This December, Executive Director Kamatara Johnson shared CUSA’s work and mission at an Economic Mobility Summit hosted by Palm Beach County Community Services in West Palm Beach, FL. The Summit, which gathered government and nonprofit poverty alleviation specialists from across the Southeast region and U.S., was the first annual convening of the Securing Our Future Initiative (SOFI). SOFI “seeks to move community stakeholders in bold new directions to address poverty by laying the foundation for a comprehensive, integrated system of social supports that will empower families as they advance economically.” [source]
According to organizers, the Securing Our Future Summit aimed “to increase awareness about how various health and human services organizations are promoting cross-sector alignment.”
Johnson’s talk shared Circles USA’s decades of experience and the evidence that shows: intentional relationships improve pathways for upward mobility for low-earning workers. Families experiencing poverty have limited social and human capital to support their opportunities to advance economically. Yet research has shown that these social networks can significantly improve an individual’s prospect to become financially independent. Relationships are clearly the keystone in the Circles model of success.
SOFI’s Summit drew on the poverty alleviation practices of around 450 attendees and 11 sponsoring organizations. Participants addressed topics including safety and justice, health and wellness, food and hunger, employment, childcare, housing, education, transportation, and technology. Keynote speaker Raj Chetty (Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University and Director of Opportunity Insights) and panelist Dr. Camille Busette (Director – Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative, Brookings Institute) discussed leveraging social capital networks to advance economic mobility. Exploring economic connectedness and its association with upward mobility, Chetty and Busette asked: Can an individual’s social network be a factor in their ability to earn more and achieve the American Dream? And can socially connected communities provide a pathway out of poverty?
Balancing these global and national policy perspectives, 19+ local and regional cultural workers from the nonprofit, higher education, and public sectors spoke on topics impacting Palm Beach, Florida, and the Southeast. Notable speakers at the SOFI Summit included Kemberly Bush, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Pathways to Prosperity; Florence French Fagan, Southeast Senior State Organizer, Bread for the World; Tiffney Marley, Senior Vice President, Practice Transformation at Community Action Partnership; Mighty Fine, Director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Professional Development, American Public Health Association (APHA); and Josh Kirschenbaum, Chief Operating Officer, PolicyLink.
Kemberly Bush from Pathways 2 Prosperity (P2P), which is the lead organization for Circles West Palm Beach County, FL, said, “Being a part of Palm Beach County’s Economic Mobility Summit was amazing, particularly the ‘standing room only’ Social Capital and Employment breakout session with Circles USA. This session allowed community leaders, residents and national experts to have real dialogue about the Circles Model and the value of being connected and using our connections to offer a hand-up to put others on a path to economic empowerment and sustainability. Thank you, Kamatara, for your energy, expertise and guidance on poverty solutions!”