Guiding Principles and Insights
Complex Problems. Unique Approaches.
For fifty years, the war on poverty has focused almost exclusively on symptoms, providing access to material necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. The result of this well-intentioned effort is that poverty in America might be easier to endure, but not any easier to escape. In fact, data shows the poorer you are growing up today, the more likely you are to stay poor through adulthood.
Making substantial progress requires tackling the five root causes of entrenched poverty: chronic unemployment, educational failure, family breakdown, addiction and trauma, and personal debt. The interconnection between these pathways to poverty is what makes the challenge complex, and there is no single solution. The paths out of poverty are as unique as the individuals living in it.
We’re investing in social enterprises and community leaders with proven track records of success in each of these five areas. They’re making substantial progress on everything from recidivism rates for the formerly incarcerated to reduced relapse rates for those recovering from addiction. They’re helping underprivileged kids find schools that prepare them for life and the homeless and chronically unemployed get back on their feet. No one of these approaches is the entire solution. We need to invest in sustained progress across them all.
Making substantial progress requires that we tackle the root causes of entrenched poverty: chronic unemployment, educational failure, family breakdown, addiction and trauma, and personal debt.
Recognize Injustice and the Dignity of Every Individual.
Many people discount historical and present injustices that are often at the root of poverty in America. Slavery. Segregation. An unequal criminal justice system. Cultural racism. Fear of immigrants. Others see people as mere victims in need. The only way to make real progress is to acknowledge both the injustices holding people back and the potential for every person to overcome even the most incredible obstacles—then break the barriers holding them back.
We must break educational barriers to ensure every student can receive an education that gives them a chance. Barriers to work have to go, so people aren’t prevented from meaningful employment that could help lift them out of poverty. Our criminal justice system needs an overhaul to restore equal treatment and justice for all, especially those at the margin of society. Data show these barriers disproportionately harm minority and low-income communities.
But reforming of our systems and institutions is just the start. Transformation must also happen through the support of strong and safe communities. At the heart of the most successful programs in America is a focus on helping people to see themselves as valuable and capable with something to contribute to their community.
Programs such as Hudson Link go beyond providing a diploma—they help incarcerated men and women transform their vision of themselves and gain hope for their future. Others such as Chrysalis go beyond helping the jobless fill out an application—they help people build self-worth and the belief that they have something to offer their community.
In each case, these local programs treat the people they serve as human beings full of dignity and potential, holding them to a higher standard and helping them see that they are capable of achieving things they didn’t think possible.
The most successful programs in the country focus on helping people see themselves as valuable and capable with something to contribute to their community.
Personal Experience and Local Knowledge Make all the Difference.
Some of the most effective social entrepreneurs making a real difference for people struggling to escape poverty and desperation have experienced it first-hand. These social entrepreneurs develop programs that are uniquely tailored to needs of the communities they serve, with their effectiveness driven in part by empathy and personal accountability.
For example, Antong Lucky—a former Bloods gang leader in Dallas—has helped thousands of at-risk kids abandon violence and avoid the path he went down. His personal experience, and that of his team of former gang members at Urban Specialists, enable them to engage their community credibly and effectively. Scott Strode discovered the healing power of a fitness community when he was in recovery from drug addiction. He founded The Phoenix, a peer-to-peer physical fitness program that’s helping people shed the stigma of addiction. Today, The Phoenix has relapse rates that are dramatically lower than than traditional treatment centers.
There are thousands of voluntary, community-based organizations like these across America. This “social sector” of our society offers a third way that stands apart from the public and private sectors. The social entrepreneurs that lead it are delivering solutions rooted in local knowledge and mutual benefit that are helping millions of Americans transform their lives.
The social sector is delivering solutions rooted in local knowledge and mutual benefit that are helping millions of Americans transform their lives.