Chicago — Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler of City of Chicago Family and Support Services spoke at FII’s Launch Breakfast about why they decided to partner with FII to trust and invest in families.
The Commissioner said:
Family and Support Services is the human and social service arm of the city. We put over 400 million dollars out to fund human and social services every single year. A lot of that money goes out the door in the way we have come to know over the last 50 years. We fund programs and services. We do good work, and yet we have not solved any of the pressing problems that Chicago faces. Even though the dollars go out the door we have not cracked the code, and that frustrates us, and it frustrates the Mayor.
It was Tuesday, August 15, 2017. I was in my car minding my own damn business, and I was on my way to work. The phone rang and I looked down and it said MRE, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And you just can not run from those calls. So I picked up the phone and as he can do, he was already cussing. It was early in the morning. He said: “I just read this great article in the NYT about an organization called the Family Independence Initiative, and the book The Alternative: Most of what you believe about poverty is wrong. The Mayor said, I have not read the book but I want you to bring it here and I want that shit to happen fast.” That’s a quote.
I bought the book for me. I bought the book for him. And I bought the book for every member of the Senior Leadership team of the Department of Family and Support Services and roughly one year later, here we are.
As those of you who live in and love this city know, we are facing unprecedented challenges every single day in the news media, in our neighborhoods, and in our own homes. We wake up every day and try to wrestle with the things that are both good about Chicago and the things about Chicago that break our hearts. At the same time, we recently posted some of the biggest gains anywhere in the country for kids graduating and going on to college. So there are places where we are succeeding and places where we are failing.
Over the last 50 years we have tried almost everything. I say to people there’s not an experiment across the country that’s not on the ground in Chicago at any given time. We experiment and pilot with almost everything. We have developed many approaches and programs and over time we have developed a system for how we approach problems. Unfortunately, one of the outgrowths of that system is that we are often very program centric in our approach. That makes us want to scale programs that we fall in love with, which then makes us want to prove that those programs work. We end up being focussed on programs and it’s easy to take our eyes off of people when we’re looking at programs.
I’ll give you an example. Family and support services supports wonderful organizations that do mentoring around the city. These are phenomenal partners. They do good work. They are full of people who care deeply about the youth who they serve. We will fund an organization who goes and recruits mentors, who will take at risk black and brown boys on field trips, but we will not give a black father $100 to take his own damn kid on a field trip. There’s something wrong with that dynamic. The system over time has become part of the problem.
I’ve got 400 million dollars every year and I’m putting it out there. No-one can match government for the amount of money we can put. So the system can also, because of its resources, become a part of the solution. It was in that spirit, Tuesday August 15, 2017, that the Mayor called and instructed me to investigate FII because as he said, “it was disruptive.” We are super excited to start on this journey with FII here in Chicago. We have no idea where this is going to lead. We know that it will cause us all to change. As we move forward in this work, it won’t be like anything we’ve done before. We’ll be asked to get out of the way of this program so that it can do it’s good work and that’s going to be hard for us.
When you read the book or any of the articles that are out there you’ll hear that FII at various points has fired workers who feel like they need to deliver the solutions to people who participate in the programs. We really have to change the way we think in order to do this work. This is about empowering people. We would not be able to do this on our own. The Mayor has made a significant commitment with a 3-year contract. As he moves on and we elect a new Mayor this will be one of the things in his legacy that he helped establish before he steps down. We look forward to being on this journey with FII. Thanks to Google for your support.