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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Talking microcredit with Professor P

Anvi Ton | Senior Associate of Financial Empowerment

On one glorious autumn day, I had the chance to meet with a visiting professor from Cornell University with a Ph.D. from Harvard in Sociology. One topic led to another and we eventually landed on the subject of her current research—microfinance. I didn’t record our conversation, but I think the following “reenactment” captures the gist of it:

Me: Thank you for joining me today. I didn’t have a chance to attend your talk, but do you think you could explain a little more about your research on micro finance?

Professor P: Of course! A lot of research has already been done on the financial impact of microfinance, so I wanted to study the phenomenon from a different angle—I wanted to study the cultural effects that microcredit groups have had in rural parts of India. I found that, aside from financial empowerment, women in India felt empowered to play a greater role in their own communities. They formed their own close-knit civic groups and some even started to take action against the injustices they saw.

Me: What types of injustices did they take action against? Can you tell me more about what they did?

Professor P: One example that comes to mind has to do with a young lady being beaten by her husband. Another woman saw this and quickly rallied the community women to help. They then all marched up to the couple’s house and put an end to the domestic violence––it was group solidarity at its finest. This is especially incredible considering how many of the women (with a bit of embarrassment) even admitted that they had not even known their own neighbors very well prior to their involvement with the microcredit group. Now look at them!

Me: Wow. That’s great that these women are all working together and supporting each other! Considering that patriarchy is still heavily-embedded in Indian culture, how do the men feel about the microcredit groups?

Professor P: A lot of them were hesitant at first—they did not want their wives to leave the house for extended periods of time. In fact, a lot of the women had to sneak out of the house at first in order to attend the microcredit meetings. However, as time passed and more women became involved, I think the men slowly came to accept the existence of the groups . . . and the fact that they couldn’t really stop all the women from partaking in them.  Although it should be noted that a lot of the men also saw the value in having their wives learn about money management––the microcredit groups provided a way for their wives to take part in the household’s finances, as well as a way for the women to potentially bring in extra income.

Me: What would you say was one of the most inspiring things you learned about while you were there?

Professor P: The greatest thing I saw was the way that the institution of microcredit empowered the women to unite and take action in areas of their lives they never would have thought to before. I was especially excited to hear about how this “women’s empowerment movement” might be affecting the way their kids think. For instance, there was one woman who talked about how her son used to be so furious – so angry – that she wasn’t home to feed him because she was off participating in one of the microcredit meetings. Even though she had always prepared food for him before she left, he used to refuse to eat it until she came home and fed him. Now whenever he sees that she’s home instead of at a group meeting, he says: “Mom, what are you still doing at home? You’re going to be late to the meeting! You need to leave now!” This is a stark difference to how he reacted before—it is truly a testament to how the later generation’s view on the role of women might be changing. I’m excited to do follow-up research about this in the future.

Me: Do you have any advice for our JIFFI team moving forward?

Professor P: I would definitely consider trying to create a more cohesive network between your JIFFI clients—it might be beneficial for them to be able to talk and connect to each other, especially if they find themselves in similar situations. That being said, this might be a little more feasible to do with the clients in your Financial Empowerment classes—they would actually be able to see each other on a consistent basis and would (presumably) all have a desire to learn from/communicate with each other. Needless to say, I don’t think you guys should underestimate the power of community.


Unfortunately, I only had about an hour to talk to her, and our conversation ended rather abruptly as we realized we had gone overtime. Even so, Professor P. offered a wealth of information about microfinance, as well as lot of great ideas on how to improve the JIFFI network—ideas that I’m excited to share with the rest of the team!

Now if only I hadn’t needed to run off to my Accounting class, I could have learned a lot more from her…Darn that Accounting class!

