Category Archives: Featured

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.

What is Circles USA’s Response to Potential Food Stamps Cut?

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule for the Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which could potentially eliminate eligibility for three million families. Circles USA’s Founder Scott Miller wrote this response. The administration is collecting feedback through this Monday, September 23; instructions for commenting can be found here. Our appreciation goes to the Circles Washtenaw Big View Team for their inspiring civic-engagement efforts.

The concept of mutual responsibility has always guided our poverty-reduction work at Circles USA. We inspire and equip individuals to take control of their lives and do whatever they can to become economically stable, no matter the external conditions. Likewise, we advise government and community-based program leaders to take responsibility for adding value to these individual efforts by building coherent systems to support and reward all those seeking economic stability.

We currently have a poverty management system that is not accountable to reducing poverty rates. (At best, it keeps people experiencing poverty safe.) While it is tempting to cut benefits to reduce a perceived “dependency,” this alone will not reduce poverty in our nation. We first need a poverty reduction system that is designed to support people out of poverty. Second, we need this new system to converge with the emerging economy, not an outdated notion of job creation. If we don’t generate enough quality jobs to overcome rapid changes in the use of automation, artificial intelligence, and global outsourcing, then we must create new jobs and reimagine the social safety net so that everyone has enough money to thrive.

Before we make cuts in our safety net, let’s first transform our programs to support people all of the way out of poverty and into economic stability. Let’s address the “Cliff Effect” that reduces benefits for basic needs faster than people can replace them with new earned income. Let’s make sure our local, state, and national economic-development programs are generating a robust economy that provides enough jobs, so people don’t need as much work-subsidy programs like food stamps. Once we have all these in place, we are better positioned to assess whether or not it is time to reduce programs like food stamps.

Featured Speakers Announced for Circles USA Leadership Conference 2019

3 Powerful Women Ready to Share their Vision with the Network

Dr. MarYam Hamedani
Tuesday’s Featured Speaker
MarYam Hamedani, Ph.D., is Managing Director and Senior Research Scientist at Stanford SPARQ. SPARQ (Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions ) is a “do tank” that partners with industry leaders to tackle disparities and inspire culture change in criminal justice, economic mobility, education, and health using insights from behavioral science.
At SPARQ, Dr. Hamedani studies and puts into practice strategies to help people live, work, and thrive in today’s increasingly diverse and divided world. She works on improving police-community relations, promoting racial literacy, educating people about social differences, and designing empowering schools and programs for underrepresented students.
The former Associate Director of Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), Dr. Hamedani is also a Stanford Ph.D. alum in psychology. Her work has been published in leading journals such as  Psychological Science, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,  and  Perspectives on Psychological Science,  and has been covered by national media outlets like  National Public Radio, The New York Times, ABC News, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic,  and  The Huffington Post.

Lisa Marsh Ryerson
Wednesday’s Featured Speaker
Lisa Marsh Ryerson is president of AARP Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AARP.
A bold, disciplined and collaborative leader, she sets the Foundation’s strategic direction and steers its efforts to realize an audacious vision: a country free of poverty, where no older person feels vulnerable.
Since she took the helm, AARP Foundation has developed pioneering initiatives, explored new avenues for collaboration, and secured unprecedented funding to support programs and services that truly change lives.
Ms. Ryerson has spearheaded innovative partnerships with other organizations to create and advance effective solutions that help vulnerable older adults increase their economic opportunity and social connectedness. Before joining AARP Foundation, Ms. Ryerson served as the president and CEO of Wells College in Aurora, N.Y.

Diana Dollar
Thursday’s Featured Speaker
Driven by a deep, life-long commitment to fairness and justice, Diana came into her role as the founding Executive Director of The Prosperity Agenda dedicated to transforming big, complex systems in order to drive meaningful, sustainable change.
“In large systems, it’s easy to inadvertently optimize for cost, number of people served, simplicity, or throughput, but not to focus on what really matters: the experience of the individuals and families who are impacted by poverty and have no reasonable way out.”
With more than 20 years of leadership experience in human, workforce, and economic development systems, Diana now focuses her attention on transforming traditional approaches to poverty by leading The Prosperity Agenda toward  solutions that honor the lived experiences of families impacted by poverty and which give families the equity, dignity, security, and choice they deserve.

