Monthly Archives: April 2020

Circles USA as a Strategy for Navigating the Emerging Economy

Circles USA is pursuing a 10-year goal to inspire a 10% reduction of poverty rates in 10% of all U.S. counties (300 of them). We are building Poverty Reduction System models that are synced with the emerging economy. While the idea of ending poverty seems impossible to many people, reducing it by 10% in 10 years seems more doable to the audiences I have shared my vision with over the past five years.

Perhaps the 10% number in 10 years harkens back to reaching the moon by the end of the ’60s, or 10% tithing as a reasonable amount to give back to one’s community of faith. Whatever it represents to people, we now have 60 counties on board in 21 states and counting to pursue this goal. When people get their minds around what this might take, everything that works against the goal comes to the surface with new clarity. The needs I keep hearing are for:

    • Better, updated job-creation strategies
    • More powerful and better-targeted training programs for the job demands of the emerging economy
    • Performance metrics and payment systems that reward workforce programs that help people make progress to 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
    • A strong safety net with the complete elimination of the Cliff Effect (disproportionate decreases in safety-net benefits when earning increases), incentivizing and rewarding work with pro-rated, easy-to-manage benefit schedules
    • Community-building programs that give people weekly support to manage poverty issues while they pursue a self-directed pathway to economic stability.

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

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

NEW 2019 Impact Report Released

Click HERE to download the PDF.

Featured sections include:

  • Our new Chapter curriculum for Circle Leaders, Allies, and Staff
  • Our work on systemic change, including Big View, Cliff Effect, and Poverty Reduction Labs
  • A recap of our 2019 Leadership Conference

We thank all of our dedicated staff, volunteers, and Circle Leaders across our network whose steadfast efforts are represented in this report.

People Hear the Call to Adventure Differently

How one hears the call to adventure is influenced by one’s belief system about how the world operates. In early 2001, a national poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School asked nearly 2,000 Americans aged 18 or older, “Which is the bigger cause of poverty today: that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor?” Respondents were roughly equally divided between “people not doing enough” (48%) and “circumstances” (45%).

A 2016 poll conducted by the LA Times and the conservative think tank American Enterprise showed similar results in terms of who or what is responsible for poverty — but with interesting nuances. For example, White blue-collar workers were more likely to blame the poor for their situation than Whites with college educations. When it comes to solutions, the study showed that more Blacks than Whites believed that government programs put people back on their feet and allowed them to get jobs and out of poverty. A majority of Whites believed that government programs create dependency and encourage people to stay poor. People in poverty believed that government programs fail primarily because not enough money had been put into them. More affluent people than working-class people believe that government programs are badly designed.

When people first get involved in Circles USA, they usually have a strong set of opinions about why people are in poverty and what kind of help they need. What happens through their experience with Circles USA, however, often shifts these opinions over time more to the middle ground. Many people discover that it is the combination of self-responsibility and planning skills coupled with new support systems and better designed private and public programs that can best help people escape poverty.

Because people do not change their belief systems easily, and because our beliefs ultimately drive what we do as individuals, a community, and a nation about poverty, the beginning of the end of poverty must start with understanding our current beliefs. While we have books and training programs that can increase people’s awareness of their beliefs, the most important strategy of Circles USA is the opportunity to build healthy and effective relationships across socioeconomic class lines. We want people in poverty to get to know people of middle-income and upper income means. It is through these relationships that people challenge their assumptions and arrive at better, more informed views of poverty.

As a White suburban kid, my primary call to adventure was to chase the American Dream as defined by making money, buying a nice house, raising a family, taking fun vacations, and having a respectable career. I learned that shopping is good for the economy, more stuff equates to more happiness, and respect from others comes through higher income and net worth. While my parents were born during the Great Depression and had a deep respect for the value of a dollar, my surroundings screamed out to me that consumerism is the path to happiness. My worldview might have remained the same except that I fell into an emotional abyss trying to be an architecture student, a path that did not seem to be my calling or fit my talent. Through the confusion that followed my leaving the architectural program, I encountered several significant guides who challenged my thinking to its core.

In my mental model of the American Dream, people could make as much money as they wanted to if only, they applied themselves. Through this lens, I saw the United States as the greatest equal opportunity nation on Earth. It was a level playing field, and if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would inevitably achieve the promises of the American Dream. Being poor was largely the consequence of not putting enough effort into one’s goals. Enabling the poor with subsidies, for example, was not going to help them in the long run.

