Time to Reflect

by Joseph Felix Tettey
July 8, 2013

Joseph Felix Tettey ’15 is an Impact Providence intern this summer working for the LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation).

“Of course, you are!” – was my friend’s reaction to the fact that I am working for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a Community Development Financial Intermediary (or CDFI), this summer.

As one who gets fired up by issues of development, I debate often with my peers over the best road to development; even if none of my friends nor I have a precise solution to the problem of under-development. Regardless, we still defend what we believe to be the "right" path and refute views that we may disagree with. Thus, I seek opportunities to expand my horizon on development, anxiously waiting to discover that one or two or three or even four pills – for indeed, even if there should be a silver bullet solution to underdevelopment, it sure will involve more than one silver bullet – that may be the next big thing being chased after by world leaders. So, of course the thought of working for LISC fascinated me and struck me as an opportunity to learn how it was being done in Rhode Island.

At LISC, I am assigned with developing and implementing a communications plan for the Income & Wealth Building division. The implementation part of my job involves interviewing some clients – low-income individuals – who have benefited from any of LISC-funded Financial Opportunities Centers (FOCs) in Rhode Island. To summarize what they do: FOCs provide their clients with employment training, financial counseling and access-to-benefits support with goals of improving individual’s net worth, net income, credit scores and of course, to get them jobs!

Clients at FOCs have various backgrounds, some having been previously incarcerated. Merely from observation, most of these individuals are putting in tremendous effort to get themselves to a self-determined destination. I have yet to ask any of them, but it seems to me that for some, their previous lifestyles were perhaps a means of trying to reach the same or similar destinations – prosperity, success, and happiness. In by no means am I a fan of the school of thought that blames everything on the ‘system’ set-up. Nonetheless, I think it is worth asking why such individuals ended up in the downward spiral prior to their encounters with these programs.

More importantly, have you ever wondered why some low-income individuals/families or even some developing countries refuse or find it difficult to accept help? In When Helping Doesn’t Help, in the Huffington Post, Maurice Lim Miller quotes his mother’s reaction after visiting the welfare office; “She [the welfare officer] only wanted to hear that I can’t feed you or can’t find a job. And that I wasn’t educated and I am Mexican.” I am no expect so I can just speculate that this many be the sentiment of many low-income individuals/families of even the so-called ‘third world countries,’ a situation of “trading pride and integrity for help.”

Of course we have biases and I have my own opinion too. But in light of keeping this post short, I’ll just implore you to think objectively about these. Why should individuals be caught up in downward spirals in an attempt to better their livelihood before they get the get opportunities like the FOCs? And why should individuals on the lowest economic rungs feel as though they have to trade their dignity for service when their compatriots on higher rungs feel nothing but entitlement?