Monthly Archives: March 2020

Thriving in the Emerging Economy

“Science fiction is the very near future.” –Mark Lautman, author of When the Baby Boomers Bail

Looking into his crystal ball, my friend and colleague Mark Lautman, national economic development architect and author of the book When the Boomers Bail , gave me his well-informed forecast about the emerging economy. He tells me we are dispensing with most blue-collar jobs and even the white-collar ones like attorneys, mortgage brokers, etc.that can be done with automation and artificial intelligence. On the one hand—good — people don’t have to do as much grunt work. But where are the jobs for all the people we want to support out of poverty? Although it is unclear, there may be a completely new concept of an economy being birthed that holds the promise of providing people with enough money to pursue enough meaning and friendships to thrive. This new economy will likely be a hybrid of paid work, community work, and a new level of sharing that reduces expenses while increasing a sense of community with others.

I realized that our program, Circles USA, and other approaches like it are offering intentional communities where people have each other’s back to help secure basic needs as well as to advance in the emerging economy. In Circles, we recruit people from middle-income and upper-income households to enter into powerful and meaningful relationships with people who want to become economically stable. Ironically, many volunteers recognize that they, like me, carry around a lot of financial anxiety through unconscious spending. The relentless pursuit of making and spending money has contributed to both a sense of ennui and isolation. We are sacrificing time for meaningful activity and quality friendships in pursuit of the quick fix that a new purchase provides. I suggested to our Circles USA leadership team that it was time to refocus on the message of supporting everyone to have enough money, meaning, and friends . We need a new American Dream that will help more people live happier lives.

Too Much Evolves into Just Enough

Using a more appropriate measurement than the outdated poverty guidelines adopted in the mid-’60s by the federal government, the current economy, according to a recent New York Times report, is generating a 50% poverty rate. The official White House assertion in 2018 was that the poverty rate is actually 3%. Quite a difference in the “facts.” Regardless of what the rate really is, the emerging economy is trending toward more disparity and fewer people experiencing the ideals of the American Dream of the ’50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Therefore, new structures such as Circles are emerging to help people learn not only how to have enough money, but enough meaning and friends as well.

According to the website Sapiens,, almost 60 million people in the United States are embracing voluntary simplicity — working fewer hours, spending less money, and being more mindful about how they live. Perhaps the Great Fog is beginning to lift for a critical mass of us.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Office of Family Assistance Publishes Brief Featuring Circles USA as Innovative Strategy for TANF

Circles USA is proud to be featured as an innovative strategy for TANF programs in a new brief, “Social Capital Initiatives To Achieve Employment Goals.” This brief is part of the Office of Family Assistance’s Emerging Practice Series, which highlights how TANF agencies and their partners are helping low-income individuals gain and sustain meaningful employment.

Here’s a description:

“TANF participants in Utah are moving from poverty to earning incomes at or above 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) through a social capital-building strategy. Implemented by the Utah Department of Workforce Services through partnerships with community action agencies, the Circles program matches TANF participants with community volunteers in a long-term weekly support group. With this circle of support and resources, participants are empowered to move toward employment and self-sufficiency.

The brief [gives] an overview of the program model, and the results that have been achieved. Compelling stories of participants’ success and suggestions from TANF agency staff to their peers provide actionable insights and on-the-ground perspectives.”

Click here to download the brief.


Fully Empowered Leadership Teams

A fully empowered leadership team is aligned to a shared vision and works together to move others through the process embodied in the Transformational Map. Each knows his or her role and has enough authority to carry out his or her responsibilities. She or he must also be aligned with her or his own organization’s top management team.

The team at the top of an organization must be analyzed to determine its capacity to lead transformational change. Standing committees, ad hoc committees, and de facto leaders and groups who have “always done things the same way” can become siloed in their approach to meeting the organization’s mission and its new change agenda. In order to implement the change that is envisioned, the way in which work gets done must change to align with the new strategies. Here are examples of how the leadership team must evolve as it moves into the various stages of the Transformational Map.

The defining criterion for membership in the top leadership team is the ability to fulfill a staff member’s role in supporting the transformational change process.

Practices and Procedures

Leaders must analyze existing practices and procedures to assure alignment with the change initiative.

Definition: Practices and procedures are the way policies and strategies are carried out in the organization or system. They might develop formally or informally over time. They might be invisible — we don’t notice many of them because they are “the way we do things around here.” Some are in writing, some are not. Leaders and managers usually have the authority to change them without changing policy.

Examples: performance review, communication systems, staff development, leadership development, recognition systems, compensation systems, budgeting processes, purchasing, planning work activities with individual workers, and many others.

