June 25, 2020  |  Announcements In the News

Family Independence Initiative Among Five Finalists in the $10 Million National Economic Opportunity Challenge

[Oakland, CA] June 24, 2020 Lever for Change, an affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, today announced Family Independence Initiative (FII) and four other finalist teams will advance in the Economic Opportunity Challenge, a competition for a $10 million grant to improve economic opportunity for low-income individuals within the United States. 

If chosen, FII will partner with the City of Chicago to invest directly in the existing strengths and solutions of low-income families and their communities, and remove the deficit-based criteria traditionally used to access support. Their goal is to move low-income families out of poverty, permanently.  

Selected from a pool of 160 applicants, the finalists represent projects focused on workforce development, asset building, and policy. One of the finalists will be selected as the $10 million Economic Opportunity Challenge recipient in November 2020, and each of the other four finalists will be awarded $100,000.

“We are incredibly humbled and thrilled to be selected as a finalist in the Economic Opportunity Challenge,” said FII CEO Jesús Gerena. “At FII, we believe ending poverty starts with recognizing the value and ingenuity of people living with low incomes and directly investing in them. Poor communities, which are disproportionately Black and Latinx, don’t need “saviors” or more programs. They need investments in the solutions and actions they take each and every day to improve their lives. Winning this challenge will provide more evidence to support our approach to alleviating poverty.”

These communities band together to improve their lives and take action to make positive changes. Yet their efforts — to buy homes, open businesses, pursue education, raise children with equal opportunity, build community, improve their health — have rarely been recognized or invested in and many times stymied by conscious and unconscious bias. 

Applications were evaluated during a three-month review process by more than 120 philanthropic and civic leaders, and subject matter experts with experience in economic development, public policy, youth opportunity, economic justice, and regional planning, among others. Applications were evaluated based on four criteria: magnitude of impact, strength of evidence, likelihood of success, and potential for scale.

Designed to help mitigate the increasing income inequality in the U.S. over the last half-century, the finalists’ proposed solutions will be even more critical given the devastation of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy and its disproportionate impact on low-income communities. “Each of these potent solutions addresses the critical challenges we are facing in this moment – high unemployment, an historic recession, and deepening racial and economic inequality. The prospect of helping one or more of these projects to achieve scale is energizing,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. 

As a finalist and one of the highest-ranked applicants, FII is now featured in the newly-launched Bold Solutions Network along with top proposals from other competitions managed by Lever for Change, including:


About Family Independence Initiative

Family Independence Initiative trusts and invests directly in people living with low incomes so they can work individually and collectively to achieve prosperity. Through our technology platform, UpTogether, people experiencing poverty can build and strengthen their social networks and access unrestricted cash transfers so they can support each other in accomplishing their goals.

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