collect new data, analyze existing data sets build out examples of innovative best practices as Mai was mentioning earlier. So, we're excited to do that. And then finally, I think really important work. We're always looking for partners in implementation. You know, our research insights are always producing ideas that can be piloted and tested whether formally in our incubator through some kind of custom research partnership with Filene or, simply on credit unions working on their own to take one of our insights and put it into practice. Those are absolutely critical for our own theory of change here at Filene to better understand the impact that our work is having and to work together to ensure that that impact is happening and a focused and positive way. So, I would say, reach out proactively, but perhaps the best thing you can do is make sure that you join us at our future event research event that the Center for Community Social Impact will be having in collaboration with the Center for Diversity Equity and Inclusion. And that's coming up this June 2021, June 22nd and 23rd. So those are some of the ways that we're excited to work with our credit unions and credit union system partners.

Holly Fearing:

Mai, one of the reasons why we love doing these podcasts with our new Fellows is that it also gives us a chance to get to know a little bit more about you as a human. So, can you talk a little bit about what other professional or research pursuits that you are just inspired by, or find most interesting out there besides everything that we just talked about today?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. I also conduct research on the effects of climate change on communities and how communities are adapting to climate change. There's a real tension between keeping communities intact and in place due to the social ties and fabric of the community, even though they might be vulnerable to certain weather events, or moving them to safer ground because these places are vulnerable to disasters, right? There's really no right answer to this question. And so, it becomes a very difficult complex issue of climate change adaptation. How do we do that? And how do we respect our history and memory? Um as these climate events are becoming more intense and more frequent over time. Millions and millions of people are going to have to migrate from their residences over the next 50 years just in the US and so these are real concerns that we have in decisions we need to be making in our communities.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah. That's so important too, to link that connection, like you were saying earlier around geography and destiny, and it absolutely takes form in many different ways, including climate change. So that's very smart to connect that kind of thinking together. I also wanted to ask; we have a really amazing lineup of Fellows. Taylor can speak to this as well, and they all have their own special skills. And so, I would love to know a little bit more about what it is that you like to do outside of your academic or research work. What are some of your hobbies or pastimes or favorite things to do?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. pre pandemic, I would say I love to travel with my family. I have two kids and I'm usually when I give them a gift, it's usually a gift of some experience. So, two summers ago we spent two weeks in Thailand where they got to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary and feed elephants and bath elephants. And then watch the elephants take a painting class because I don't know if you know that elephant can paint.

Holly Fearing:

Wow. That's amazing.

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah. So it’s, always fun to see the joy on their face when they get to experience something new. We also love to get up on the mountain and snowboard as a family. So that's always fun. Just, I think getting outside typically and during the pandemic, we've really embraced this idea of homesteading, hunkering down. I started gardening; I have a big vegetable garden. We got chickens and so we have what I call eight pandemic chickens. And I cook a lot of meals, so, and we take lots of long nature walks and sit by the fire outside. So really just kind of embracing this time we have together.

Holly Fearing:

That's wonderful. Do you do your chickens ever get loose? There are a lot of people that have chickens in my neighborhood, and I've grown, used to randomly seeing chickens walk down my street. Is that something that happens with your chickens too?

Mai Nguyen:

They have an enclosure. A pretty nice posh, big enclosure. So, they don't get loose. Yeah,

Holly Fearing:

That's good. That's good.

Taylor Nelms:

Mai, what's the most delicious vegetable, fruit or vegetable that you've grown in your garden this year?

Mai Nguyen:

My parents send me seeds from their garden and they grow a lot of Vietnamese vegetables. And I actually don't know what the English name for them, but there is one that grows on a vine. It's actually a loofa, it's like a squash, and you make soup with it and it's delicious.

Taylor Nelms:

Is it like a green I'm trying to; I think I know this it's like a green squash?

Mai Nguyen:

Yes. It's green looks like a squash, but it's called a loofa, they make loofahs out of them when they dry sponges. Yeah.

Taylor Nelms:

Cool.

Holly Fearing:

When I was in Vietnam, they made a soup out of a green leafy vegetable that I had never heard of in the States before, but they called it Morning Glory, but it's not the Morning Glory that I know of with the flowers that grow on a vine. Are you familiar with that?

Mai Nguyen:

Yeah, I have that in my garden as we speak. Yep. Yep.

Holly Fearing:

Oh, I love that. I love the savory soup for breakfast. That was so delicious.

Mai Nguyen:

I know. That's what I did a lot in March was just to cook up soup and then freeze it just as comfort food during the pandemic.

Taylor Nelms:

Apparently, the Loofa Gord is its official name. It's also known according to an 1888 catalog as a Dish Cloth Gord. So, there you go.

Mai Nguyen:

It's called Muop and it's sort of my dad's signature vegetable that he grows in his garden.

Taylor Nelms:

Sounds delicious.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah. And are you still able to, at this time of year have a garden? Because I'm looking outside my window and the only thing left is kale. That's the only thing that can survive the temperatures here in Wisconsin now. Are you still able to grow vegetables?

Mai Nguyen:

I'm in North Carolina and actually a fall garden is much easier to tend to in North Carolina. So, I'm growing cabbages and broccoli and kale, lots of kale.

Holly Fearing:

I'm envious of that. Yeah, I think our season is past Taylor. Were you able to, do you have a vegetable garden now in your new house?

