Category Archives: Leadership for Poverty Reduction

Poverty Reduction Leadership Series

The Four Faces of a Clock Tower and our Economy

John W. Miller

John W. Miller

This past January, my friend Chris and I flew to my brother’s home in Florida to pick up a family heirloom and drive it back to my home in Albuquerque. It is a five-foot model of a clock tower built meticulously by hand by my great-grandfather, John W. Miller, in 1893. 

Clock towers typically have four faces so that anyone in the community can see what time it is. It serves everyone equally regardless of who and where they are. Imagine an economy that has the same purpose as a clock tower—to serve everyone regardless of where they are located in a community. Right now, if you are born in poverty, the economy will not serve you at the same level as someone who is born into wealth. This can change. Like a clock tower, the economy is a tool invented by humans to serve human beings. The condition of poverty is an unnecessary characteristic of the US economy. An economy that generates so much poverty as ours is like a clock tower that has only one or two faces rather than all four.

To restore the economy to its original purpose—a tool for all citizens to use in their pursuit of happiness—leaders in each sector of society must embark on a transformational adventure:

The business community, which currently wields the most influence of all sectors, needs to adopt the triple bottom line approach–measuring its success and implementing policy decisions based on the question, “is it good for profit, people, and the planet?” This maturational step is essential for sustaining human life on Earth. No longer can the simple pursuit of a profit be what drives the business community. It’s too dangerous.

The government sector must evolve from its motivation to serve to the lower realms of political and bureaucratic goals to the higher road of service to its citizenry. The primary question is, “are we expanding the capacity of our citizens to thrive?” Politicians must learn to take the high road, follow their conscience and their constituencies, and let the chips fall where they fall. Everyone will be better off for it in the long run.

Philanthropy must invest in innovation. To end poverty, it must invest in creating poverty reduction systems as an alternative to poverty management systems.

Education must understand where the emerging economy is heading and provide students with the tools, skills, and awareness to thrive within the emerging economy, not the economy that is disappearing from us .

Faith organizations must stay out of politics if they are going to compromise their spiritual principles and values for political gains. They must remain focused on raising consciousness, deepening the spirituality of its members, and building loving and caring communities.

Leadership development and support are essential to shift each sector to a higher plane of functioning which is where I am investing the majority of my time and energy going forward.

We must recognize the purpose of the economy is to serve us all, not just some of us. Regardless of which sector you work in, there is a need for your leadership in building alternative systems to replace existing ones. To have four faces of the clock for all citizens to see, we must notice that there are at least two faces missing, and it is our responsibility to put them onto the clock, so everyone has an opportunity to prosper.

 

 

 

Love as the most practical pursuit

Most Americans spend the first 2/3rds of their life earning enough income to build up an arsenal of stuff, only to spend the last 1/3rd getting rid of it.  All that stuff temporarily stays in our homes and then works its way to the overfilled landfills, the rivers, the oceans, or wherever else it goes. Meanwhile, some lucky people don’t do that. Call them the really privileged ones. Because of their global circumstances, culture, family, or simply an early moment of radical clarity, they decide that loving others is what is worth spending their time and talents doing. Gathering stuff is mostly seen as a distraction.

For these privileged ones, life is slower, richer, happier, deeper, and better. How do I know this?  I have found this privilege in myself—not as strongly as I wish it were, but still there as the quiet voice within. I have also met people who gave up stuff and tuned in.  They report how much better it all gets.  They chase love rather than things. They take the time to feel life rather than numb out. They choose to learn how to love others unconditionally. How sweet can one’s life experience get?  Chocolate syrup with marshmallows sweet.

 

 

Dorothy, Circles, and The Hero’s Journey

Circles USA Founder & CEO, Scott C. Miller speaking at the Circles USA International Conference, “This is your call to adventure!”

 

Sometimes the worst time of our life sets us up for the best time of our life. By looking at mythological stories from around the world and throughout history, Joseph Campbell mapped out the universal story that all humans live and called it the Hero’s Journey. The Wizard of Oz is an iconic Hero’s Journey.

The journey begins with the call to adventure. Dorothy decides to leave home. She then refuses the call—after being fooled by the soon-to-be-wizard– to go back home. But as life would have it, she is tossed into the air by an unexpected tornado, her familiar world now completely upside down. She is dropped into the unknown world of munchkins, witches, and a yellow brick road.

With no seeming ability to return home anytime soon, she receives guidance from Glinda, the witch of the north. Dorothy sets off on the yellow brick road. She soon meets her circle of allies—scarecrow, tin man, and lion. Metaphorically, they are brains, heart, and brawn. But doubt lessens each of them as Dorothy and her allies make their way to see the wizard to claim their brains, heart, brawn and the way back home.

