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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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fixing misperceptions

Chris Hull | Associate of Credit
Coming from a family that had never sent a member to Notre Dame, I assumed that South Bend was an overwhelmingly affluent city.  My assumption stemmed from the high sticker price of the University and from my official visit in mid-February of my senior year.  My family stayed in a hotel in downtown near Main Street, and we never ventured around South Bend.  We simply drove to campus, drove back to the hotel, and drove back home.  I joined JIFFI in September, and it was not until then that I realized my assumption was clearly a misperception. 
I first learned about the extent of poverty in the South Bend community during JIFFI training.  I was shocked when I found out that the average monthly income of past clients was roughly $1,500 dollars.  This saddening number, along with others presented during training, completely changed my perspective of the community.  My change in perspective was affirmed when I had the opportunity to meet with a client.  My partner and I’s client was visibly living out of his car and asking for rent assistance, as he was living paycheck to paycheck.  My meeting was a humbling experience that spoke volumes to me about the drastic economic differences between the Notre Dame community and the South Bend community.  Overall, my experiences at JIFFI have changed my original perception and have caused me to wholeheartedly back JIFFI’s mission to provide a better financial environment.
My new perception has challenged me to work towards making a difference for impoverished people in the South Bend community.  JIFFI gives me tangible opportunities to make an impact and to give to those who have less.  As a student of Notre Dame that struggles with managing stress about tests, meetings, activities, etc., giving back to the community puts into perspective what really matters in life.  There truly is no greater feeling than giving back to those who have less.
Now, as a member of JIFFI, I see South Bend in a different light.  My misguided assumption was confronted by reality after joining JIFFI.  I was clearly wrong, but now, along with JIFFI, it is time to make things right. 

Chris is a freshman and intends to study either finance or accounting. Outside of JIFFI, Chris plays on the Carroll Hall football and baseball team, and is also a member of the Carroll Hall men's group. His favorite activities are hanging with friends, playing sports (especially basketball) and eating.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Let's See How Far We've Come

Kristina Flathers | Senior Associate of Credit

I still remember the pilot proposal. It was 12 pages long, and the cover had a red, black, mustard yellow, and forest green logo next to a lowercase word: “jiffi.” I had just reached out to my good friend Peter Woo about this project, which he had started with a few other friends.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Predatory Lending: Why JIFFI is Fighting It

Helen Sheng | Vice President of Marketing 

Until I joined JIFFI, I, like many others, had no idea about the dangers of predatory lending (or really what it even was). Unfortunately, it has become one of America’s ugliest secrets. Although it has been receiving a lot more media attention lately, very little is actually being done to combat this monster.

The mechanism of payday loans is deceptively simple. Sure, a small 14-day loan with a 15 to 30 percent interest rate sounds fairly reasonable (especially when most people intend on paying them back quickly). But a cursory interest calculation shows that annual percentage rates usually end up being over 300 percent. After borrowers realize they can’t pay back the full amount in 2 weeks, the payday lender gives them the option of extending the loan term and paying back the interest. In short, the borrower keeps paying interest but never knocks down the principal loan amount. Since these are short term loans, it could be considered unfair to judge them by an annual rate, but lenders actually do make their money on the long term—the Center for Responsible Lending reports that 76 percent of predatory lending revenue is generated on repeat borrowers, perpetuating this cycle of debt that keeps people in poverty.
This is what makes payday lending a 9 billion industry, with more locations than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Unfortunately, there isn’t much regulation on predatory lending—with their aggressive techniques and contracts, lenders can get away with annual interest rates in the thousands.
Micro finance institutions like JIFFI are fighting an uphill battle. Payday lenders have the resources, the demand, and the momentum to continue swelling in size and taking advantage of people in financial difficulties. To learn more about predatory lending practices and ways to protect yourself, check out this article:

Helen is a sophomore studying IT Management. In her spare time not spent working at JIFFI, Helen enjoys participating in SIBC and chasing waterfowl. 

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.