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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

It's RECRUITING SEASON!

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. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's a Milestone Day

We are so proud to announce that after a long wait, we have officially received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the International Revenue Service. Along with this status, we will be able to receive a large number of resources and benefits, including updated software, better communication systems, and community grants. As we begin our next academic year, we are so excited to see how we can better help our community.

We are incredibly thankful for the number of organizations that have helped us over the past two years, including St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty, Lend for America, Center for the Homeless, and South Bend Heritage Foundation. We also send so much gratitude to Peter Woo, who truly saw a problem in the community and chose to make steps toward solving it.

We are also proud to announce that we have also made our 20th loan! Our intern, Aaron Bode, will soon be posting more information about our new loan, but we know that we are clearly on the right track!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lend for America Blog Post (Longer Version)

This blog post was originally written for one of JIFFI's partner organizations, Lend for America (LFA). LFA was instrumental in JIFFI's genesis, and we continue to utilize their expertise as we expand our operations and footprint. From the LFA website: 

"Lend for America empowers student leaders to build their communities through the creation of campus microfinance institutions (Campus MFIs). Our national platform supports students practicing microfinance in the U.S. by providing training, networking, funding, and research."

You can find Lend for America's published version of this post here; the version below is the longer, original copy of the post. Enjoy!



My name is Aaron Bode, and I am the summer intern for the Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion, otherwise known as JIFFI. To hear more about our organization, I recommend reading Alec Schoemann’s blog from early June; I worked with Alec this past year and he did a wonderful job outlining our work. My focus for this post, however, has to do with a specific aspect of JIFFI and microlending as a whole: client interaction. As I delve into this topic and explain the situation of a recent JIFFI client, I invite you to reflect on the following question, and respond with your honest reaction:

If I begin to talk about someone experiencing poverty, whom do you imagine in your mind?




Your answers may be different, but here are various responses I believe "the public" collectively holds: Single parent. Black. Young. Foreigner. Victim. Tattooed. Standoffish. Dirty. Resigned. Uneducated. Oppressed. Criminal. White trash. Lazy. Elderly. Unemployed.

As Americans, we like to believe in a society where the “American Dream” is accessible to everyone, and anyone who works hard can achieve at least a middle class lifestyle. Thus, people tend to associate poverty with a kind of personal failure. This flawed thinking has been analyzed elsewhere (for example, check out Inequality for All), but the relevance of it to this particular blog post is how stereotypical views of those in poverty impact client interactions in and outside the microlending process.

One of the great challenges when working with JIFFI is to connect with individuals by meeting them “where they are in life,” instead of dwelling on conjectures as to who they are or where they come from. To truly serve clients to the best of our abilities, it takes understanding and accurate characterizations of the lives those experiencing poverty live. This can only come from a) context and b) time spent meeting with each individual client.

Imagine hearing about a client without having access to either of these components. Let me describe Sarah to you. Sarah is a client I met with on June 26, and she is a mother of six who lives in a trailer park in a town outside of South Bend. Sarah’s car was completely totaled earlier that week, and she came to JIFFI looking for a down payment for a new vehicle. She is disabled and had not worked at a regular job in over a year. Her benefits are expiring in the next few months as well. Sarah was hoping for a “same-day loan,” a very rarely considered proposal.

Who are you imagining Sarah as right now? I’m sure at this point, any underwriting team’s mental state is somewhere between “skeptical” and "states-trusting-the-federal-government-under-the-Articles-of-Confederation." As a reader, you’re probably cautious of a loan as well – Sarah sounds like someone who will struggle to make repayments, and your intuition may even have you questioning her responsibility.   

Now let’s try to re-imagine Sarah with the full picture.

Where is Sarah coming from? JIFFI serves the greater South Bend community, where some progress is being made in the fight for financial inclusion, but many citizens still lack access to fair credit and the tools needed to navigate the complex financial world. Our client base primarily comes from this segment of the community – underbanked individuals who are looking for someone to help them as they recover and/or build from their situation. This means, however, that our clients come to us already striving for a better financial state, and want to use every opportunity they can to improve their lives. Before we even hear their unique stories, we know our clients possess zeal and determination. And what did I learn about Sarah’s personal situation after spending two hours with her?

Here’s a rewrite of my previous description, this time in a clearer and less jaded light:

This past Thursday, I met with Sarah, a mother of six college students/graduates who lives in a community outside of South Bend. Her children attend and have graduated from schools such as Indiana University, Valparaiso University, and Bluffton University. Unfortunately, Sarah’s car was completely totaled earlier this week while her daughter was driving, and after making doctor’s visits and talking with the insurance agency, she came to JIFFI looking for a down payment for a “new” car i.e. a used vehicle in good condition that she could afford. She had already spoken to two dealerships, and was in contact with a trusted mechanic to ensure that the vehicle she would purchase would be fairly priced and of solid quality. Sarah experienced PTSD at a former job, and had to take time off to recover and address her mental, emotional, and physical health. Sarah worked two separate three-month jobs as a way to prepare herself for returning to the workforce full-time, and she is starting a new job this upcoming week working as skilled labor. Sarah has planned ahead for expiring benefits, and is setting aside that money each month for emergencies. And why did she want a same-day loan? Because the next day she was driving to her daughter’s college orientation in Ohio.

