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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.

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.