To mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty, the Family Independence Initiative released a report offering an unconventional, evidence based-approach to re-starting economic and social mobility in America: See low-income families through the lens of their resourcefulness, rather than their need.
The report, Through a Different Lens: The War on Poverty and a New Vision for the Future, draws from insights FII has gleaned from its engagements with more than 1,000 low-income families across the country since 2001. It suggests that while the war on poverty has not yielded a clear solution to curb poverty and rebuild the middle class, low-income families will come up with solutions that work for them – given an environment of trust, the support of peers, and access to resources.
The New America Foundation extracts key findings from FII’s work and puts forth the potential policy implications, calling on policy makers and advocates to examine FII’s philosophical underpinnings and its approaches, and consider how similar models could be implemented into state or national programs.
In this paper, published by the New America Foundation, FII Founder and CEO Mauricio Lim Miller outlines FII’s model for breaking the cycle of poverty, which shows promising results in three separate demonstration projects. As Lim Miller looks to grow his idea, he has found that this approach—which puts the target families and individuals in the driver’s seat of their own progress, does not require professional social service workers, and relies more on the assets of the families themselves—is not only a tough sell to public and private funders, but has faced direct opposition from incumbent service providers. In this essay, Miller explores a range of barriers and roadblocks to growing or scaling social innovations.
In June of 2010 152 individuals, including 81 children, from 35 families enrolled in FII’s Boston demonstration project. This report shares and examines the extraordinary results of the first six months. In that time the families worked together and made tremendous progress toward the goals they set for themselves.
FII’s approach to alleviating poverty begins with the assumption that we have underestimated the capacity of families in low-income neighborhoods to improve their financial and general well-being. FII is structured around the idea that what families most need to lift themselves out of poverty is a sense of control over their daily lives, an awareness of the options available to them, a diverse and active social network that provides support, and expands those options. Rather than import these assets into a community, FII begins by identifying where they already exist.
FII’s rationale for its approach makes intuitive sense, but the organization is interested in aligning its approach with what we currently understand about human motivation and behavior. To address this issue, See Change conducted a literature review, and prepared this paper.
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 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.