Indubitably, your perception and understanding of Sarah and her situation has changed. Sarah was absolutely wonderful to meet and work with, not just as a client, but also as an individual. I don’t think it’s shocking to hear that getting to know someone changes how you view them, but I do think it’s telling that I could only encounter Sarah’s resilience, earnestness, and nurturing attitude after considering her background and spending extended time meeting with her. Client interaction is at the heart of JIFFI’s mission – “To enable our clients to unlock their full potential through affordable credit solutions, financial empowerment programs, and supportive relationships” – and it’s through our connections with clients that JIFFI can contribute to a better understanding of who the people experiencing poverty in our community are. I hope outstanding individuals such as Sarah can transform our responses to my "initial question" in this post, and affirm the excellence of all clients and all individuals in South Bend. 



Aaron Bode is a first-year associate and summer intern with JIFFI. He is an incoming sophomore originally from Avon, Indiana and is majoring in Economics and Applied Math.




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bode in the Bend

Sorry to disappoint, but this picture has almost nothing to 
do with this blog post, other than the fact that "bode" means 
"goat" in Portuguese and I needed an image for the blog.

But hey. Baby goats are pretty cute. 


I have a confession to make.

Since I started this internship in late May, I've spent hours writing about JIFFI, hours explaining JIFFI to family and friends, and hours trying to articulate JIFFI's message in any one of our numerous media platforms. I love talking about JIFFI stuff... 

But occasionally... I want to talk about me. 

A caveat: this blog post is still going to be about JIFFI. I know, making a big change, huh? However, I figure there are at least a few people out there curious as to what I'm doing on a daily basis. So, here goes.

I wake up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy. Wait, no, that's not right. Generally I get up at 8, hit the snooze button a couple times, and get started on work at 9. One of the unique things about this internship is I get to decide when I'm doing what -- since I have responsibilities for both SJC Bridges and JIFFI, and because much of my work for each organization is done online, I have ultimate flexibility when it comes to choosing where and when I'll be completing work. Thank goodness I have a year of college under my belt (i.e. supreme time management practice). 

When I'm busy meeting with clients, I usually find myself in the JIFFI office early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Because all of our clients are working or engaged with activities in the community, these times seem to work best. Clients also seem to appreciate when I go to meet them if there is an issue with making it to the South Bend Heritage Foundation (where our office is located). I've already made trips to a local library, two separate Goodwills, and Bridges to pick up repayments or meet with a client. When I'm not as inundated with calls and meetings, occasionally I'll do work from my apartment or on Notre Dame's campus. Changing my location seems to help especially when it comes to longer-term work that doesn't have an immediate end date. 

Now it's time for a brief segment I call 'Aaron's Analytics!' *catchy jingle plays*

Even something as simple as examining my schedule demonstrates various "nuggets of information" to consider for our organization as a whole. For example, if we know clients want to meet early and/or late in the work day, we know what times JIFFI associates may want to schedule classes or activities (when they have discretion, of course). Additionally, my empirical evidence suggests the importance of client comfort when it comes to the loan process. Reaching out to clients and making room for them, rather than adding another variable to their complex schedules, seems to make a huge difference in the way client interactions proceed. As for my own preference for varying my work spots, I think it verifies the value of examining how we approach the physical workplace. Check out these Forbes articles (and others) if you're curious about how business is changing the "workspace." 

*jingle plays again* [Aaron partially switches out of nerdy personality]

The time I spend at the Bridges office generally depends on when my "mentors" are present. Currently, I'm working with Amber Werner on preparing her incredible Financial Management Class material for this fall's session. I try to match my schedule at Bridges so we can communicate and work on the project's vision together, and then we can both complete our individual "assignments" when we're away/ working independently. (P.S. I'm hoping to write a future blog post about my experience specific to Bridges, but I want to have a little more material to show before I actually publish the post.)

Despite the fact that I'm my own timekeeper, my JIFFI work is really 9-5 every day. Yet, I try not to approach my internship as those "stale business hours" might suggest; rather, I hope that within the scope of the business day, I can be dynamic and efficient in all that I'm trying to achieve. And at the very least, know that I'm taking care of business



Keep an eye out for a (fairly lengthy) upcoming blog I've written for Lend for America -- they should be posting it soon!




Aaron Bode is a first-year associate and summer intern with JIFFI. He is an incoming sophomore originally from Avon, Indiana and is majoring in Economics and Applied Math. He once climbed Half Dome, he enjoys designing on Google SketchUp, and he has a strange fascination with the color orange.