For the past 40 years, however, I have met countless everyday heroes who have heard the call to alleviate the suffering caused by poverty. Heroes who have big hearts, keen minds, tenacious personalities, compassionate ears, generosity beyond the norm, and an uncommon amount of common sense. I have been inspired by the thousands of everyday heroes who have humbly answered the call to adventure and forged new relationships with people who have either a lot more or a lot less money than they do. People join our work with Circles USA because they want to help someone else. The nation has a deep tradition of charity, goodwill, and a love-thy-neighbor attitude, and it is wonderfully evident throughout our network of Circles USA chapters across the country and in Canada as well.

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

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

The Cultural Creatives

Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, in their 2000 publication Cultural Creatives, estimated that 50 million adult Americans focus on values that actively support the goal of ensuring everyone can pursue enough money, meaning, and friends to thrive, including an aggressive approach toward mitigating the problems of climate change.

According to a Huffington Post article, “Cultural Creatives Are Changing the World ,” updated on Dec 6, 2017, it was estimated that Cultural Creatives could now make up over half of the American population. This number may seem high to many of us because one thing Cultural Creatives have in common is the feeling of being alone in our values. We are not yet connected in ways that give us the common experience of changing the world together to reflect these values.

The values of the Cultural Creatives could be the key to creating the transformation we desire, values such as seeing nature as sacred, viewing relationships as important, and focusing less on material success. They want self-actualization and don’t believe in financial materialism. They want to be conscious activists for a world that works for everyone.

On the other hand, Traditionalists, as Ray and Anderson label them, do not embrace change, hold conservative political and religious beliefs, and are generally fearful. This market is dying off. Modernists believe in financial materialism and are secular. Success is a high priority, but they are being recruited to join the Cultural Creatives as they mature and realize that material success is not as satisfying anymore.

If you are a baby boomer like me, almost everything you think is normal is already changing: from the houses we live in; to how we get energy, transport ourselves, grow and buy our food; the materials we use for clothing and household items; and on and on. What has been an almost hidden force of cultural values is beginning to show itself. A recent poll done by NPR/PBS NewsHour and Marist conducted July 15-17, 2019 reveals that the majority of Americans believe in the following ideas:

    • Free public college
    • $15 minimum wage
    • A “Green New Deal”
    • Millionaire tax
    • Pathway to citizenship
    • Regulate drug prices
    • Voluntary Medicare for all
    • Gun background checks

The underlying values that support these ideas include fairness, society-mindedness, global-mindedness, and the diffusion of power from the hands of the few. While Modernists continue to press for free-market, deregulation, freedom to use the environment as you wish, lower taxes, etc. and Traditionalists fight for border security, nationalism and a merging of state and religion, the cultural creatives are gaining in numbers that will eventually change politics, the economy, how people practice their faith, our community infrastructure, the treatment of the planet, animals and each other.

Image Credit: By Source, Fair use,

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

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

Building a Shared Vision

The transformational planning process builds a shared vision that generates more commitment and solutions than you had before you started. To transform something requires a clear vision of what life would be like as a result. You must make this visioning process very personal for those you want to engage in your agenda. You must engage Allies in a rich planning process that taps into both their deepest worries and their dreams for the future. You will create strategies for creating the next level of commitment from stakeholders to the shared vision.

There are three reasons to involve others in developing your transformational plan:

    1. To have a shared vision. Peter Senge and other experts on organizational development tell us how rare it is to find a truly shared vision.
    2. To generate commitment. Shared visions generate more commitment than visions that are passed down from above. People find activities more meaningful if they are involved in developing those activities.
    3. To create better strategies. The more people enjoy pursuing the vision because it is personally meaningful to them, the more insights and energy you have going toward getting results.

Your preparation for developing a transformational plan is now complete. You developed a clear leadership agenda in Step 1. You have recruited a leadership team, and you have gathered compelling data. You are now ready to engage the community, your staff, and board in the transformational planning process for the purpose of building a shared vision that generates more commitment and solutions than you had before you started.

So, what should the plan look like when it is done? How will you know if you have something that is really capable of transforming your community?

Now, it is time to start writing the plan that will guide you and your stakeholders over the next couple of years. Here are the most important points to consider when writing your plan:

    1. Make it highly readable. Use “language of the heart” to capture people’s attention and to remind them of your passion to achieve the vision.
    2. Make it specific, holding people accountable to leadership assignments that will make a clear difference.
    3. Continue revising your drafts until you can reach consensus with your stakeholders. Have them show it to others who will be playing a role. Even if it takes 20 versions, it will be worth it to get full buy-in.

