3bl logo

Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Occupy Wall Street? San Francisco's Done That Already

Words by Hannah Miller
Investment & Markets

“There are two distinct financial systems in this country,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros to the crowd at TEDx Presidio, Sat. Sept. 8. “There’s the mainstream, and there’s the system for the financial fringe.” Over the last few years, San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment, started by Cisneros, has enrolled thousands in programs to bring poor San Franciscans from one to the other...taking on inequality in financial services years before it was cool.

Cisneros, standing on stage at the Palace of Fine Arts and addressing the Presidio Graduate School’s 2012 TEDx theme “Re-Inventing Capitalism,” said his office had reconfigured the city's financial services industry in order to relieve poverty, conducting educational campaigns and moving residents away from payday loans and check cashing places to open savings and checking accounts.


Since 2006, the Bank on San Francisco program has gotten 10,000 ‘unbanked’ San Franciscans to open accounts, in a program that has been replicated in over 100 cities and towns around the country.

The Office of Financial Empowerment has also gotten 51,100 individuals and families to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, returning an estimated $7.4 million to the poorest people in San Francisco, according to their site. The office also runs financial planning seminars, a homeownership program, and a low-cost lending circles program for low-income and immigrant families in conjunction with the Mission Asset Fund.

Amongst the other business and non-profit speakers, there was one other governmental representative on the bill at TEDx Presidio this year: Campbell Vice Mayor Evan Low. When elected in 2009, Low was the youngest Asian American mayor in the country, and later the youngest openly gay mayor. Low started his TEDx talk with the story of getting thrown out of a Chinese restaurant for his legislation banning shark fin soup.

Low is an elected representative in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the world's most vive-le-free-market hot spots, but he told the Presidio audience that his philosophy stressed balance between business and the earth. Using the example of the "many bad actors" that led to the housing crisis of the last few years, Low warned against a lack of oversight in financial services and other sectors.

Capitalism "is like ice cream," he said. "Except too much of a good thing has its consequences."


For more TriplePundit TEDx Presidio coverage, click here.

Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller is a writer, ecologist, and adventurer living in Colorado. She is interested in everything, but particularly in creative sustainability practices, the Internet, arts and culture, the human-machine interaction, and democracy. She's lived in Shanghai, New York, L.A., Philadelphia, and D.C., and taught English, run political campaigns, waited tables, and written puppet shows. She definitely wants to hear what you're up to. You can reach her at @hannahmiller215, email at golden.notebook at gmail.com or at her site: www.hannahmiller.net.

Read more stories by Hannah Miller

More stories from Investment & Markets