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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Starting off right

Greg Florio | Senior Associate of Accounting
In my opinion, one of JIFFI’s best practices is our All-Staff Meetings. It is a time where everyone from every division in JIFFI gets together during the week in order to discuss important matters that have happened since our last meeting, but most importantly, (and thus our main focus) we look ahead to the future. This includes future events for JIFFI, be it fundraising or conferences, as well as deadlines coming up. Our kickoff meeting for 2015, however, started off slightly different. Firstly, the meeting was held in JIFFI’s office in downtown South Bend, giving a lot of the newer hires the opportunity to see our office space for the first time. Also, the content of the meeting was different than what we usually do—something that I thought was a great way to start off the upcoming year.  
For me, both of these changes were very welcomed. Getting acquainted and comfortable with our office space is very important, in my opinion, as we try and make sure that JIFFI members are prepared when they meet with their clients in the office. The familiarity with their surrounding can only help things go smoothly when they meet with a client for the first time, and can ensure they are focused in dealing with their client. However, I think the best part of this first meeting was the change in content. Instead of looking ahead to a slate of deadlines and future endeavors, we took some time for everyone to reflect on JIFFI. We went around the room, and one by one we said what we thought JIFFI did well and how we think JIFFI could improve. Everyone really did a great job with this exercise, and JIFFI has already made changes in order to improve on what it seems were the most commented on matters. This meeting was an ideal event for JIFFI, as we were able to look back on our past and use what we have learned to take steps to help make 2015 JIFFI’s best year yet.

Greg is a senior studying Finance. Aside from JIFFI, Greg is involved in SIBC and Interhall sports and enjoys playing pick-up sports with his friends.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Power of Social Media in Micro finance

Maggie Thomann | Associate of Human Asset Management 
Launched in the early 1980s, the Grameen Bank, the world's first microfinance institution, was created in Bangladesh to help entrepreneurs there get a head start on their businesses and avoid the high interest rates that larger banks enforced.  The clear impact of this early microfinance institution was seen nearly 30 years later when its founder won the Nobel Peace Prize and the bank was purported to have lent out $7.6 billion.  The Grameen Bank, however, obviously didn't have nearly as many marketing or advertising opportunities as the Internet currently offers in its beginning stages.  With the increasing rise in the use of technology and its unrelenting presence, it is only natural to assume that utilizing technology, particularly social media, in order to aid a microfinance organization in its development is an important aspect of the microfinance organization.  Here, at JIFFI, we believe that the power of social media is of the utmost importance.

Take Kiva for example:  Kiva, created in 2004, is the first online people-to-people microfinance organization that allows users to see exactly how the money they lend out is being used.  It updates the user on the activities of the entrepreneur they are helping and it allows the user to reinvest that money into more loans after being paid back.  The power behind Kiva is that it connects people from one side of the globe to another through its online interface. 

In the same way, by campaigning for JIFFI's mission through social media, JIFFI is able to spread its purpose not just through St. Joseph's County and the South Bend community, but through many different areas of the world as well.

Maggie is a freshman studying computer science. Aside from JIFFI, Maggie works with the Society of Women Engineers and Engineers without Borders.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflecting on resilience

Phoebe Natale | Associate of Community Relations

As a member of JIFFI, I know how devastating payday lenders can be to struggling families. At least I thought I knew. Watching Spent, a documentary that follows the stories of real-life families affected by predatory lending, made me realize that I didn’t truly have the level of understanding that I previously thought.

Through this documentary, I became acutely aware of how poverty truly is a full-time job. Every dollar spent, every decision made, every unforeseen event that occurred affected all aspects of the life of the families in Spent. Things that many people don’t think twice about the families in this film had to seriously consider before taking any action.

The hardest part for me was watching the father of one of the families pawn his guitar for money to pay off the interest on a payday loan. He realized that the great deals he used to think of when he went to pawn shops were actually people’s dreams, a reality that he was now experiencing himself. It broke my heart that something as simple and as joyful as music can be crushed by predatory lending.

However, I recognized something positive among all of these negative realizations: there is hope. In the documentary, one family regained their footing with help from neighbors, another individual is continuing to pursue her dreams, and yet another obtained a full time job and is committing to rebuilding her family’s finances. With organizations like JIFFI, I believe that we can prevent the need to channel such resilience into digging out of a financial hole and instead channel it into making sure the hole isn’t dug in the first place.