Circles USA cited as a high-impact approach by the Director of the Office of Family Assistance, US Health and Human Services

Clarence H. Carter,  the director of the Office of Family Assistance and the acting director of the Office of Community Services at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, wrote a blog post titled “Strong social networks help to eliminate barriers to economic opportunity” speaking on how Circles USA and Open Table aim to boost the social capital of individuals in order to help them work toward self-sufficiency. Read about it here

Circles USA in Marshall, MN, offers crisis management, education, job placement and social networking to economically disadvantaged and underserved communities.

 

Systems-Thinking and Continuous Quality Improvement

Poverty and many societal problems faced today in the United States and around the globe are complex and interconnected. For example, children living in poverty are at greater risk for poor academic performance and retention; abuse and neglect; and behavioral, socio-emotional, and physical health problems (1). As we know, the challenges faced by individuals and families living in poverty rarely arise individually. And yet, our institutions and programs historically were designed to address a specific need or limited subset of poverty-related challenges. This approach has resulted in a collection of siloed poverty management programs instead of a true poverty reduction system.

Furthermore, change is a natural phenomenon we experience daily. Many of us can still remember when phones were tethered to the wall and mobility while on the phone was limited to the length of a telephone cord. We, as consumers, rapidly change our preferences, demanding increased technological innovation in support of improving the effectiveness or efficiency of our activities of daily living. The ongoing pressure for technological innovation, in consequence, drives global competition, transforming local economies and the nature of available jobs. In a world of complexity and constant change, linear thinking is insufficient.

Systems thinking is a foundational requirement for transformational leadership. Systems thinking is based on theory and methods used to optimize the performance of any collection of objects (e.g., in nature, society, or science) that are interdependent and work together to produce an outcome or result.(2) Optimization in systems thinking generally focuses on increasing the efficiency and/or effectiveness of a system in pursuit of a specific outcome or goal (e.g., reducing child poverty by 10% and having families reach 200% of the Federal Poverty Levels).

Systems theory explicitly acknowledges that perfect performance at the system level is unobtainable. Our goal, therefore, should be the creation of a learning system that is continually working to improve. System thinking, when more broadly viewed as a philosophy, can lead positive disruption towards changing the culture of an organization or system. Peter Senge described a learning organization as one “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (3)

In the Poverty Reduction Lab program, participants receive training and coaching to become adept at applying Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) principals, methods, and tools. CQI, as a discipline, is fundamentally grounded in systems theory and the principles of creating a learning organization.

W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer, is one of the fathers of systems thinking and its application to continual improvement of quality in industrial systems. His early work, starting in 1950 in Japan, is credited as a primary driver of Japan’s post-World War II industrial recovery. His work directly contributed to Japan becoming a world economic power. (4) As an engineer, Deming focused on manufacturing applications. Today, CQI principles and methods are standard practice in industry. CQI methods and tools are used to ensure planes take off and land safely, our food and medicines are safe, and a size 12 pair of women’s slacks has a consistent waist circumference (OK, maybe more work is needed for that last one!).

CQI, as a discipline and management philosophy, has also broadly been adopted by service organizations, including in the fields of education, healthcare, and public health. Consequently, there is a strong evidence base in support of the benefits of creating a culture of quality and applying CQI methods and tools to optimize system efficiency and effectiveness. However, CQI might be a relatively new concept for public agencies and nonprofit organizations, at least as compared to the decades of experience in industry and healthcare. For many public and nonprofit organizations, the introduction to CQI arrives when a desired funding source requires it as a condition of receiving a grant or other financial award.

As staunch advocates for the transformative power of systems thinking and the discipline of CQI, CQIU (5) is consulting with Circles USA on Poverty Reduction Labs and other initiatives. Our goal, with you and other regional partners, is the development of a coherent, continually improving, poverty reduction system. CQIU has a combined total of more than 30 years of experience in supporting healthcare and social care organizations and networks begin the journey of culture change and implementation of CQI methods and tools.

Today’s problems are often yesterday’s solutions.

— Peter Senge

By focusing on events, we become reactive, seeing only the tip of the iceberg.(6) Instead, systems thinking leads us to transform our mental models and redesign underlying systematic structures. This change in mind-set and approach can then be leveraged to optimize a system, even when the system is immersed in a dynamic, seemingly chaotic, environment or seems intractably broken.

In practical application, systems theory can be applied at many levels. You, yourself, reside in a system, interconnected to others through work, home, family, friends, and the religious, civic, and social organizations in which you belong and participate. By examining your life as a system, you can more efficiently and effectively work toward having a happy, balanced life that follows your values and meets your goals, simultaneous to and in alignment with the development of a poverty reduction system in your community or region.

