To prove that our approach works, FII has created Demonstration projects comprised of hundreds of families across the country—a sample representing 34 million residents. For families to unleash their potential, they need an environment of mutual support and self-determination and access to resources so that they, not social workers or programs, are the agents of change.
We recently have expanded our Demonstrations by creating an online network that serves people who are currently enrolled in our Demonstrations as a means to provide support to each other and access additional resources. Read more about UpTogether.
Family Group Demonstrations: The Un-Program
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FII’s Demonstrations are our most well-known innovation. In 2001, FII began testing what would happen if families, not social workers, were put in control of their own process. We also wanted to learn from families what works—and doesn’t—as they endeavor to improve their lives.
FII’s model is partly based on historic and recent examples of communities that moved from poverty to self-sufficiency. From Polish immigrants in the meat packing industry in the 1800s to African-Americans establishing independent townships after slavery to the contemporary example of California’s Cambodian refugee community building a doughnut empire—history is ripe with examples of friends and families working together and sharing resources to build a path to economic security and well-being.
FII enrolls groups of families—the families must assemble their group by choosing friends with whom they want to enroll. Each group meets regularly to support each other, hold each other accountable, and share resources, ideas, and advice. Additionally, each family gets a computer to access FII’s online data-tracking system. Here they input data about their household’s income and savings, health, education and skills, housing, resourcefulness and leadership, and networking and helping others. In exchange for sharing their progress, each family can earn up to $200 every month. Every three months the families’ data is verified.
The Process: Stepping Back So Families Step Forward
During each family group’s regular meeting, an FII Liaison may be present. The Liaisons are not case managers or social workers and are forbidden from providing any direction or advice. This creates a vacuum of leadership, which gives the families time and space to set their own direction and take action as they determine. This is one of the most important aspects of our model. We trust that as a group the families have the knowledge, initiative, and the capacity to lead themselves. Our process just catalyzes this potential.
Data Tracking Through an Online Journal
FII’s online data tracking system allows us to collect a rich body of data on each household while also providing each family with a tool for self-reflection. Each month the family logs on to their online journal to input their progress for the month by answering a series of questions. Additionally, families’ journals give them a picture of their progress over time with graphs tracking things like income and savings.
Read more about our demonstration projects Impact.
In the past few years, community members, city officials, funders, and nonprofit leaders from cities all over the country have contacted FII to ask us for help bringing our approach to their community. We do hear you! That is why we have launched the FII Mobility Institute, to share our tools and principles with the range of people who want to implement them.
FII is currently developing the Partnership Training Program (PTP) to train others how to work with families using our Demonstration model. PTP will bring together professional program leadership and members of the communities they serve with FII staff to learn together how to implement FII's model. Key to FII’s model is shifting the leadership for change to low-income communities and families. In our own Demonstrations we abdicate power by encouraging families to lead their own change process. Key to the training will be facilitating this same shift in power—program leaders will learn to cede power to the community members with whom they are in training. Engaging in the training together will create built-in accountability for everyone involved. To find out more about the Partnership Training Program email us here.