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Tipping Point

Tipping Communities to End Poverty & Thrive


Tipping Communities

The changes in baby boomer demographics, the increase in automation, as well as the lighting-speed changes in the economy demand a new center of gravity to quickly qualify the growing unqualified, phantom workforce. No longer can we let the problems of poverty to be left to be managed alone by nonprofit and government agencies. Solving poverty is now an economic development imperative. To scale Circles and complementary high-impact strategies will take elegant design processes.

Circles USA is designing tipping point plans with our partners to create enough jobs, remove enough disincentives, build enough relational support, and inspire enough people to take on the challenge of supporting families out of poverty. Circles USA is collaborating with people who know how to start-up successful businesses, create jobs, solve messy systemic problems, reinvent organizations, change funding streams, and tell inspiring stories to the masses. And we want them to interact, challenge and be challenged by those of us who have been working with people in poverty for a long time now.

What if it was possible to eradicate poverty? What would that take? Circles USA has been asking this question since 1992, testing out theories, refining methodologies, and building an extensive network of leaders across the nation who are committed to doing it. We have a roadmap, the right vehicle, and the persistence to reach the destination. We are ready to go the distance.

What will it take?

  1. A non-negotiable commitment to support families to earn 2X the poverty rate. For a family of three, they need a real game plan and support to earn $40,000 or more a year.
  2. A community-wide commitment and design process to reduce the poverty rate by at least 10% and create a tipping point that can begin the end of poverty.
  3. A commitment to activate the phantom workforce by mitigating the disincentives in safety net programs and mining the talents of the unqualified in order for employers to be able to create more jobs.

More specifically, what will it take?

Circles USA has been putting the pieces of the puzzle together. We know that what follows is what will be needed to reach tipping points and begin the end of poverty.

Transactional to Relational Programs

It will take complementing transactional programs that manage the effects of poverty with relational, community-based approaches like Circles. Circles systematically breaks the cycle of poverty with a proven curriculum of pre-placement training, weekly support meetings, and a circle of local personal allies trained to get the candidate through the predictable barriers to success.

People need new social capital as leverage to take advantage of the skills and information that they can glean from education and workforce programs. From working with thousands of people over the past 25 years, we know what supports they must have in order to effectively use existing education and workforce programs to escape poverty.

And we know how to adapt Circles for numerous target groups such as working with people coming out of prison, drug abuse treatment programs, domestic violence, generational poverty, situational poverty, mental health therapy, urban poverty, rural poverty, and even suburban poverty.

Chasing a Tipping Point

Chasing a tipping point, like reducing poverty rates by 10% within ten years, is the key to finally reducing the number of men, women, and children living in poverty. A commitment like this is a game changer in how we address poverty. That is why Circles USA’s board has committed to expand Circles into 10% of all US counties and into 10% of all metro areas with 100K plus population within 7 years.

Cliff Effects Mitigation

To unleash the phantom workforce in our communities, (i.e. those people who could work but feel they can’t “afford’ to), we must eliminate all disincentives built into safety net programs like childcare assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and TANF. That is why Circles USA has built the first “Cliff Effect” planning tool to guide people on how much they will lose in critical subsidies as they earn more income. We are raising the red flags in each of our 20 plus states with Circles chapters to tell leaders to mitigate the cliff effects and allow struggling families to earn more income without being penalized with disproportionate losses in assistance. We are using Every Action, an online advocacy platform that allows people to contact their elected officials with one click, raising their awareness and urgency to address the Cliff Effects. Special Report: Mitigating the Cliff Effect

Transformational Change Makers

Leaders need great consulting, good processes, and a robust community of practice. They need access to backbone organizations that can facilitate a collective impact approach to job creation and ending poverty. These leaders will need exceptional support so that they can become Transformational Change Makers. That’s why we are in partnership with University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and their new Center for Social Impact. Together, we can build a network of capacity-building engines that are led by passionate, inspired, and fearless leaders.

Community Allies

We are calling for an unprecedented number of community volunteers to partner with families who are committed to getting out of poverty and becoming economically stable. That is why we are building new projects with the Points of Light Foundation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help recruit and train community Allies to help increase the financial literacy and planning skills of those who are ready to change their lives, permanently.

Relevant Education

We need alternatives to traditional education pathways in order to fast-track individuals to be qualified for the current and emerging workforce. Time and again employers tell us they cannot fill positions in their companies because of a dearth of qualified workers. We are working with Educational Testing Services, out of Princeton, NJ to scale Circles in order to accelerate opportunities for children to get exactly what they need for great jobs. We have a new Circles Children Program to ensure we are using a Two-Generational Strategy for best results with both children and their parents. Read Mitigating the Cliff Effect

Job Creation By Solving Poverty

Businesses, foundations and government agencies need to invest in expanding Circles to employ the hard-to-employ. Businesses cannot grow to their full capacity if they don’t have a qualified pool of labor.  We have received capacity-building grants from Walmart, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Sun Bank, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to name a few. Circles has over 500 more foundations, corporations, and government agencies that currently invest locally in Circles pilots to prepare for scaling. We are cultivating new corporate and foundation partners to reach our 10% tipping point goals in the US.


We need both formative and summative research in order to understand what works and what doesn’t. University of New Mexico, University of Michigan, Iowa State University, University of Oregon, and Vital Smarts have studied Circles. Research is currently being conducted with funding from the Heinz Foundation.

Increasing Poverty IQ

Stories that dispel stereotypes, inspire and inform people about what it takes to really support people out of poverty are crucial to achieving a tipping point and increasing the Poverty IQ of our nation. We can’t settle for status quo programs that only manage poverty. We must insist on programs that follow through in the goal of supporting families from crisis to stability to thriving. The Stanford Social Innovation Review, CBS Evening News, CNN, the Huffington Post, PBS, NPR, TedX and hundreds of local media outlets have promoted Circles as a holistic, relational strategy that works.