Darcey Terris Founder and Principal Consultant of CQIU Quality Work. Quality Life.

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The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU.

The program’s focus includes:

    • Dismantling the poverty management system,
    • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
    • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To stay tuned, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

1 “Effects of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness on Children and Youth,” American Psychological Association, available at: www.apa.org/pi/families/poverty.aspx.

2 Systems theory, as a general area of study, originated in part through the work of an Austrian biologist named Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

3 Source: “The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge,” 1990 (updated in 2010). New York, NY: Random House.

4 Deming is often called the “father of the third wave of the industrial revolution.” The Deming Institute, www.deming.org.

5 CQIU includes the “U” in their name, as CQI is a universal approach that can be applied to address many of the seemingly intractable societal issues that public agencies, nonprofits, and businesses face on a regular basis.

6 Source: Adapted from “The Iceberg Model” by M. Goodman, 2002. Hopkinton, MA: Innovation Associates Organizational Learning.

A Tipping Point to End Poverty

During more than 20 years of speaking to communities throughout the United States and Canada, I have been making the statement that we can and should end poverty. I have never encountered any resistance to the idea that we should end poverty. It’s the “we can end poverty” that causes people to bring up their objections with statements such as, “We have been fighting the War on Poverty over 50 years, and it’s only gotten worse.” But have we really been fighting all these years? I would say no; we haven’t had a national goal to eliminate poverty.

First, the war in Vietnam increasingly distracted the Johnson administration’s focus from the War on Poverty. Some safety nets were implemented, such as the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Social Security Act of 1965 that created Medicare and Medicaid. However, these safety nets created an array of allopathic remedies. Some would argue these remedies make people too busy with paperwork, getting their basic needs met and lessening the urgency of finding a job. This is a poverty management system.

Furthermore, there are no financial incentives from federal agencies for long-term results of supporting people out of poverty and increasing economic stability. The baby boomers provided such a substantial labor pool that local economies did not need to worry about qualifying those in poverty for the workforce. Without pressure from business, poverty management continues in government and with community-based organizations addressing various needs of small target populations.

My strong belief is that human beings can eradicate the condition of poverty. The challenge is not if we have enough resources to do it – because we have enough. It is not if we know how to make the necessary systemic changes – because we know enough. First and foremost, the challenge is aligning the conviction that we can and should end it.

Because society could be easily overwhelmed by the massive task of ending poverty in the face of realities described above, I have found value in an article by scientists on tipping points. They discovered that when just 10% of a network’s population holds an unshakable belief, the majority of that network of people will adopt that belief. As Boleslaw Szymanski at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has elaborated:

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10%, 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%, the idea spreads like flame.”

We have all seen in our time social movements that reached a tipping point and fundamentally changed society. How can we intentionally lead in a manner that causes a tipping point in our society? Achieving a tipping point is the goal that focuses Circles USA’s work to inspire and equip leaders to build Poverty Reduction Labs and Circles Chapters to support 10% of households in their communities to climb out of poverty. The theoretical potential of a tipping point is that once 10% is reached, momentum will take over, and the process of reducing poverty will become easier as more people embrace the effort.

Meeting resistance from within our own minds, as well as from those in our communities, we will need to align our intention to be transformational leaders. We need to follow our conviction about ending poverty, no matter what we confront along the way. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to conforming to the status quo and colluding with a poverty management system that maintains poverty.

The guiding principle for the Transformational Leadership Program is to “become the change you want to see happen.” (“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although Wikiquote attributes the principle to Arleen Lorrance, at the Teleos Institute.) We are each hard-wired to want to make a difference in the world. If you assert the belief that we can support 10% of children out of poverty, you will eventually find others to join you. Together, you can build your own momentum toward a tipping point of people who will mobilize a new poverty reduction system around that goal in your community.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. The program’s focus includes:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system,
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To stay tuned, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Bootstraps and Benefits

Ideology, more often than not, drives policy. Denise Rhoades, a fervent conservative and Circles enthusiast, approached me after hearing my panel remarks at the Midwestern Governors Association conference on poverty and commented, “You are a progressive with a conservative accent.” Bemused, I asked her what she meant. She said that my focus on economic development, job creation, qualifying people for the workforce, and changing the accountability of the system are ways in which both progressive and conservatives can agree.

