If you wanted to help 1,000 Central Texas families to permanently lift themselves to prosperity, how would you do it?
If you ask Family Independence Initiative (FII), a national nonprofit organization that just launched in Austin, they’ll tell you, “We don’t know; go ask the families themselves.” And if you ask them about the secret to their success in helping families, they’ll say, “We don’t really do anything other than trust and invest in families.”
FII challenged us to think outside the traditional role of nonprofit organizations, and we decided to embrace their challenge as we learned more about how FII can improve the lives of children and families in Central Texas.
To be a part of FII, families form a group with four to six other families from their community, and the families make a two-year commitment to one another by meeting monthly and tracking progress toward the goals they set for themselves. FII then provides up to $3,200 over the two years in financial support to act as fuel on the fire of upward mobility. That’s it.
Simple as it may be, the FII model creates an empowering experience for the hardworking families who join. Rather than ask families to focus on their disadvantages and then direct them toward particular solutions, FII celebrates families’ strengths and trusts them to make their own choices.
FII provides families an amount of money that is determined by a “hustle score,” which measures the initiative that families are taking to achieve their own goals. Families can then spend the money provided by FII in any way they want – to earn a certification, pay for transportation to work, buy Christmas gifts for children, pay for childcare, and more. This model assumes that families themselves know best how to work their own way out of poverty.
And the data is showing that to be true: the average FII participant nationwide turns the $3,200 investment in their family into an increase in annual household income of more than $5,800. This increased financial security – combined with the experience of self-efficacy and community support – can create the type of upward momentum that helps families permanently escape poverty.
It’s hard to support a family in the Austin area while earning a low income, yet resourceful families continue to find a way to get by. Multiple jobs, long commutes, little sleep, cheap diets, countless sacrifices; day-by-day, families are hustling to create a better outlook for their children and those around them.
Our grant to FII is an investment in the hard-working families of Central Texas; a recognition of the strengths that lie within our local communities; and a bet that with a little extra support, families can create their own pathways to prosperity.