Exercise: Identify the key structures, practices, procedures, or organization attitudes that will hinder your organization from moving through the transformational map

You should now have an outline for the organizational shifts that must occur for you to align your leadership efforts to achieving the vision. Management should be firmly delegated to others, and the leadership team should focus on articulating the vision, gaining agreement and commitment from stakeholders, facilitating learning, and embedding change into the culture.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Circles Sharing Webinar: 2020 Big View Strategy + Civic Engagement 101

Is your Chapter seeking to engage policymakers? promote voter education and voter turnout? advance lasting change on issues like affordable housing, the Cliff Effect, reliable transportation, and more? This webinar is for you!

Through Circles USA, Chapters and Poverty Reduction Labs are advancing systemic change on key issues. This is the Big View – and it creates a foundation to develop and promote a shared anti-poverty agenda. In an election year like 2020, we have a unique opportunity to scale-up Big View efforts across the country and raise visibility for our mission of ending poverty.

The webinar will feature guest facilitator Amy Basken, a seasoned legislative advocate who serves as Director of Programs at the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association. Amy also volunteers with Circles Sauk Prairie, WI.

Amy’s webinar presentation will cover the basics of civic engagement, including:

  • how a bill becomes a law;
  • which policymakers to contact;
  • tips for in-person and virtual communication with officials;
  • opportunities during an election year;
  • and the importance of sharing your stories with those in a position to make a change.

Watch the webinar here.

Support Through Coronavirus/COVID-19

We’re sending this message of support and gratitude to all our Circles communities across North America. Thank you for the work you do – in times of crisis and every day – to build thriving communities.

We trust each Circle location is following recommendations from the CDC about keeping community centers, workplaces, and schools safe. Below please find suggestions about using technology to stay connected to your local Circles community.*

A Community of Practice Virtual Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 17th at 1pm Pacific, 2pm Mountain, 3pm Central, 4pm Eastern: online via Go-To Meeting or by phone: #646-749-3131 with access code: 549-928-581. Please join us to explore strategies for supporting Circle Leaders and community members through this challenging time. 

In solidarity,

Jamie Haft, Executive Director of Circles USA

*Thanks to Kamatara Johnson, Jen Nibley, Monique Proffitt, and Courtney Cowan for compiling these tips from our community’s internal discussion on Freedcamp and from other resources.

Resources and Recommendations

If your government or local schools have required closing for gatherings of your size, please follow their lead on canceling in-person events for their suggested timeframe.

Here is the link to all 50 State Health Departments with resources for patient and healthcare providers and the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to learn more.

Staying Connected with Your Circles Community 

Please reach out by email and phone to Circles participants, including Circle Leaders and volunteers. While some of the work of Circles can be adapted to virtual meetings, please keep in mind that your community members will need more than self-guided learning. There is an emotional, financial, and physical impact of the Coronavirus/COVID-19, so reaching out personally to individuals will be meaningful as we bridge this difficult time.

Additionally, your Chapter’s Services Team can survey, via Google Forms, your Circles community members to ascertain any immediate needs people may have including childcare and internet access, and then research what local services are being offered in your area. For example, here’s a survey from Albuquerque.

The following suggestions are from Monique Proffitt in Circles Johnson County, IN:

We are creating a Google Doc Folder with each Circle Leader’s goals and next steps with an electronic sign-in sheet and link that the Leader, their Allies, and the Coach will have access to, so individual Circles can still meet twice a month and we are able to capture attendance and progress for data. 

Resource teams can meet the same way, with a link to the information needed for that meeting. We will have a six month e-learning and meeting plan.

We are using Zoom and found that, with stressed systems, non-paying users have limited signal; we went ahead and paid the yearly $150 fee to secure our space. We’re loading materials needed for Circle Leader and Ally training. We can easily make it a web-based classroom, so we can continue to train. It will be a Google Doc folder with a link for each potential Circle Leader as well, with a facilitator’s folder link to access all materials needed. 

If we don’t end up needing them from home, we can still use them in class with computers and be no waste. We’re working on making a mockup to drop on Freedcamp so you have a visual template to work off of.

Some internet companies are offering services for people who don’t have it at no or a discounted cost. Starting March 13, 2020, Comcast is offering two months of free internet to low income families. If you have Circle Leaders who don’t have internet either for this or their children’s e-school you might want to check into that now before they also get overloaded. The mobile internet check outs at the libraries will go fast, and people might not be able to return them.

Visible and Vulnerable: The Honesty of Leadership

We live in an age where leaders are exposed to a near-constant barrage of criticism. The media thrives on scandal and focuses its attention on what grabs the audience share rather than on what is truly worth our attention. Leaders are visible and therefore vulnerable to being attacked. Social media gives people ample opportunity to generate negative commentary. Opinion makers love controversy and will find leaders to undermine at every turn. As we watch leaders being criticized on a regular basis, it can be easy for most of us to conflate leadership with potential exposure to shame and humiliation.