Denise and I continued our conversation, and she suggested we write a book together, which we did, titled, Bootstraps and Benefits, What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions. In it, we describe ideological assumptions of those who believe in creating more benefit programs and those who believe in offering bootstrap incentives. Making generalizations for the purpose of understanding one another can come with more risk than reward. Any attempt might be fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding and faultfinding. Yet, for those who would appreciate more of an explanation of what we mean by Bootstraps and Benefits, here are a few broad-stroke generalizations:

With regard to the Bootstraps and Benefits ideologies, where would you place yourself on the scale below? Where would you place your community? Where would you place your organization’s board and top management team?

The Bootstraps and Benefits book appreciates both perspectives, while keeping a focus on reducing the poverty rate by 10% and supporting families to achieve 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL). The FPL for a family of four is roughly $25,000, so we aim for a family of this size to earn twice that income, or roughly $50,000 annually.

Focusing on clear goals is a unifying way to address the differences between conservative and liberal political ideologies. It isn’t necessary to agree or compromise on key values when we are disciplined in working together on achieving mutual goals. Arguing about hot topics can even be avoided by viewing them as distractions from supporting people out of poverty.

With regard to legislation, administrations will always support policies consistent with their party’s viewpoints. Thus, our work must align with right and left policy opportunities that show efficacy in reducing the poverty rates. Furthermore, evidence shows that poverty rates go down when the economy is producing more and better jobs. Therefore, transformational leaders can become interested in economic development planning and can align poverty reduction efforts with the emerging economy.

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. Stay tuned for more about:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system,
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To receive subsequent blog posts, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

A Deeper Look into Poverty in U.S. Culture

The European roots of the United States come from nations that had significant disparity between a small ruling class and the masses, where poverty was typical. Severing political connections to Great Britain, the 1776 Declaration of Independence aspired for equality, although the systems that were created replicated many old patterns. European settlers imagined a boundless wilderness to tame in America and created disparity with indigenous populations. The Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s followed patterns established by military organizations originally meant to serve the interests of kings and queens. Schools were built to serve agriculture and new industrial enterprises. Today, these systems still resemble early efforts to create a conforming labor pool.

While the Declaration of Independence aspired for everyone to have “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the United States has not accomplished the political changes necessary to realize equality. Slavery was not abolished until 1865. Black males achieved the right to vote only in 1870, women the right to vote in 1920, and it took until 1964 to ban segregation in public places and employment discrimination based on race. At present, the United States has one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration. The culture of racism continues to negatively influence who can move out of poverty. White males have approximately a 300-year head start in getting ahead financially. To use a baseball metaphor, if one starts on third base, did they actually hit that triple and deserve all the entitlement associated with the feat?

The American Dream was established on an expectation that hard work could lead to social mobility. With a mantra of “bigger is better,” business leaders have argued against putting any limit on what people might earn, with fear that it will stunt economic growth domestically and push entrepreneurs abroad. Meanwhile, the world’s population has grown approximately 10 times in the past three centuries. Having seven billion people share the Earth challenges the idea of unlimited growth: How can our biosystems be sustained while rewarding unlimited growth and the consumption of the natural world?

The economy that was first installed in the United States did not produce a middle class. The growth of a middle class came from the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, which made land available for farms and schools; the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that made banking secure for citizens in 1933; the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 that made home buying financially safe; the labor policies of the mid-1930s and the Social Security Act of 1935 that provided an array of new benefits and protections to workers; the 1944 GI bill that gave grants to millions of veterans to attend college; and the Pell Grants of 1965 that made it possible for even more people to attend college. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I directly benefited from these policies that produced a strong middle class. In the 1980s, principles of free market enterprise influenced economic development. Financial crises in the 2000s led to a major recession. In recent decades, many policymakers have become concerned about a middle class that is shrinking. To reduce poverty rates, transformational leaders can advocate for policies that serve the majority of Americans.

Reducing Poverty Rates

War on Poverty legislation was introduced in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, creating programs that became our modern-day social safety net. In 1963-64, a Social Security administrator named Mollie Orshansky devised a poverty rate based on a formula using the cost of a subsistent food budget. Income roughly three times the cost of that food budget was considered to be above the poverty line. The official poverty rates have remained an important longitudinal barometer.

Compared Poverty RatesHowever, unequal inflation rates for necessities such as healthcare and housing have caused census analysts to create updated calculations known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure and Alternative Poverty Measure. Using these more accurate calculations, researchers at Columbia University calculated these new poverty rates from 1967 to 2012 and compared them to the official poverty rates. While the official poverty rate was stable from 12% to 15%, the updated measures showed that the poverty rate was 25.6% prior to 1967 and has dropped to 16% today.