Taylor Nelms:

We just moved into the new house in late spring, so we didn't get the vegetable garden installed, but we do have a beautiful raspberry bush. So, we did have raspberries all summer, which was really wonderful. We battled the Japanese beetles and they won some, we won some, but we weren't able to enjoy some of the raspberries. So that was a joy.

Holly Fearing:

That's nice Taylor. I know that you and I were trying to get like pandemic recipes together from everyone that we interview. So maybe we'll have to have, Mai send us her favorite recipe from the pandemic.

Taylor Nelms:

Yeah. Do you have a favorite pandemic meal that you've had with your family?

Mai Nguyen:

I cook a lot of pho. And that is our go-to during this pandemic, because you can make a big vat and eat it throughout the whole week.

Taylor Nelms:

Mai, I have to say, Holly, Mai and I share a bit of history here in that, our time did not overlap, but both of us spent a good deal of time at the University of California- Irvine in Orange County. And Mai, I have to say that the thing, one of the things that I miss most about Orange County about, about Southern California is, is the pho like very specifically, I wish that I could get, a bowl of really hot pho here in Madison and it exists, but it's not quite the same as what I could find in SoCal.

Mai Nguyen:

That's why I started, I learned how to cook it because it wasn't the same here in North Carolina. So, I had to figure out how to make it so that it felt like home.

Taylor Nelms:

I have my next project, that sounds delicious.

Mai Nguyen:

I have a turkey pho recipe. So, after Thanksgiving you can reuse the turkey bones. It's delicious.

Taylor Nelms:

That sounds brilliant.

Holly Fearing:

That sounds like a contender for our recipe book, for sure.

Taylor Nelms:

Oh, absolutely.

Holly Fearing:

All right, Mai, so before we wrap this up, I want to ask if you can leave our listeners with a piece of advice. So, for credit unions that want to make a greater impact in their communities and for their members right away, what is one thing that they can get started on right now?

Mai Nguyen:

Sure. I think one thing credit unions can do right away is to reflect on the activities that they are currently engaged in across their financial services, their financial technology and philanthropy activities, and see whether or not they're aligned to have the greatest social impact. It's sort of a review of what they're already doing and if not, and how can they be more aligned? I think that would be one quick, easy way to start thinking about social impact.

Holly Fearing:

Great. Taylor, was there anything else that we didn't cover here today that you wanted to make sure our listeners heard?

Taylor Nelms:

I would just say that, we're so excited about the opportunities that we have in front of us. And I think it's also really important to recognize that, we're building on a deep archive of work that folks at Filene have already taken on and completed on behalf of credit unions. And so, our listeners can go to the Filene website. They can click on the Community Social Impact tab underneath Learn Something, and you can see some of the previous work that we've done, work around piloting lending products for minority households and communities, tools and toolkits around enhancing your members' financial wellbeing, how mutual aid can be a really critical thing to support, especially in times of uncertainty and disaster, such as during the pandemic. And then, folks are looking for something to do right away. I would say that, my suggestion is really the critical first step, but if you want to take action, there's a really wonderful proposal from George Hofheimer, our former EVP and chief knowledge officer, about how credit unions can do something really dramatic and that's take 10% of their of their earnings over the course of a year, and commit to taking that 10% and dedicating it to social impact work. There's some math that George goes into about the potential impact that that kind of credit union tide could have over the long-term, but I think it's a really profound step that credit unions should consider.

Holly Fearing:

Great. and I'll add that, I think all credit unions listening to this should take an hour maybe with your teams and watch "In the Shadows of Ferguson", because it's a great background and gives you a great starting place if you're not familiar already with the history of housing and urban policies. So, we will put that link to that in the show notes as well. Okay. So, I think that is everything that I had for both of you to cover. Thank you again so much, Mai, for being here for the work that you've done already and the work that you will be doing with us at Filene. We're very excited for the outcomes from this work. So, we've got a long way ahead of us to go, and we're very excited about what's possible with it.

Mai Nguyen:

Thank you, Holly. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today.

Holly Fearing:

Alright, that’s it for the Fill-In folks, thank you for listening. And of Course – a huge Thank you to Dr. Mai Nguyen and Taylor Nelms for taking the time to talk with us today.

Reflecting on what we heard from Mai and Taylor, it is clear that current public health, economic and social injustice crises demonstrate that financial services are indispensable community partners, and credit unions are positioned to be leaders in the national conversation about financial well-being and equality.

My hope is that you leave this episode feeling inspired by the unique opportunity credit unions have to reinvest in their value proposition as community financial institutions while tackling the most critical social challenges of our time around housing and hunger, education and environment, poverty and inequality. This work, however, will not be quick or easy and will require organizational alignment and creative partnerships with community members and organizations.

The uplifting news is that you are not alone in this work, and you do not need to figure this out alone. I strongly encourage you to take a moment right now to register for Filene’s next virtual research event called “Amplifying Impact: Connecting Credit Unions and Communities” on June 22-23 where we will connect you with hundreds of likeminded credit union professionals and experts in the field to share new knowledge and stimulate thinking about how credit unions can create and leverage connections with their community for competitive differentiation, organizational growth, and positive social and economic impact. Go to filene.org/events to claim your spot!

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Until next time. Thanks everyone!