Another tip is to have one key writer who is supported by someone with editing and planning skills. Let these two people synthesize the feedback you receive. Much of the feedback will be about outcomes and strategies.

One rule of thumb with outcomes is that they should challenge the stakeholders of the plan without setting them up for failure. You don’t want your staff, program participants, board members, or volunteers feeling bored because the indicators are too modest or feeling anxious because they are too ambitious.

Regarding strategies, the dialogue needs to be around two questions:

    1. Do we have the right criteria to evaluate the potential impact of our strategies?
    2. Do we have the highest impact strategies we are capable of implementing?

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

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

Our Spending Choices Are Changing the Economy

coinsHow we choose to spend our money will determine whether the emerging economy increases or reduces poverty, protects or further degrades the planet, and makes us a happier or a more miserable society.

Our individual consumer habits matter. Every dollar is a vote for the world we want to create. Worried about climate change? Notice how often you tank up or travel for leisure. How about that new plastic gadget? How long before it ends up in the landfill? How about food shipped from a distant part of the country? As millions of us awaken to the detrimental impacts of our spending habits on the environment and on our health, we will generate a major shift in how our economy functions.

An economy should serve the greatest number of people for the highest good. It’s a system that we invented for the primary purpose of generating value for one another. We don’t just work to make money. We work because we have an inherent need to contribute to others. Human beings have spent the majority of their history working together in small groups to survive. Deep in our social DNA is the protective instincts of taking care of one another so that each of us can make our necessary contributions to thrive as a group.

There is far more cooperation in successful economies than we realize. Think of the coordinated efforts in providing you with this book to read. There are too many companies to list that were involved in making the complex products and providing the services necessary for me to write on a computer, email it to an editor, have it uploaded onto a publishing and distribution format, notify you that it’s available, and prepare the cup of coffee that you might be having while reading it.

Imagine if we understood the notion that the best economy is one that works for everyone. The tragedy of poverty would end. The United States has more than enough resources to eradicate poverty, literally overnight if we chose to do so. These realities can happen once a critical mass of people adopts a new paradigm about the purpose and goals of the economy.

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

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

Archetypal Roles in Organizations

Several leaders we work with like to use the following court roles as a metaphor. To be effective, organizations must have strong people playing the roles of King/Queen, Warrior, Lover, and Wizard.


The primary responsibility of the King or Queen is to download the initial vision and communicate it regularly to others so that it can be built upon through a shared vision involving the key stakeholders of an organization or community. John Kotter, author of Leading Change, speaks to the importance of creating a sense of urgency.

The Queen

or King cannot underestimate how frequently she or he needs to articulate his or her vision and eventually the shared vision. In most organizations, the King or Queen is played by the CEO, president, or executive director. In collaborative leadership, it can be an entire group of leaders who are playing this role in tandem with each other.


Every organization is vulnerable. Its weaknesses must be monitored and addressed by the Warrior. Unexpected threats arise, and it is the role of the Warrior to take responsibility to protect the organization. Too often this role is left to the King or Queen, which is inappropriate. It is too difficult to effectively lead and protect at the same time. The Warrior role is typically played by the CFO, executive assistant, and/or COO. His or her job can also include protecting the King or Queen from himself or herself as needed. Obviously, there is a strong level of trust between Warrior and Queen or King.


Lovers are the ones who attract others to the organization. They typically work in sales, fundraising, marketing, communications, and community engagement positions. Lovers are those you want to be around, join with, and have ongoing interactions with throughout a process. They are very easy to get along with and will go out of their way to help you.


The Wizard develops and maintains the magic that an organization creates in products and services. He or she is the one generating the value added for the world. The Wizard(s) can be the chief technology officer, services or products manager, chief designer, etc. Because the Wizard is producing on behalf of the organization what the world is buying, it is easier for the Wizard to confuse his or her role with the King or Queen than for the Lover or Warrior. When and if that happens, the King or Queen must immediately assert his or her role and reset the boundaries to eliminate confusion.

The more able we are to understand these personality traits in ourselves and others, the easier it is for us to build a conscious leadership team that is capable of functioning at a high enough level to bring about transformations. Does your organizational leadership team possess each of the archetypal roles: King/Queen/Warrior/Lover/Wizard? If not, how can you bring someone onto your team to play these crucial roles?

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

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