The great lie of our culture is that we are not good enough. Leaders, like everyone else, are susceptible to feeling inadequate because of the culture-wide conditioning that we somehow do not measure up to others. If I do not conform to society’s religious or sexual norms, there is something wrong with me. If I don’t make as much money as “they” do, I am less than they are. If I make more money than they do, then there is something better about me. Perhaps making more money will protect me from feelings of inadequacy.

There are taboo subjects that generate shame, confusion, and feelings of less-than. The main topics that many of my generation were told to keep private include money, sex, politics, and religion. Yet we live in a world in which money, sex, politics, and religion are central elements of our lives. To not talk about these issues with others is to deny human nature.

The most atrocious assaults that we humans make against each other come from distress patterns related to one or more of these taboo topics. The shame surrounding these topics creates toxicity within us that can compel us to shy away from leadership.

In sharing views on the taboo subjects of sex, money, religion, and politics, we open ourselves to attacks from others. The more visible we are, the more exposed we can feel. If you look like you are doing really well, people who don’t feel successful might turn their feelings of jealousy into weapons. Unconsciously, we don’t want to raise our heads above the crowd just to have it chopped off.

As a leader, I find myself shying away from telling people I am a member of a new-thought spiritual center. “Is that even a church?” one person asked me. Not really. It’s a center where people study and practice a spiritual pathway together, in community. We draw from the ancient wisdom that informs all of the great traditions of spiritual disciplines.

Many of my peers have had brutal experiences in religious upbringings that used fear and guilt to manipulate them. And yet, being from a traditional church in which so many of the congregants don’t embrace the spiritual pathway of the church is somehow more acceptable than being a member of a congregation that embraces diversity, dismantles shame, and explores the full potential of what it means to be a human without trying to control anyone in the process.

Because of my position as a national nonprofit leader with donors, volunteers, and those we serve being of different political affiliations, I also shy away from owning and sharing my political preferences. I was taught that you don’t talk about politics in public. But why? Politics affects what happens to the environment, the economy, the legal system, and almost every other important aspect of life. If I say I am affiliated with this party or that party, I invite attacks—more so now than at any other time in my life.

The time has come for us all to get honest, to openly discuss the important issues of the day, and to allow leaders to be human. This shift is essential to support our most dynamic leaders who are creating a world that works for everyone.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Ending Poverty by 2050

When I woke up on January 1, 2050, I joined my large circle of friends to formally celebrate the elimination of poverty from Story County, Iowa. Let me tell you how this happened. It’s an amazing story that few believed possible 60 years ago.

Once we were sure that all our children were safe and healthy, then, and only then, did we turn our attention to making our personal lives more comfortable. Schools no longer charged fees for extracurricular activities. All children now had access to computers in the home so that the playing field was level from the beginning.

We helped couples decide to postpone having children. Adults made the conscious decision to slow down and take the time to really notice the extraordinary individuality of each child in our community. We decided to invest more of our time and energy in raising our children than in the pursuit of wealth. We got so interested in children that we were right there for them, in appropriately sensitive ways, on the very days when they had questions about sexuality, feelings of loss, and anxieties about being loved. We became more sophisticated about what children need from adults and made it our priority to give it to them. We watched while teen births gradually decreased, then became a thing of the past. During 2049 in Story County, no child was born to teenage parents.

Adult parents in Story County learned how to value maintaining a committed relationship above all else—how to simplify life by reducing unnecessary consumption, freeing up time and energy for building and strengthening their commitment. We realized that the benefits of having a successful, lifelong partnership far outweigh the difficulties we all experience sustaining one. People stopped tolerating emotional and physical abuse—indeed, the community developed strong, assertive plans to interrupt patterns of abuse in families.

Men and women realized the necessity of establishing good relationships with one another in order to stay close. People got better about asking friends for help with negotiating the challenges of staying together and raising a family. Children observed these changes and so learned how to choose compatible mates and how to communicate effectively to maintain a good, intimate relationship. The rate of family breakups fell from 50% to 6%.

Employers in Story County saw the wisdom of turning away from short-term earnings, investing more time and money into building teams of steady, reliable, well-paid workers able to fully utilize their talents to provide meaningful services to the community. During the past 40 years, employers have shifted away from generating products and services of questionable value for people and the environment, moving toward a deep commitment to enrich lives, while conserving and renewing natural resources for future generations.

Health insurance became universally accessible, benefiting thousands of vulnerable families in Story County. Many of the county’s older residents still remember the years of preferential medical care; younger people hear those stories with disbelief.

