Category Archives: Featured

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.

What It Means to be a Community of Practice with Kamatara Johnson

As the Chief Learning Officer for Circles USA (CUSA) and one of the key planners for our 2019 Leadership Conference, I’ve been asked quite a few times about my key takeaways and the best part of our time together. There was a lot on which to reflect:110 participants representing 24 states plus D.C., 28 breakout sessions, three featured speakers, and everything that happened in between. It really comes down to one realization for me: This conference embodied the difference between a network and a community of practice.

We insist that Circles USA is not a program–it is an initiative. Similarly, I now know from my experience at the conference: we are not a network–we truly are a community of practice.

A community of practice can be defined as the place where domain, practice, and community meet. Our domain is ending poverty. Our practice is all of the learning and innovation that continue to keep this initiative relevant and potent. Our community consists of concentric circles: local, county, neighboring communities, state, nation, and globe.

While CUSA exists in 70+ Chapters and now four Poverty Reduction Labs, locations are not a franchise. It’s not about wearing the same blue and white polo shirt; it’s not about checking a box. Each Chapter and Lab is empowered to use the model and its best practices and then customize in ways that make sense for that community. We have a dynamic (not static) domain within which to do powerful work to end poverty.

Then the practice expands and deepens as Chapters and Labs share their innovations with each other. The conference’s 28 breakout sessions were almost entirely presented by people in Circles: we have passionate and skilled experts in-house. As we say in Circles, “everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to give.” The conference held space to honor innovation, to elevate the voices of our leaders and visionaries, and to inspire each other to take risks. Ending poverty is pioneering work!

What is special about our sharing is the sense of care and attention to people in Circles give to each other. There’s support professionally and personally. I knew regardless of what we planned for the conference, the most important sessions would happen in the in-between — the unscripted time of breaks, meals, and nighttime activities. These moments build the intentional friendships that fuel Circles on every level. This bonding gives us the motivation and courage to persevere upon returning home and facing whatever obstacles may be in the way of standing in our truth and ending poverty. Our work is more potent because of each other.

And so we live the Circles model of moving communities from surviving to thriving, developing courage and skills to change the system, and supporting each other to persevere. The values of Circles is reflected in the larger structure for how Chapters and Labs function and relate to each other. Everyone in Circles USA is positively impacted.

My goal at the CUSA Headquarters is to continue to encourage this connection with each other. I aim to support innovation and to push the boundaries of what people think is possible.

It’s easy to feel busy — nose-to-the-grindstone — forgetting to look up and around. But we have a dynamic and meaningful community of practice here that is as good as you engage with it. Make time for the webinars, the monthly network calls, and the wellness calls with CUSA staff. Read the newsletters, save money in your budget to attend the next Leadership Conference, and above all, reach out to each other and know you’re not alone.

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!