Oh well, until next time…

- Anvi

Anvi is a sophomore studying finance and sociology. Her interests outside of JIFFI include geocaching and sleeping.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Quick History: South Bend's Economy

Grace Watkins | Legal Associate

The river its name refers to has always driven South Bend’s economy. Settlement in this area began in the 1800s as an outpost for fur traders traveling along the river, which is an industry that has obviously since declined. Post-industrialization, the river facilitated the development of South Bend factories for corporations such as Studebaker and Oliver Chilled Plow. This period was the “Golden Age” of South Bend, when population and employment were at their highest. Industrial manufacturing employed half of the South Bend workforce.

South Bend has been on a somewhat steady economic downturn since the closing of the manufacturing factories fueling their economy. Companies started closing in the early 60’s due to economic troubles related to the technological outdating of the factory process. While industrial jobs can still be found today, there are significantly less offered. Industry occupies a substantially smaller portion of the make-up of the South Bend economy.

The economy is now focused more towards jobs relating either directly or indirectly to the University of Notre Dame (e.g. tourism, teaching, and small business ownership etc.). As of 2010 in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Notre Dame was South Bend’s top employer with over 5,190 residents employed. This was followed by the Memorial Health System, with 4,069 and the South Bend Community School Corporation, with 3,489. Other significant employers are the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort-Wayne-South Bend, Indiana University South Bend, St. Joseph County, the city of South Bend, South Bend Medical Foundation, and Honeywell. Given that Honeywell is the only of these involved in industrial manufacturing, this is notable evidence of the economic shift that has taken place. If you have ever wondered about the many abandoned brick buildings that you see when driving through downtown—here is your answer.

In the same way that some of these buildings are being reclaimed while many more still remain empty, the South Bend economy is improving but still remains a shadow of what it once was. The effects of the economic downturn continue to be deeply felt. The median income in South Bend is $32,778, while the median income in the state as a whole is $12,646 higher. The unemployment rate in South Bend is 8% in comparison to 5.9% in Indiana itself. The concerning nature of these statistics becomes even more apparent when compared to the United States as a whole, where the median income is $51,939 and unemployment is at 6.1%. This illustrates why JIFFI is so important to have in an economically disadvantaged area such as South Bend. We want to change the descriptor of South Bend’s economic state from “economically disadvantaged,” which denotes a certain sense of stagnancy, to something more along the lines of “economically recovering”. It is our mission to facilitate this upward movement as much as possible through aiding residents in escaping the circle of poverty exacerbated by debt.

Grace is a sophomore studying philosophy, political science, and PPE. Her interests include reading, traveling, horseback riding, and photography.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Role of Financial Literacy in Low-Income Communities

Cristina Gutierrez | Senior Marketing Associate

As an organization with a powerful mission to bring people out of poverty, one of JIFFI's goals is to improve the financial literacy of the South Bend community. Financial literacy refers to people's understanding of financial products, and the benefits and risks associated with each. Having this ability to understand how money works is extremely important, considering that much of what we do on a daily basis requires financial planning. Whether it's buying food from the supermarket, paying rent or funding educational opportunities, having a good understanding of financial concepts is crucial to developing healthier financial habits  in terms of both investing and saving.

Over the last decade, the decline in financial literacy has become a global issue. Research conducted by the Woodstock Institute, however, has revealed that financial literacy rates are lower among low-income communities. With limited access to financial learning resources, people in these communities are more susceptible to making financially burdensome decisions and, as a result, end up damaging their credit scores and falling into more debt. Particularly worrisome is that people with limited understanding of finance are more likely to become involved with predatory lending.

Predatory lenders offer loans with unfair terms and extremely high interest rates. These practices are deceptive, and are more likely to entice people who don't have a strong financial background and are unaware of the risks associated with such loans. Predatory lending has become a growing concern within the South Bend community and, to combat its negative effects, JIFFI developed a series of modules within its Financial Empowerment Program (FEP). This program is available to all members of the South Bend community, and is designed to provide valuable feedback and resources to all participants. Through its modules, participants work with JIFFI members to analyze their budgets, plan goals to manage their debt, determine long-term savings strategies and explore ways to boost their credit scores.

