Through more than a century of service, we have learned a lot about poverty. We have made assumptions. We have taken wrong turns. We have adapted, refined, tested, and discovered the real impact of our services. We have witnessed the diverse journeys of those we serve and seen the resilience and dignity of the human spirit.
In honor of Poverty Awareness Month, we are reflecting on all we have learned – not only about poverty itself, but also about our own self-awareness as an organization. Our solutions are only as strong as our ability to accurately (and continually) assess our role and our impact.
From everything we have learned, there are three key concepts that rise to the top and guide everything we do.
1. Poverty is a system.
The reason that poverty is so complex and challenging to address is that it cannot be traced to a single source. Poverty is upheld by an entire system of barriers, public policies, and gaps in community resources. It is rooted in a history of inequality and oppression. It weaves together financial wellbeing, emotional and mental resiliency, education and job opportunities, and so much more.
Therefore, poverty is not a character trait or a life choice.
It is a complex system influenced by a variety of factors. We must understand how these factors overlap and function together in order to be as effective as possible.
Last year, we used these insights to create our Out of Poverty Pathways. This multidimensional framework shows our main areas of impact and has deepened our understanding of how our programs and services uniquely support clients at different points along their journey.
2. Poverty is personal.
Poverty is an experience that millions of Americans encounter each year – some for a matter of months and others for generations. Through our relationship-based and client-led approach, we know that poverty looks different for everyone. We can talk about the data, but for our clients, what matters most is their specific experience. That’s why we hold our research insights and systems view within the context and perspective of each individual. It is at this intersection that we honor our clients’ lived experiences as well as see clearly their path forward. We take a person-centered approach and tailor our services to meet each client’s unique needs and goals.
3. We’ll never know enough.
The moment we think we have poverty figured out is the moment we stop being effective. We’ll never know enough, but we will never stop trying.
There is no singular definition for poverty or one recipe for how to end it.
That’s why we have a culture of learning and adaptation. We have invested in years of research and evaluation in order to more deeply understand our own role and impact. This commitment to ongoing learning also includes learning from each and every client, because they know their needs and experiences best.