Government Program ImpactFurthermore, researchers compared the updated poverty measures for a five-year time period (2007-2012) with and without government safety-net programs such as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and others. Without government programs, poverty rates would have increased 5.1%, but with those programs, poverty rates rose only 1.3%. (For more detailed information, please see the 2016 report by the Office of Human Services Policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, titled Poverty in the United States: 50-Year Trends and Safety Net Impacts.) While the updated measures are more accurate indications, all metrics reveal information about how many people are financially suffering.

To inspire a community-wide intention to reduce poverty, Circles USA emphasizes getting children out of poverty as a focus of necessary system changes. Instead of saying, “Let’s get all the children out of poverty right away,” we recommend the goal of supporting 10% of the children out of poverty as a starting place to provoke a tipping point that over time could more quickly help the other 90% out of poverty. Plus, it’s easier for people to withhold judgments about poverty when focused on the innocence of children.

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. Review the entire series on our Blog. Stay tuned for more about:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system,
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To receive subsequent blog posts, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

You cannot change the strategy of a community, an organization, or system – without focusing on culture and the beliefs people hold about how things work. Sometimes attributed to the business guru Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is an illustrative warning relevant to all of us working on the elimination of poverty.

At Circles USA, we’ve changed the culture of poverty by tapping the power of a culture of prosperity. Whenever people have an experience that contradicts a negative reality that they have been normalizing, healing occurs. For example, participants in poverty are called Circle Leaders, and they lead the process to achieve their own economic stability. Since a typical experience for those in poverty is to be dismissed and marginalized, there is a powerful healing that occurs through the acknowledgement that they are the poverty experts and must be at the planning table to find real solutions on behalf of the entire community.

The idea of a poverty reduction system is a powerful contradiction to executives who are immersed in the management of requirements for a fragmented and random array of community programs. There is genuine excitement about focusing on how to rearrange work into more clear pathways that actually lead people out of poverty and reduce poverty rates.

As more coherence is created in the sector of human services, we can find opportunities to enlist other sectors in ending poverty. For example, in workforce development, employers can challenge their mindsets about employees with backgrounds in poverty and implement responsive ways to do business in order to be more successful. Teachers can integrate pedagogies for engaging children from homes in poverty. Civic groups can question their hidden biases and rules that make it difficult for those in poverty to feel welcomed. Philanthropic organizations can analyze if their funding practices favor short-term wins at the exclusion of long-term gains. Whatever the challenges, transformational leaders engage crucial conversations that generate more cohesion towards a shared vision of ending poverty.

Are you leading Big View discussions on this topic? Share your perspective with us at Circles@CirclesUSA.org.

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. The first post, “Can We Believe in Ending Poverty?” can be accessed here. Stay tuned for more about:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty

To receive subsequent blog posts, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

Can We Believe in Ending Poverty?

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 thirty minutes of debate, he revealed what was really behind his questioning, as he said to me, “Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Is ending poverty going against the Bible?”

He’s not alone in this belief. For many in the nation, the biblical reference that “the poor will always be with us” is a strong suggestion that no matter what we do, we will always have poverty. Any attempt to eradicate poverty is a task that has no hope of success. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to manage poverty or maybe save a few people. But can we believe in ending poverty? Only if we change our mindset.

If one wants to change systems, one must put their energy into “high-impact strategies” that are aimed at changing the mindset that created the organization, or system of organizations. The mindset informs the goals that shape the programs of the organization. To change 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, a poverty management system is created. To change that system, we will have to place resources on affecting the deeper beliefs that are shaping the system’s culture. How can a dominating belief be challenged?

I took the Ambassador’s belief that “the poor will always be with us” to a theologian who works closely with a Circles chapter and discovered that the original teaching is taken out of context. If one googles “the poor will always be with us,” you will find evidence of this confusion, with warnings not to use this statement to discourage social action. Plus, there are many other beliefs in the Bible that provide a positive contradiction.

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, non-partisan community welcomes people from all faiths, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and socio-economic classes. Understanding the beliefs of these diverse community stakeholders is key.

Do you personally believe we can end poverty? What dominant beliefs about poverty did you hear growing up? Share your perspective with us at Circles@CirclesUSA.org.

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. Stay tuned for more about:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty

To receive subsequent blog posts, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Warm regards,

~ Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA