Category Archives: Leadership for Poverty Reduction

Poverty Reduction Leadership Series

Why Vision is Important

Without vision, the matrix tells us that people feel confusion and a lack of motivation to change. Pain will push people so far, but then vision must pull them toward something attractive. Without vision, old habits persist, and situations will continue to deteriorate. Vision must provide a compelling case for change, a strong description of what could happen if, for example, we ended poverty. And it must provide two or three high-impact strategies that let people know that the vision can be achieved.


The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.

— Rainer Maria Rilke


Individual Change Precedes Social Change

Just as in the cycles of nature, you will move through each of the four seasons of the change process. The first task is to develop a clear understanding of your own vision and purpose.

When we wish to change something in the world, there is often something in our own lives that we want to explore, assess, and change as well.

For example, in my early job experience serving people struggling in poverty, I realized how often people seemed alone with their problems. So, I created support groups as a response to such isolation. Then I looked at my own life and asked, “Where do I feel too alone in my own problems? How can I give myself more support?”

It became apparent that before I could make any lasting social change, I had to commit to changing my own life. Circles USA was the result of an intense soul-searching process that I began in the mid-1990s. Circles is a process of surrounding yourself with people who will be Allies as you make an important change, such as moving out of poverty.

A fundamental assumption underlying our approach is that each of us is more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. One might think global questions are only for world leaders to answer, but it takes only one person to send a breakthrough idea around the world at lightning speed. When we listen to our hearts, make a commitment to action, form a circle of supportive Allies, learn whatever is necessary, and embed change into the culture, the world can be positively impacted.


From the book: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

Having Enough Money & Time

When we have enough money, meaning, and friends, we can thrive. We are capable of stepping more fully into our authentic human nature and enjoying what life has to offer at higher levels of satisfaction.

When we have enough of what really matters in life, we do not have to answer the question, “How are you?” with comments like “Things are so crazy” or “I am so busy.” We can give ourselves the time we need to listen to our heart’s whispers of guidance and inspiration. We can spend quality time with our friends and family members long enough to hear what they are experiencing and join them with love and compassion.

While the culture of consumerism screams for us to make money and spend it all as fast as possible, many of us are rejecting this addictive and unsustainable way of life. We are drawn to concepts such as slow spending, small footprints, relational living, local sustainability, etc. We are finding our sense of enoughness that brings us a consistently satisfying life experience.

Climate change is also telling us it is time to slow down. Our bodies are telling us enough is enough. We have exhausted ourselves trying to keep up with a society that is largely out of touch with what it means to be a human being. Yes, we are miraculous beings full of unlimited potential, but we still function in a world of necessary physical limits. We have only so much time, so much psychic energy, and so many physical resources to use. Balancing our unlimited potential with these natural limits is what we as human beings are being called to learn and master at this time.

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

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

The Transformational Map

Leading societal change can be an overwhelming proposition. It’s like crossing the ocean for the first time. We all want navigational tools to know where we are and how to make course corrections to reach our destination.

The Transformational Map was developed by Circles USA (formerly known as Move the Mountain Leadership Center) during a 12-year period with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Transformational Map was tested with leaders of nonprofit organizations and community action agencies that have a federal mandate to end poverty. We provided leadership development training and coaching to help leaders shift the attention of their agencies from managing poverty with low-impact strategies to reducing poverty with high-impact strategies.

Drawn from this experience and beyond, this Transformational Leadership Program takes you through a straightforward process of ensuring that your time and talents are channeled into a purposeful direction.

All transformational efforts go through a cycle of four stages:

  1. Articulating the vision,
  2. Aligning with relevant Allies, including people and organizations,
  3. Learning whatever is necessary in pursuit of the vision, and
  4. Embedding the vision into the culture.

From the book: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

The Key to Happiness


Spoiler alert: My primary theory of happiness is that it grows in proportion to how you use your precious time to have enough money, meaning, and friends and to express your fullest potential.


 

What do I mean by this statement?

  • Precious time —understanding that no one knows how much time he or she has left in life, but it will never be more than 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or 12 months a year. Being mindful of our limited time steers us toward meaningful activity.
  • Enough money —having a steady and reliable income that covers basic needs, provides savings for emergencies and large purchases as needed, and gives you enough extra to express yourself and to help others.
  • Enough meaning —having a strong sense of your personal mission and following it. The root of the word vocation is vocare , which means “to call.” When we follow our calling in life, we have boundless energy, and we feel a consistent enthusiasm to keep going.
  • Enough friends —having enough family and friends who put energy into your bucket more often than they take energy out of it. Having a strong connection to your family, community, and humanity that consistently shifts your attention from yourself to others. A sense of security that comes from having a community comprised of strong and healthy relationships.
  • Express your fullest potential —listening to your heart’s desire and giving your all to achieving your unique vision. Understand your strengths, core values, and how best to manage weaknesses. Surround yourself with positive people who will cheer you on as you pursue your gifts, talents, and passions.

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

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

Changing the Mindset—Can We Believe in Ending Poverty?


One person can make a difference, and everyone should try. — John F. Kennedy


I was in New York City a few years ago having a conversation with a former United Nations ambassador about my first book, Until It’s Gone, Ending Poverty in our Nation, in our Lifetime. He asked me several questions about my assumptions regarding the nature of poverty and about my work at Circles USA. After 30 minutes of dialogue, he revealed what was really behind his questioning when he said to me, “Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Is ending poverty going against the Bible?”

The former ambassador was not alone in asking this question. For many in the nation, the biblical proclamation that “the poor will always be with us” strongly suggests that no matter what we do, we will always have poverty. From this point of view, any attempt to eradicate poverty is a task that has no hope of success. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is to manage poverty or maybe save a few people. But can we believe in ending poverty? Yes, I believe we can do it, but only if we change our mind-set.

Through the Transformational Leadership Program, we will review assumptions about high-impact strategies that are worth investing time and resources in pursuing. High impact means the effort aims to change the mind-set that created the organization or system of organizations. The mind-set informs the goals that shape the programs of the organization. To create a system to end poverty requires that the system change its entire culture.

For example, when people don’t believe that the poverty rate can be reduced, let alone eliminated, they create a poverty management system. To change that system, we will have to apply resources toward affecting the deeper beliefs that shape the system’s culture. How can we can challenge such a dominating belief?

I took the former ambassador’s belief that “the poor will always be with us” to a theologian who works closely with a Circles USA chapter and discovered that the original teaching has been taken out of context. If one Googles “the poor will always be with us,” she or he will find evidence of this confusion with warnings not to use this statement to discourage social action. Additionally, many passages in the Bible suggest a much more active stance toward the poor.

While this example from Christianity is a useful teaching tool, Circles USA partners with a range of secular and religious organizations. Circles USA’s inclusive, nonpartisan community welcomes people from all faiths, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic classes. Understanding the beliefs of these diverse community stakeholders is key.

From the book: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

Pursuing Happiness

We are most effective when doing work that is both meaningful and makes us happy. For example, we are, as Walt Whitman would say, “large, [we] contain multitudes.” I am a kid from the ‘burbs, a national nonprofit leader, a long-time married guy, baby boomer, artist, musician, author, explorer, world traveler, seeker of higher consciousness, and recovering non-golfer. But my most essential identity is someone who wants to fulfill a life purpose while here on this spectacular planet. My nature, like yours, is hard-wired to pursue happiness, joy, beauty, abundance, love, and harmony. So, how do I intentionally follow my heart’s desire—my calling to adventure—and live a life full of loving relationships and meaning? What kind of life and work would make me happy next?

My Happiness Philosophy

  • Bottom line: Everyone wants to be happy.
  • We can achieve happiness by applying daily skills that we can learn.
  • People are happiest when they are part of a community of others who care for one another.
  • Happy people are naturally generous and focus a lot of their attention toward caring for others and appreciating nature.
  • Happy people will take a firm stand on what they believe is important in life.
  • Happy people don’t need as much stuff or activity to be happy. Therefore, they are easier on the planet and tend to live respectfully within the boundaries of natural limits.
  • Happiness is part of our emotional guidance system that lets us know we are pursuing what is most important to us, based on our values and our own unique internal “drummer.”
  • When we focus on what we want to do , rather than what we should do, the feeling of happiness will guide us in being a more productive citizen and a better steward of the planet.

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

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

Book Release: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends

Enough Money, Meaning & Friends, by Scott C. Miler

To be happy, we have to have enough money, be engaged in a purpose that matters to us, and enjoy a close circle of friends and family who have our back when we most need them. This book provides you with a straightforward approach to reorganizing your life around the essentials so you are no longer wasting your precious time, talent, and treasure on anything else. Make your highest contribution to a sustainable world that works for everyone.

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Available on Amazon

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

Book Release: Transformational Leadership by Scott C. Miller

Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty, How to Tap Your Community’s Wisdom to End Poverty and Thrive, by Scott C. Miller

This book provides a framework for how to begin the reduction of poverty in your community. We currently have a poverty management system and what we need is a poverty reduction system. Leaders can join others around the country in using the Transformational Map to guide them through the process of creating an alternative system that reduces poverty, which eventually can lead to the complete eradication of poverty.

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Available from Amazon

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

Tsuha Foundation Awards Circles USA

The Tsuha Foundation’s annual Breaking the Cycle Award celebrates the organization that has best used its funding to interrupt the cycle of poverty.

Foundation representatives noted: “Circles USA works at both a grassroots and systems level to achieve measurable results toward poverty elimination. The Tsuha Foundation admires how Circles USA exemplifies its values of respect, accountability, and engagement to create lasting change for the people and communities affected by poverty.”

Circles USA received this surprise award at the conclusion of the 2019 Leadership Conference in Greenville, SC. Here’s our team, pictured from left to right: Scott Miller, Chris Tinney, Jamie Haft, Kamatara Johnson, Gena Atcher, and Courtney Cowan. Congratulations to the entire network for creating a lasting impact by consciously building thriving communities!

Q&A with Jamie Haft, Circles USA’s New Executive Director

This summer, Jamie Haft was appointed Executive Director to manage the strategic planning and operational functions of the organization. Scott Miller is continuing as Founder, advancing key partnerships and research. With a model of collaborative leadership, added capacity will expand our growing network of 70-plus locations reducing poverty. Here’s our Q&A with Jamie, who served as our Deputy Director for the last year.

What’s your personal connection to this work?

I vividly remember the first time I witnessed global poverty. I was 20 years old and had won a college scholarship to study in India. When I arrived in Mumbai, I saw a station so crowded that people were riding on the outside of the train cars, gripping for their lives. Our guide explained how workers needing money must reach their city jobs at the expense of their safety. I felt sick sensing the desperation of their circumstances, and so I wanted to dedicate myself to addressing the suffering caused by poverty.

Why was I born into a life with access to education, among other freedoms, while others are struggling to get by? Growing up, my family often discussed inequality. My grandfather, Harry Haft, was violently persecuted during the Holocaust before emigrating to the United States. In my Jewish culture, there is an imperative to repair the world, called tikkun olam. After college, I became a community organizer and worked in communities across the United States, which eventually led me to Circles.

What’s your favorite aspect of Circles?

The relationship between Circle Leaders and Allies is so important. During a difficult time in my own life, I could not imagine a way forward, but I was fortunate to have allies who listened to me and encouraged me to find new strength. That’s why I’m passionate about experiences that expand our imagination about what’s possible for our lives. I appreciate that the goal in Circles is to create heart-felt relationships and personal growth for all involved.

Plus, community leaders are empowered through Circles to tackle the systemic issues that prevent people from getting out of poverty. They are pursuing solutions to the chronic problems of affordable housing, childcare, transportation, healthcare, financial literacy, the cliff effect, and quality jobs. Through Circles, people expand imagination about what’s possible for their community’s future.

How will you approach the job of Executive Director?

I’ve been influenced from studying the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and especially Ella Baker’s philosophy: humbly listen to those doing the work and support them into positions of power. In that spirit, my priority is to listen closely to Circles USA’s longtime members and partners and see what our office can do next to support them. My role is inviting dialogue, bringing what’s heard into a shared vision, and directing operations to meet our collective goals.

Our Chapters have been the heart of this organization for 20 years, and we will soon launch new multimedia tools and training programs. In the coming year, I’ll focus on enabling Chapters to become Regional Hubs. Additionally, I’ll continue developing our pilot Poverty Reduction Lab initiative, which is already leading systemic change in three states.

What has surprised you about Circles USA?

I was thrilled to discover Circles USA’s attention to changing the narrative about poverty. My bachelor’s degree is in theater and my master’s degree is in public relations, so I want to draw on this experience to gain a national commitment for ending poverty. As Founder, Scott Miller’s books and methods have called for the eradication of poverty so that everyone has enough money, meaning, and friends for a sustainable future. I’m excited to collaborate with a new generation of leaders to expand this call with as much urgency and creativity as possible. To do so, I’m developing a communications campaign with leaders from Circles and our partners. We will create multimedia publications about how solving poverty also solves problems with the economy, health, justice, and the environment. We will offer our success stories with practical strategies for reducing poverty rates across North America.

What are some of your ideas for Circles USA’s future?

Most important to me is supporting leadership throughout our network. For Circles USA to adequately build an inclusive community for ending poverty, I believe the organization must reflect this country’s cultural diversity, with attention to ethnicity, gender, age, geography, disability, and sexual orientation. The Haas Institute’s framework of Othering and Belonging is a great resource. As an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, I am acutely aware of the need to provide safety, visibility, and economic opportunity to those who have been marginalized in our society.

I’m proud of how we incorporated these values into the recent development of our new multimedia training materials for Circle Leaders and Allies. Because our 2018 Impact Report revealed that 79% of Circle Leaders identify as female, we added new content about gender equity. We also added new content on structural racism and white privilege in support of race equity.

Long term, I want Circles USA to more intentionally address issues facing women, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, people of color, indigenous, and LGBTQ+ communities. Let’s have Circle Chapters and Poverty Reduction Labs created with, by, and for these communities. We’re currently establishing relationships with new partners who are committed to social justice. Our upcoming Leadership Conference – October 14-17 in Greenville, SC – will feature some of these organizations. I’m looking forward to meeting you there!

To share your aspirations for the organization’s future and to get involved, contact jamie@circlesusa.org.