Reducing Poverty in Your Community by 10%: A Tipping Point

Ending poverty is the clear-cut mission of Circles USA, but many people feel it’s impossible. However, Circles has two decades of evidence that with support, people can leave poverty behind. So, how do we get to numbers that show a distinct reduction in poverty across a community, a state, or the nation? How do we reach a “tipping point”?

That’s part of the Circles strategy to bring together community resources and help to formulate a plan to reduce a community’s poverty rate by at least 10%. By demonstrating that a 10% reduction of poverty can be achieved, we believe that tipping point will occur, creating the momentum needed to not only reduce poverty, but to someday end it altogether.

What’s a Tipping Point?  

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of a tipping point in his 2000 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Gladwell described it as a pivotal shift in popular opinion: “a magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” 

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame,” said Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer.

Inspired by this evidence that, as anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested, “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” Circles USA engages with communities committed to reducing poverty in their geographic footprint by at least 10%. 

How does Circles USA support communities to reduce poverty by 10%? 

Together, Circles USA and participating communities navigate four major stages of development:

ASSESSMENT—Asking questions: “Are we committed to the work of ending poverty in our community? Do we have the leadership and resources to start a Circles chapter? Are we open to supporting all community members to thrive?”

CIRCLES IN THE MAKING—Getting started: If your community is ready and willing to start Circles, you will enter into a planning agreement with Circles USA to lay the foundation for how a Circles chapter will outpicture in your area. With training and personalized design support, the community collaboration is crafted to support a Circles chapter.

CIRCLES DEMONSTRATION—Taking action: You are now implementing Circles to support families out of poverty, building intentional relationships, and impacting your community as people are not only moving from surviving to thriving but also finding their voice to become advocates for important changes. 

SCALE TO A TIPPING POINT—Moving forward: Your Circles chapter is getting results and you can see the potential of growing Circles into more locations in your community to have a greater impact.

Circles USA Chief Learning Officer, Kamatara Johnson

The Circles model combines direct services for families experiencing poverty with bold systemic change. For more about our results, please see our latest Impact Report.

The time has come to intentionally pursue the end of poverty in our nation, in our lifetime!

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