The road to improve financial literacy may be long, but JIFFI has already begun to leave its mark.

Cristina is a junior majoring in Finance and Psychology. Besides working with JIFFI, she serves on the Board of the Student International Business Council and works as Controller for The Observer. Her interests include learning about marketing, reading, and baking.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

One Week In

My name is Ashley Calvani, and I was hired just over a week ago to be a part of the JIFFI Marketing team. This past week has been a whirlwind of new information, and I couldn’t feel more privileged to be a part of this amazing organization.

True, I applied to JIFFI when I saw their application on Facebook, but microfinance has been on my radar for a while. Rewind to this past January. I was on an Urban Plunge in my hometown of Cincinnati. We spent time in homeless shelters and soup kitchens—things you would typically associate with poverty studies. That’s about all I expected out of my trip—do some service, make a difference, and go home.
What I never imagined was discovering that poverty was a cycle and not just a condition. I learned many things at Urban Plunge, but there were two in particular that stuck with me.

JIFFI's first all-staff meeting this year.
I heard from the HELP Program, a small team of incarcerated men led by a Marianist brother that worked to put past criminals to work. They talked to us about the struggles of the “returning citizen.” No one wants to hire a felon, thus felons will easily fall back into crime without a stable job to help them get back on their feet. And while we heard from incarcerated men who changed their ways and just wanted to give back for the time they lost, they were the first to say that not every felon changes for the better—that not every person has the work ethic or wants to make straight their paths and pick themselves back up.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


This time last year, I was in a complete opposite position as I am now—I was the one scrambling to finish my JIFFI application, then sitting in front of the interview desk, and finally attending the first training session. Since then, a lot has changed, not only in my own role. The entire organization itself has taken huge strides, from revamping the organizational structure, to finally achieving 501c3 status, to streamlining the loan process. In other words, it’s an exciting time to be in JIFFI!

If you hadn't noticed already, JIFFI has begun the recruiting process for the 2014-2015 school year. Personally, I have learned and accomplished so much with JIFFI, and met so many legendary people that I don't regret a single day. For those of you still on the fence about applying, here are my top reasons to do so:
  1. You get to make a tangible difference in someone’s life. JIFFI provides the unique opportunity to actually interact with people from South Bend. Every associate will have the chance to meet with clients, talk through their financials, analyze their situation, and make a judgment about how best so serve their client.
  2. You gain valuable real-world experience. For many younger applicants, this might even be the first time you come across many of these financial documents and decisions. Even talking through these concepts with your clients can help you learn more about them. In addition, you’ll become more comfortable with talking to adults about finances.
  3. You gain fantastic resume boosters and interview talking points. Whenever I was asked in an application or in an interview one of those “tell me about a time when…” questions, my default go-to would always be JIFFI, because it really does sound impressive. Unlike a club where you might analyze cases or make a presentation (which literally everyone has on their resume), JIFFI is a unique and specialized business and learning opportunity.
  4. We have such a diverse range of positions. No matter what, you’ll have the basic responsibility of interacting with clients. But beyond that, we are also hiring by position this year, so maybe there’s a particular skill you have that fits one of our needs perfectly. On the business side, we have a variety of positions relating to finance, credit and risk, accounting, etc. But we’re also looking for grant writers, designers, lawyers, and more.
  5. We’re pretty awesome. Basically the cool kids on campus, you know.
So, if you’re convinced, apply now! If you’re unsure orstill unconvinced, apply anyway! Keep in mind, the deadline is 5:00 pm on thisSunday, September 14, so Sunday night would NOT be a good time to start applying.

 Helen Sheng is the Vice President of Marketing in her second year of JIFFI. She is a sophomore studying IT Management from Topeka Kansas, and her life's ambition is to be an airplane. Unfortunately, life's rough and not all dreams come true, so now she is a proud business major. She enjoys ND football and chasing waterfowl by the lakes.