Transportation changed as radically here as in the rest of the nation. Electric vehicles replaced the fleet of polluting cars we once had. Supplementing our clean energy supply by natural gas burning facilities is necessary less than 5% of the time. Electric bus service now extends to all area businesses and communities. The use of bicycles increased dramatically as it became safer and easier to pedal around the county on hundreds of miles of newly constructed bike paths. As generosity and making new friends became a normal way of life, carpooling became easy. People with lower incomes now don’t have to worry about maintaining a car. There are plenty of ways to get where they need to go. Those who absolutely need a car but can’t afford the price can obtain a donated vehicle that has been donated.

The cost of housing decreased dramatically during the past 40 years. No one now has to spend more than 30% of take-home pay for rent. The city of Ames and Story County, through a number of bold public initiatives, paved a clear and reasonable path for anyone to move from affordable, subsidized rental situations to home ownership.

Because adults focused more on children, Story County citizens enthusiastically created the best childcare support system we could. Iowa joined the rest of the states in  providing excellent and affordable childcare for all. Most people had more time to spend with their own children because of their commitment to staying together as families, and, as life became more affordable and manageable, they didn’t feel compelled to work ever longer hours.

Story County developed such a powerful social safety network that it became virtually impossible for anyone to suffer poverty in isolation. These emergency financial support services have become just as important to us as our emergency police and fire services. People in our communities now know when families are in financial trouble and so are able to reach out quickly and effectively before evictions, job losses, family breakups, and a host of other destructive outcomes occur. Every community has ample emergency funding, plenty of skilled volunteers and professionals who know how to intervene, and Circles USA to ensure that people don’t fall back into poverty.

A family’s financial crisis is treated as an opportunity for community members to reach out in service to a neighbor—to support a family out of isolation. We have realized that every member of the community has gifts to share, and we’ve stopped wasting human potential by marginalizing individuals and families living in poverty.

When I woke up on January 1, 2050, I realized that at some point during the previous 40 years, a critical mass of people had figured out how to have enough money, enough friendship, and enough meaning in their lives to be truly happy. This core group became the catalyst necessary for making it an eventual reality for all. Story County had been transformed.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Letting Go of the Drama Triangle

There can be a strong temptation for some of us to try to rescue each other from our problems. This attempt often backfires and creates resentments in our closest relationships. Circles USA warns volunteers about the Drama Triangle, also known as the Rescuer Triangle.

In his book A Game Free Life (, psychotherapist Dr. Stephen Karpman explains the roles and interaction of the Drama Triangle:

Persecutor: Appears controlling, critical, angry, authoritative, rigid, superior.

Rescuer: Needs to be needed. Enables others to remain dependent and gives them permission to fail; rescuing helps rescuers avoid facing their own issues.

Victim: Appears oppressed, helpless, powerless, ashamed—finding it difficult to make decisions or solve problems.

As friends, we are vulnerable to being lured into the Drama Triangle frequently. How do we know we are in it?

  • We criticize, blame, and do our best to make someone else wrong—assigning fault.
  • We feel we don’t have viable options or the ability to negotiate to get what we want.
  • We rush to fix something so that someone else feels better.

As Americans, we tend to be indirect in our communications, taking a more passive-aggressive approach when we are not getting what we want. In Circles USA, however, we encourage everyone to learn how to steer clear of the drama triangle and simply ask for what they want or need, knowing that if the other person can’t give it to us, we have other options for meeting our needs and wants.

As a leader, I receive occasional invitations from people to jump on the Drama Triangle with them. It typically starts with someone’s feelings of disappointment, the subtext being “you are not doing what I want you to be doing, and there is something really wrong with you for not doing it the way I think you should be doing it. I am going to try to make you feel guilty enough to give me what I want.”

If we don’t get onto the Drama Triangle, there is no drama. There is simply a renegotiating of expectations and moving forward under a new and updated agreement. Or, the agreement might be that we don’t go forward together but rather move in different directions. Either way, the result is healthier than making decisions and acting while still emotionally stuck in the Drama Triangle.

If we make decisions because we feel attacked and shamed, then we will resent the other person in the relationship. If we decide to quit a relationship while angry or feeling victimized without communicating clearly what we want instead, we risk ending things prematurely and recreating the dynamics with someone new. We miss out on the lesson underneath what the distress is all about, a lesson that makes us stronger and more cognizant of our own unhealthy patterns.

I have organized my work and personal life so that I have fewer and fewer interactions with people who use the Drama Triangle as a way of doing business with others. If we create an environment in Circles USA that reinforces direct and respectful communication and extend that into all of our professional and personal relationships, it can become second nature to simply say “no” when the invitation to play in the Drama Triangle shows up next.

While stepping out of the Drama Triangle may necessitate leaving some friends behind, the relationships you consciously choose to keep will be of a higher quality, which creates more stability in the long run.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.