The first feature in our International Development Leader Spotlight series: Jodi Fischer, Development Director at Fundación Adelante.
Why did you pursue a career in international development? After spending a year studying in Cairo, Egypt at age 20 I found the volume of poverty and associated challenges in the region to be staggering. Although we face many issues in the US, I was drawn to learning more about the issues developing countries face and what organizations have been doing to address them.
How does Fundación Adelantetake an anti-colonial approach to international development? Adelante was founded on the assumption that Hondurans living in poverty did not choose their fate, but they have the talent, ingenuity, and strength to transform their lives if given the opportunity to do so. Adelante provides women with microloans to grow or start businesses so that they may achieve economic self-sufficiency.
How do you ensure Fundación Adelante's beneficiaries are represented with dignity? Adelante places beneficiaries at the center of what we do. Compared to other microfinance organizations in Honduras, our Portfolio-at-Risk (PAR) > 30, which is a measurement often used to determine the health of a microfinance and current repayments, is higher than others. This is because we are willing to restructure loans, postpone payments, and increase loan terms to accommodate the unique challenges the women we work with face. Adelante also regularly solicits information from borrowers, conducting surveys and collecting feedback so that we can ensure the work we do is best serving their needs.
What is one project or movement that inspires you? I care deeply about education, food security, financial inclusion, and reducing global emissions. That said, in all my years of experience I find microfinance to be the most powerful sustainable international development solution. Not only because it allows women and families to have agency over their own lives, but because increasing wealth for families reduces other poverty indicators. And because with repayments, the loan pool is recycled allowing new borrowers to be supported into perpetuity. Microfinance experienced a lot of attention after Grameen Bank Founder, Muhhamad Yunnus, received the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately microfinance fell short of expectations to solve global poverty. The world learned micro loans and debt burden are not appropriate for the poorest of the poor, but those living in the less destitute levels. As long as microfinance organizations use a fair interest rate and preferably offer education/training to accompany loans, intergenerational cycles of poverty can be broken, resilience to external shocks and climate impacts improve, and reduced displacement and migration ensues.
For young professionals considering a career in international development, what is one piece of advice you would share? Who you work with is more important than the mission of an organization. There are countless organizations doing good work, but the ones that are composed of good leadership and healthy teams are few and far between. Volunteer, intern, take temp jobs with International Development organizations so that you get a sense of the work culture and people before you commit long term.