Impact Series: Family Independence Initiative Partners With Families to Escape Poverty


This blog is part of Ascend’s Impact Series: stories and stats that illustrate the powerful, tangible impact a two-generation (2Gen) approach can have in building prosperity and opportunity for families.

Families with low incomes are resilient and deserve more than the status quo, where our systems leave them few pathways for realizing their dreams. As so many persist through hardship resulting from effects of the COVID-19 pandemic especially, families need money, and they need it now. Unrestricted cash transfers help families afford what they need most.

According to 2018 data from the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey on Community and Society, 55 percent of Americans believe poverty is due to circumstances beyond individual control. 

For almost two decades, communities with low incomes have affirmed Ascend Network Partner Family Independence Initiative’s (FII) core belief that cycling in and out of poverty is not due to a lack of initiative. Nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty today, with many more only slightly above that measure. And while Census data shows that 75 percent of families with low incomes move above the federal poverty line within four years, 50 percent of these families slip back below it within five. 

FII believes that investing in the innate initiative of families allows them to move themselves out of poverty. Their model is to partner with households with low incomes to develop their own solutions. FII members set their own goals and trust peers to support them on their journeys. 

FII facilitates the exchange of social and financial capital through their online platform, UpTogether. Rather than imposing solutions from the top down, FII fuels the solutions to economic and social mobility that people with low incomes uncover and develop for themselves. Through the UpTogether platform, members strengthen existing and create new social networks, access unrestricted financial capital, set goals on their self-determined paths, monitor progress, and support one another in achieving economic and social mobility. 

As members take initiative, FII provides access to unrestricted cash to accelerate their efforts toward upward economic mobility. To date, FII has partnered with 12,519 individuals4,115 families, and allocated $15,206,570 to households with low incomes. Members utilize UpTogether funds in a variety of ways – like putting the dollars towards a down payment on a car or home, tutoring services for their children, or supplies to start their own businesses.

The overall economic impact of a family’s increased spending is $15,180 over the two years they partner with FII. 

FII’s proven combination of fostering social networks, honoring self-determination, and matching people’s efforts with unrestricted cash investments propels people with low incomes and accelerates their efforts. Over 19 years of data show the power of FII’s approach: people increase income and savings, start businesseshelp others in their communities, and children’s grades and school attendance improve. After engaging with FII, people report greater feelings of control and power in their lives, greater understanding of strategies to get ahead, and greater community support.

Over two years of engagement with FII, households report a 21 percent average increase in monthly income, a 42 percent average reduction in subsidies such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and that 88 percent of their school-aged children have excellent, good, or improved grades.

After joining the FII Northern California community in 2017, Dalva Franks decided to return to college after 30 years to set an example for her grandchildren. She used UpTogether Fund resources to buy a laptop and printer before enrolling in classes at Laney College – the largest of four Peralta Community College District campuses offering associate degrees in more than 20 liberal arts and science fields – in Oakland.

In partnership with low-income communities nationwide, FII is building a movement to change the way our country perceives and invests in families with low incomes.

Learn more about how FII is partnering with families to accelerate social and economic mobility and debunk myths about communities with low incomes at fii.org.

James White is a program associate for leadership and communications at Ascend at the Aspen Institute.