By Daan de Jong
The Prosperity Agenda believes that taking a systems approach to poverty alleviation creates better outcomes for those experiencing poverty. Conversations with people connected to this system as either social service providers or recipients uncovered a trend: spending time with peers who share common goals builds valuable relationships.
FSG’s “Water of Systems Change” framework defines relationships as “quality of connections and communication occurring among actors in the system, especially among those with differing histories and viewpoints”. FSG acknowledges that “transforming a system is really about transforming the relationships between people who make up the system” (Kania, Kramer, and Senge, 2018).
Whether these actors in the system are low-income parents, middle managers, executive directors, or cross-functional teams – our solutions provide the structured time they need to align their vision and goals. By facilitating such relevant conversations, we build strong relationships that transform the poverty alleviation system.
Money Power-Up Packs (MPUPs) are interactive events for parents to share savings strategies and engage their kids in financial decision-making from an early age. Parents appreciated the safe space where facilitators faded into the background and participants themselves connected on relevant financial topics. As a result, parents exchanged nontraditional savings methods and built social capital. This was a powerful way to reduce financial shame and create community connections.
“We all had the same ideas, we didn’t know that, that was really good. I guess probably the best word is bonding moment. We all kind of understood that we were all mostly on the same page. It is good to know that you’re not alone.”– MPUP Participant
The Financial Coaching Accelerator program engaged five middle managers in two states to promote a coaching culture at their agencies. Guided by TPA, they co-designed multiple tools in a virtual community of practice. Spending time designing together, even in a virtual setting, reduced a sense of loneliness and validated that we must collaborate to find solutions in the complex world of poverty alleviation.
“We are all lonely warriors. Being able sharpen tools, coming together, and having a regional approach is super cool. I wouldn’t have met people outside of Seattle. Having this group of peers is important to me.” – Middle Manager
Leadership & Cross-functional Teams
The Futures Project is a continuous process improvement model designed for Community Action Agencies (CAA) to improve services for low-income community members. Three years of evaluation demonstrated that spending structured time together led to stronger relationships between multiple stakeholders. In particular, Steering Committee members successfully collaborated on a regional level to test and improve the Futures model. Individual agencies who participated in the pilots described an irreplaceable sense of team spirit.
“Although the Steering Committee has been cumbersome at times. It also created a connection across the region that goes beyond the project. Organizations and leadership of those organizations are more connected than if that hadn’t happened.”– Executive Director
“The teamwork was amazing! That could be a selling point because we went into it thinking: ‘We’re a good team anyway, right?’ But this really demonstrate that in a way that I don’t think other things have.”– CAA Employee
Our solutions facilitate conversations in safe environments that encouraged 1) low-income parents to provide each other moral support, 2) middle managers to connect over shared coaching ideologies, and 3) executive directors to collaborate on a regional level and cross-functional groups to become highly productive teams.
Overall, both low-income families and project partners reported that spending time together in non-judgmental environments resulted in stronger relationships that catalyzed progress. By continuing to spend time together building relationships, we can continue to shift conditions that hold poverty in place.