We all know how the story ends. Dorothy meets the wizard only to see that he was not the way home she thought he was to be. Instead, her guide the good witch Glinda shows up to tell her she always had the power inside herself to return home.

The Wizard of Oz contains all of these main chapters of the Hero’s Journey: Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Assistance to Accept the Call, Trials and Tribulations (as in the wicked witch of the west), Guidance, The Emotional Reward (treasuring home and family in the case of Dorothy), and Returning Home with more wisdom and a desire to share the lessons learned with others.

As people’s homes come spinning down into our Circles’ communities, they are often very distressed, disoriented, and reluctant to walk on the new road. As they continue to walk into the unknown, their allies show up, guidance is given, and the emotional reward that can only come from taking up the adventure makes the experience worth it all. Sometimes the worst of life can become the beginning of the best of life. So it is for everyday heroes.

Scott Miller

 

When Elders Get into the Hooch

On the second evening of our international Circles Conference in Pittsburgh, I was having dinner with Vince, Sarah, Gena, and Courtney. All of us were saturated from the busyness of the day, and with nothing better on our minds, Vince, Sarah, and I decided to clarify some random historical facts. For starters, there have just been six Presidents with really long terms and a series of stand-ins: Lincoln, Washington, JFK, Lewis and Clark, and Vince. Vince remains President today but keeps a very low profile by staying off both Facebook and The View. His current stand-in provides daily “air cover” so Vince can quietly negotiate world peace, sustainability, and increasing the kind quotient of human beings everywhere without the media catching wind of any of it and spoiling his 2019 surprise about saving humanity.

We then concurred that yes indeed it was true that Pittsburgh had been relocated 400 miles east when the steel mills closed down and the beach was in walking distance. If the group would get off their rear ends and walk with us, we could be out of the snow and onto a balmy boardwalk in 10 minutes. No takers. The intoxicating power of making stuff up grows stronger and stronger. We are emboldened, feeling confident—cocky even. Who knew that “alternative facts” were so empowering and liberating?

This was when Gena leaned over to the young Courtney and said, “This is what happens when elders get into the hooch.”

Later on, I asked Courtney, who is 22, if she knew some of my favorite bands from the 60’s and 70’s—I gave her my list. Nope, nothing rings a bell. I then asked her about Led Zeppelin. YES! She knew Led Zeppelin’s music because of her sister.

“Really, how old is your sister?”

“21.”

Guess I was expecting her sister to be 60. Sarah points out that it probably wasn’t someone’s mother who had passed it onto her sister; it was most likely someone’s grandmother. This is when I reminded everyone how young I was, having been born in ‘87. The hair loss was of course from that chemistry experiment gone awry that almost killed my lab partner Danny Devito (looked at what happened to him). I also reminded everyone, again, that I had been a child prodigy community organizer and had started my career at the age of 3 working next to Obama. The idea of Circles came to me when I was eating a box of Cheerios at daycare.

President Vince laughed and reminded everyone that this could not be possible because I had been his ace campaign manager back in ‘52 when he beat Ike. That would make me at least 39.

And so it went until we finally left the establishment and found our way to a pub on the balmy boardwalk to have a nightcap with our good old friend George Washington.

Truth is so yesterday. Alternative facts are so lit—did I say that right?

WHO CARES?!!!!

– Scott C. Miller

Work requirement and the “Safety Net.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aims to add work requirements for Medicaid and other welfare programs.  Will this help to reduce poverty or make it worse? 

The US has a “poverty management” system, rather than a poverty reduction system.  If you follow the money from the federal government to state to local entities, you will see it comes down in silos, for specific programs, creating a kaleidoscope of complicated, fragmented services.

Progressives want more subsidies in the absence of robust livable-wage job creation. Conservatives want fewer subsidies and increased personal accountability. Work requirements are intended to increase personal accountability. But, if economic development programs, workforce programs, and safety net programs are not held accountable to providing enough good jobs and coordinated services that move people out of poverty, individual responsibility policy fixes have little to offer. They might sound good politically, but they often make life more difficult for those who are having the most problems in our economy.

To reduce poverty, we must:

create poverty reduction systems that are financed to support people out of poverty, as in 200% or more of the federal poverty level; eliminate the cliff effect built into safety net programs that financially penalize people for taking more hours, higher pay, and new jobs; create more jobs with better and more up-to-date economic development strategies.

There are solutions to poverty. Many conservatives believe the solution lies in people accepting more personal responsibility, and many liberals believe we need to provide more benefits and better jobs. What is the answer? All of the above.

For more information on our Circles USA solutions, please read my latest book, co-authored with my conservative friend, Denise Rhoades, “Bootstraps and Benefits: What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions.”

Together, we can begin the end of poverty in our lifetime. Join the conversation at CirclesUSA.org

March 2017 Impact Report

This report measures our success in key strategic areas related to achieving a major reduction in poverty. The data is collected from Chapters across North America America and is compiled by Circles USA.

THERE ARE FOUR VARIABLES THAT INFLUENCE THE RESULTS OF CIRCLES, INCLUDING:

1. The level of employability of Circle Leaders CUSA tracks whether people are in situational poverty or have been raised in poverty. We also note whether they are entering an educational or career track. The level of work experience usually determines the level of soft skills people possess prior to Circles that assists them in earning more income.

2. Availability of Jobs The availability of good-paying jobs in a community dictates how easy it is for people to find economically secure jobs. The trends of automation, globalization and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the economy. People must have higher-level skills to be qualified for jobs that provide enough income to reach at least 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and become economically stable. Circles provide long-term support so that people can achieve the education and training necessary to secure good jobs.

3. The impact of the Cliff Effect The most challenging Cliff Effects are in childcare and healthcare insurance. For many, there is a real hardship from shifting from stable benefits to unstable earned income. This is especially true if that income does not cover all the expenses the benefits covered. People raised with food stamps, housing assistance vouchers, and/or TANF subsidies often find it psychologically difficult to exchange secured benefits for new earned income opportunities. If they cannot predict changes, it becomes a potential crisis to accept more earned income. Therefore, Circles USA created its own online Cliff Effect Planning Tool.

4. Social Capital Circles boosts the social capital of each participant to have more peer relationships as well as “Allies” who provide new networks of connections. Circles is co-designed with a variety of education, employment, and human services programs to provide volunteer-driven community supports that produce better results.

DATA REGARDING SPECIFIC CHAPTERS OR COMMUNITIES IS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.

Philanthropy Magazine Article

John M. Templeton Jr.

The Roundtable is the leading voice in philanthropy for objectivity, integrity, open-mindedness, and stewardship with a commitment to measurable results.

– John M. Templeton Jr., Chairman and President, John Templeton Foundation

Circles USA has been featured in the most recent edition of Philanthropy Magazine, published by Philanthropy Roundtable.

This article comes as Circles USA begins our 2017 expansion and shares the heart warming story of Danika. When Danika was 21 years old, she nearly became a homeless single mother. After dropping out of college she was working at McDonald’s and couch-surfing. Eventually, she humbly returned with her infant to her mother’s home in Asheville, North Carolina. Danika’s efforts to improve her job-readiness skills led her to the local Circles program, which gave her the help and motivation to become self-sufficient.

Philanthropy Magazine Article on Poverty

 

The Election

ellection effects on povertyThis week’s election has awakened me from a certain amount of sleepwalking. Even though I pay attention to national and global affairs, I often don’t take the time to register the weight of the seismic events affecting our world. I can be emotionally detached from the churning, suffering, and momentous upheaval that is the reality for so many people.

The emerging world economy, climate change, and propensity towards violence remain the biggest threats going forward. The election has stirred up an unprecedented upheaval in people’s minds and hearts about how we are going to handle these challenges.

The economy is going to require a massive new understanding of jobs, wages, benefits, taxation, etc. We are about to see huge shifts in what gets automated and what training and retraining humans will need to do in order to find work in the immediate and near future. Structures like Circles will be essential to support people who are taking on the changes, and even more so for people who feel unable to adapt with these rapid changes.

I have been worried about climate change for more than 15 years after participating in my first intensive weeklong conference on the topic. Certainly there are enough people in power, not to mention virtually the entire scientific community, who fear the threat of inaction. Right? We will certainly find ways to hold our major corporations accountable to take more aggressive actions to reverse the trends before bio systems collapse and make life incredibly difficult for the millennials and their children. Right?

But what evidence do I have that humanity will not shoot itself in the foot by never addressing climate change appropriately, i.e. urgently, aggressively, and immediately? It seems we are likely to keep escalating the problem through the prolonged release of carbon emissions. We are likely to keep hopping on planes to visit exotic places and get in our SUVs to drive to the grocery store and buy products transported 1000 miles for our global palates and convenience. We are likely to keep buying a mind-boggling amount of new plastic gadgets we don’t need and return to our homes that are warmed by coal-burning plants.

It’s akin to catching the last call at the bar on the Titanic. Unfortunately humans are capable of enormous denial in the face of danger. Most of us are never going to leave the carbon emissions bar until the captain of the ship says we are about to hit an iceberg. (Or in this case, there are no icebergs and the ocean now meets the shores of Ohio.) Unfortunately, bio systems have feedback delays, which means they won’t show the kind of warning signs that would get the attention of a carbon-intoxicated party crowd.

Violence is an unnecessary reaction to fear. We can and need to be better at how we communicate and solve problems with one another. Being nonviolent is a skill that can and should be taught to everyone. We need to show our children that it is best to take responsibility for one’s actions, stop blaming others, and be less addicted to the idea of winning at all costs.

There is a lot to reflect about. Many of us have the capacity and interest to think globally and connect the dots of history to potential scenarios of the future. But we must engage others who disagree with us in meaningful dialogue. We need to get much more active.

We can’t just whine about this with like-minded friends over lattes. We can’t just post it on Facebook. We need to power up through social media and political action to increase the public’s ability to think more flexibly and systemically. As our skills and tolerance for meaningful dialogue increase, we will be less tempted to hide our insecurity behind simple, convenient, and meaningless sound bytes. We will welcome a more rigorous assessment of the threats and opportunities in front of us. We will be more prepared to take comprehensive actions.

Life is complicated. As for my next steps, I am going to work on my social media skills so that more people are inspired, irritated and challenged by my thinking. I am going to listen more actively to opposing opinions and keep my mind and heart open even when I vigorously disagree. But mostly, I am going to lead a movement to end poverty in the US. This is something I can do that is causing a different culture to emerge–one that is more sustainable for everyone.

Conservatives and liberals must work together to find solutions to poverty. Stronger safety nets will be needed while we transition into a rapidly changing economy that will hopefully produce more and better jobs. New economic development strategies and powerful retraining programs must be deployed in our desperate rural and urban communities. Everyone should agree that leaving safety net programs should not cause a financial crisis. The current policies that produce the Cliff Effect must go.

I am going to keep doing what I do only I am going to do it bigger, louder, wider, and deeper. If there is one thing that inspired me from this election, it is GO BIG or GO HOME! We can and should end poverty in our nation, in our lifetime. That achievement alone would well equip us as Allies to our global neighbors and bring a new stability to the world. End Poverty in America

 

Evaluating Paul Ryan’s Plan “A Better Way”

Paul Ryan's "A Better Way Plan"

Dear All,

It is obvious that the poverty and economic pain felt, especially in rural communities, influenced the results of the election, much to everyone’s surprise (especially in the pollster business).

Now that we have the results, it is imperative for each of us to understand Paul Ryan’s poverty plan, a Better Way. As one of our board members, Jim Masters, commented this morning, this is probably the plan that Trump will defer to, given there are no other plans on the table yet. Please download and read,A Better Way“.

If we want to the government to support an approach like Circles it will need to be framed first in terms of “bootstraps.” Benefit programs will be seen as a necessary evil if they remain temporary while people chase work.

Cliff EffectEliminating the Cliff Effect is a nonpartisan, no-brainer. And I believe, the timing is good to bring that problem forward to Ryan’s team to solve without dismantling the subsidies in the process.

I believe that strategies like Circles will continue to be popular with this administration because it is “community driven”, taps volunteers to improve the results of formal community and government programs, and is focused on moving people permanently out of poverty. We should continue to talk about the bootstraps and benefits package(s) necessary for more households to increase their earned income. Of course, unless there is MORE AND BETTER economic development throughout the country, the human development side of the equation can only go so far in reducing poverty rates. Automation, artificial intelligence and globalization are going to continue, regardless of what policies are in place. We must advocate for stronger economic development programs. Again the lack of good jobs drove these election results. People need better jobs.

Poverty LegislationHere is Trump’s position on infrastructure which may lend insight to where new investments will be made that offer jobs for those we serve.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts

Scott Miller - End Poverty

 

 

 

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Circles USA Featured on CNN

 

Eradicating Poverty, One Family at a Time

From CNN: The Circles USA® Campaign is a transformational approach that partners volunteers and community leaders with families wanting to make the journey out of poverty. Operating in communities around the country, each Circles USA® initiative consists of families working to get out of poverty and several middle and upper income Allies who befriend them and lend support. The family is the Circle Leader, setting direction for activities. With the help and friendship of their allies, each family sets and achieves goals unique to their own needs.

Rather than targeting a surface need of at-risk communities such as housing or food provision, Circles® seeks to expand social capital by fostering relationships across racial and economic lines. It engages the community as a whole and encourages growth from people of all financial classes. Circles® is designed to assist families in creating their own personal paths out of poverty while at the same time expanding opportunities, connections and eliminating barriers in the community that make it difficult for families to thrive. History of Circles Campaign

Circles USA launched the Circles® Campaign in January of 2007 after having evolved for ten years from its roots as a discussion group between welfare recipients and social workers to its current form. Early results demonstrate that for every $1 spent on the program, $2 in welfare and food stamp subsidies was returned to the state, and $4 to the community as new earned income. Who We Are

The Circles® National Campaign currently has 62 member communities across 23 states and growing. Scott Miller from Albuquerque, NM is the founder of Circles® . The mission of the Circles® Campaign is to empower people from every economic class to solve poverty in their communities through individual transformation and community change.

Find a Circle Near You