Watch the full Spent documentary here.

Phoebe is a freshman majoring in psychology and sociology. Aside from JIFFI, Phoebe loves music (specifically singing) and staying somewhat active by kicking around a soccer ball or throwing a frisbee on the quad. She is also a part of the Red Cross Club of Notre Dame.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Relationships for a Hopeful Future

Emily David | Associate of Development 

As a new associate with JIFFI, I embarked on the trip to the Lend for America Summit at Berkeley with the hope of learning more about microfinance and obtaining skills and ideas to bring back to our organization and the South Bend community. While I did acquire such knowledge, what impacted me more were the workshops and sessions that touched upon more holistic approaches to addressing poverty, both within and outside the world of microfinance. My critical thinking skills were put to the test as I connected different presentations and conversations to each other in order to ponder an “out-of-the-box” picture of the process of social change.

What remained constant throughout each session was the emphasis on developing relationships that are both personal and professional with our clients. A workshop on institutional privilege and oppression engaged the attendees by guiding us to imagine ourselves in our clients’ oppressed circumstances of racism, sexism, capitalism, “sizeism”, or “ableism,” the last two of which I had never before considered.  The presenter emphasized that this conversation should be held at all levels of an organization’s management and process of carrying out its mission, in every industry, not just microfinance.
After many engaging sessions such as “how-to” presentations on getting started in community-based research and using data to measure effectiveness, I concluded my weekend by listening to Leticia from La Cocina, a nonprofit that gives small business coaching to low income food entrepreneurs. What I took away most was a conversation I had with Leticia after her presentation. I asked for her opinion on a potential research idea I am pondering – on food aid and redistribution – and she reminded me of an important inspirational quote: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
This is where JIFFI finds its identity. I am proud to be part of a team that not only issues fair loans to our clients to help keep them away from predatory payday lending but also works with them personally so that they grow to realize their own economic ability and moreover their overall self-worth. Not only do we strive to “give people fish,” – loans, if you will – but we also, more importantly, “teach people to fish” through our Financial Empowerment Program, giving them the tools and assurance that we hope will remain with them for a “lifetime.” We accompany each client through a relationship that is mutually beneficial: our clients gain the knowledge and skills needed to maintain a healthy financial lifestyle, while we gain an understanding of poverty by listening to our clients’ needs, aspirations, where they come from, and where they hope to go. Through these relationships, along with the insight we gain as members of the Lend for America network, we will continue to grow in our service not only to impoverished communities but also to our fellow neighbor, both in South Bend and wherever our individual paths lead us.

Outside of JIFFI, Emily participates in Communion and Liberation, the Dance Company of Notre Dame, serves as a lector and Eucharistic Minister, volunteers with Special Olympics swimming and at a nursing home, and enjoys yoga, traveling, being outside, and spending time with friends and family.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The 2014 Lend for America Summit

Jack Markwalter | VP of Financial Empowerment 
As a member of the Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion, this was my second time at a Lend for America Summit. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to the University of Pennsylvania; this year, I made the trek across the country to Berkeley, California. There, I was able to attend many great informational sessions regarding topics such as Financial Coaching, Credit Analysis, and Retention of Client Communication.  I felt like I was able to take away many things from each of these topics, and in my opinion, the greatest part of the conference was the other college students from across the country who I was able to meet.

The Lend for America Summit 2014
At the University of California at Berkeley, I was able to meet students from Yale, Georgetown, Alabama, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as many other Universities. From these students, I was able to hear multiple founding stories of various micro-finance institutions. Every school had a different story, but every school was united by one thing: their mission. All of these students had come to similar conclusions on how to help their respective communities, and the amount of goodwill that I was surrounded by at the Lend for America Summit was truly inspirational. It rejuvenated my spirit and has given me the energy to strive to go above and beyond the status quo in order to lift up the South Bend community.

To learn more about the Summit, click here.

Jack is a sophomore majoring in Finance and Political Science with a minor in PPE. Aside from JIFFI, Jack enjoys being a part of MSLA, being involved within his dorm government as an inter-hall commissioner, and keeping up with Notre Dame sports.