The perfect loan experience has never existed…until now. Welcome to the Just Community!
By Hannah Nuñez
Financial security should not be a privilege specifically made for the few that fall under its rigid regulations. Yet sadly the system we live under is doing little to help those in genuine need. Rather than providing women of color the opportunity to pursue their dreams, financial platforms are encouraging them to settle for a life lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Just Community, a nonprofit financial platform specifically marketed toward female entrepreneurs of color, is rapidly paving the way for change by working with their partners rather than against them.
After working in microfinances around the world, Steve Wanta realized that America was the minority when it came to their loan process. With 3 out of 4 Texas citizens living in poverty being Black or Hispanic, Wanta knew that his impact had to be focused on those the most in need. In 2016, Wanta began to pursue his dream of founding an honest business focused on women who were often overlooked in the Texas financial system. Rather than basing his business model on hate and skepticism, Wanta opened up his office to all women of color in need who had the determination to begin the process of closing the racial wealth gap one opportunity at a time. Since its founding, Just has worked relentlessly to pave a pathway to prosperity for women in its community.
What sets Just apart from other companies is a strong foundation of trust between partners and its clients. Rather than being hesitant to work with these entrepreneurs, Just takes the time to fully understand and become committed to its clients’ financial and personal goals. Working off of a “trust-based lending” business model, Just doesn’t require a credit score to take out a loan. Meaning that new opportunities open up for individuals who before would have never been given a chance. Vice President of Development Ashley Philips says, “Those who haven’t had access yet to build a financial profile are the ones who need the most help yet are stuck in this loop. Just recognizes those women and allows them a seat at the table.”
The company’s mission statement is “to invest in ambitious Black and Brown entrepreneurs to create generational wealth.” And the results are proof enough of this proactive motto. In the past seven years, Just has had more than 2,200 loyal clients and invested more than $19 million, all while keeping up a 99% repayment rate. While its trust-based system is rare to come by in today’s financial world, the numbers speak for themselves, proving that Just is actively making an impact on the racial wealth gap.
Creating a Home Away From Home
One of the company’s very first clients, Ivonne Salinas, had only been in the U.S. for a month and a half before finding Just. Coming from Mexico, she had experience with other microfinance institutions, personal business endeavors and a long line of entrepreneurial women in her family. With the hustler mindset being all she knew, she was terrified that coming to the U.S. would mean having to start all over again. Moving took all stability out from under her feet and left her terrified of what her future entailed.
When her daughter approached her speaking of a man who supposedly was looking to start a business and needed clients, Salinas’ first reaction was, “No. I’m not interested in taking help from a man I don’t know has my best interest in mind.” Only after hearing the details of the meeting and being pushed by her family, she agreed to meet with Wanta. “The more I heard, the more comfortable I felt. This wasn’t some man in a skyscraper office trying to scam me. This was a man who spoke my language and agreed to meet me at my neighborhood food truck to get lunch and talk.” Salinas displayed the leap of faith that occurs in all clients, and willingly let Wanta meet her in the middle.
From this small trust fall blossomed a complex business that Salinas fell in love with. She is now the director of growth and programs at Just and leader for other Hispanic women who feel lost and scared to make that initial jump into their future.
The company’s three pillars are capital, coaching and community. But Philips believes their work will forever be based on the foundation of support instilled in one another rather than any aspect of money. Contrary to businesses with a rigid system that often discourages women from their goals, Just works from a peer-coaching structure. “We’ve taken away the idea of right and wrong and instead empowered women to find solutions within each other,” says Philips. Allowing women to lean on each other in times of hardship reinforces the idea that they are strong and capable of problem-solving without being led by a man.
Just Community started with exclusively Hispanic clients. But as the business grew, the company recognized its capability to help both Black and Brown women in need. In 2019, Shandricka Davis, community director, and Rashidah Alshams, community growth and partner manager, became the first Black women to be a part of Just. The community already present in the company welcomed both Davis and Alshams with open arms and also inspired the women to recruit others who may not have ever experienced such a supportive environment before. As time passed, the women played a large role in welcoming all Black and Brown women into the sisterhood.
Davis explains how the company’s sense of community has impacted her throughout the years. “In the beginning, I was just feeling stuck within my own business. I felt like I had already tried everything. Things weren’t moving at the pace I wanted anymore. But meeting Rashidah and being embraced into the community changed everything for me.”
Rather than solely focusing on her own business, Alshams pushed her colleague turned friend to grow day by day, in not only her work but personal life as well. Davis reminisces, “She helped me get out of my own way. I remember her going as far as to research my industry with me. We were huddled around a computer. And I had a moment of clarity where I realized I truly wasn’t alone anymore.” Being a part of Just is to be accepted into a close circle of women who care for one another like family. While it’s easy to feel isolated at times as a female entrepreneur, Just is here to remind all women that they’re never alone in this experience.
By being intentional with who’s allowed into the community, Just is creating a safe haven for women of color to explore their professional passions without having to be anything but who they are. Being a woman of color in business is no easy task, but rather a challenge these ladies have to face day-to-day. “Before coming to Just, it was so often that I had to ‘Shandy’ myself,” says Davis. “I couldn’t be Shandricka but [was]rather forced to be Shandy. For me, this meant having to water myself down in corporate areas out of fear that I wouldn’t be accepted or taken seriously.”
Oftentimes, society pressures women of color to make themselves more agreeable through the gaze of white supremacy in order to be treated with the bare minimum of respect. For women in business, this can mean anything from shortening your name because it’s “too hard to pronounce” or lowering your voice because you’re “too loud.” Just is able to recognize these microaggressions and create a space where women are encouraged to break free from such ignorant restrictions.
“This is our space to be safe and protected,” says Alshams. “Having a founder like Steve makes it so easy for us to express ourselves because while he oversees the company, he tries to stay as out of it as possible. He understands that he’s created a space for ethnic women and doesn’t want to do anything to dilute that.”
Join the Just Community
Just is based around long-term gratification that provides you with an intentionally frictional experience in order to challenge yourself to grow into the best version possible. Becoming a client at Just is a process that encourages women to envision a future where anything is possible. For women who wish to have a position of leadership, one can go through the application process to become a Just Entrepreneur Trust Agent (JETA). After an application is accepted, one proceeds through a five-week training program facilitated by the company to ensure that all JETAs are equipped to guide their own small circle of women. After graduating, a JETA invites other women into her peer support group. To be invited in by a JETA means that you’re an active entrepreneur in the local public and working hard to better your business. At the moment, Just is looking for more women with commanding voices and determined mindsets to join their JETA program. For more information on how you could potentially be a figurehead in the company, visit hellojust.com.
Just understands that the standard Texas financial system is catered toward a very limited number of citizens and prefers to open its doors to women of color who are as deserving, but often get overlooked. By working off of a trust-based lending system rather than obligated financial history, Just is mending citizens’ relationships with loan platforms and reintegrating honest work into Texas.