February 19th, 2013
The Family Independence Initiative (FII), the national innovator of family-led approaches to increasing social and economic mobility in the U.S., released a study today showing strong evidence that low-income families presented with more economic and social opportunities will leave poverty and move forward on an upward trajectory.
FII is designed to learn how low-income and working poor families build economic and social mobility to move out of poverty toward middle-class stability. Families within the FII network set their own priorities and drive their own efforts to improve their lives, within an environment of strong social connections and access to initiative-based resources. FII encourages families to form groups that meet regularly for mutual support. Families are able to access FII’s resource bank, which includes a social networking website, matches to savings, and low-interest loans.
The study, conducted by the third party evaluation firm See Change Evaluation, collected interviews, surveys, and financial data from 34 families (148 individuals) that have been involved with FII’s Boston project over a two-year period, along with a newer group of 175 families who have been involved for one year. Major study findings include:
“One of the most important findings is that at the end of two years, the families demonstrated a dramatically increased sense of options to improve their well-being,” said See Change Managing Partner Suki McCoy. “When families have access to resources and opportunities, such as loans, matched savings accounts, or lending circles, they will take advantage of those options and make significant progress. Families indicate that the value of FII is not just a feeling of empowerment and support, but access to financial and social capital through which they can truly get ahead.”
The study findings corroborate a separate study FII conducted two years after the conclusion of the FII demonstration in Oakland, CA in 2006. FII found a continued trajectory of progress among the sample of families surveyed.
FII–Boston launched in 2010 with the support of Boston Rising, the Boston Foundation, GreenLight Fund, and the Barr Foundation. They will be expanding their work in the Boston area based on the families’ success. Said FII–Boston Director Jesús Gerena, “The tremendous progress documented in this evaluation is a testament to the initiative and capacities of the people who partnered with us and set out to improve their lives. These results just hint at the talent and energy in low-income communities in Boston. We have a growing waitlist of 200 families who partner with us because they see their friends and neighbors make such inspiring changes in their lives. We are excited to be working closely with Boston Rising to deepen our work in Boston, particularly in Grove Hall, where Boston Rising has witnessed a tremendous amount of local initiative and promise. As more families improve their lives, we are going to see their efforts inspire more change in Boston.”
One of the many success stories in the report is Martha, who emigrated from Columbia five years ago. A teacher in Columbia, her lack of English limited her job options, and she found work in a restaurant. She attributes her success in FII–Boston to the supportive community environment that spurred her to create a detailed plan to continue her education and develop a business that benefits her family as well as others in her community.
“When I first came to the U.S., I didn’t think about my dreams. I just focused on getting work to survive. Once I started FII, I set a goal to quit my restaurant job and go back to school, which I did this past January,” said Martha. She partnered with a friend to start an investment collective. Comprised of more than 50 Salvadoran, Peruvian, and Colombian families, the group combines their savings to invest, develop, and launch new businesses that create jobs and profit for the investors. The group has created a successful livery service.
FII Founder and CEO Mauricio Lim Miller, a 2012 MacArthur Genius Award Winner, said, “The results from this study add to the growing body of evidence that our approach produces stronger results than the typical approaches of the last 50 years. This study shows that to create mobility for low-income families, instead of providing more professional direction, we need to follow their lead. Families can create their own solutions. Our role is to make available a broad array of opportunities—financial and social capital investments that low-income people can access as they take the initiative to improve their lives.”