What & Why FII?
What is FII?
The Family Independence Initiative is a national center for innovating new strength based approaches for economic and social mobility that put people in the driver’s seat of their own change. Over this last decade FII has demonstrated that investing in people’s strengths and initiative delivers more powerful, sustainable, and cost effective outcomes for low-income families. Our strength-based approach, as radical and as old as our democracy, is inspired by the historical successes of poor communities in the U.S.
See the Strategies for Change section for more about our work.
Because the Welfare System isn’t Enough
For the last five decades the only support systems available to low-income families respond to people’s needs, not their strengths. The “safety net” approach is critical for those in crisis. But it is not a springboard out of poverty. As people make progress their “need” decreases and so do their benefits. Imagine losing childcare, housing, or access to healthcare just as your starting to get yourself on more solid ground? We need a system of benefits based on self-determination and initiative for those wishing to leave or avoid welfare. This system, much like the one that exists for middle- and upper-income families, will allow low-income families to truly stabilize and can help break the cycle of poverty.
Because We’ve Done it Before
This country has a rich history of entire communities moving themselves out of poverty, from the immigrants who built the Chinatowns to the African Americans who built vibrant townships after slavery. It took some personal initiative, shared capital, and families helping one another. It took a sense of community.
Through its Demonstrations and research, FII has learned that this kind of initiative and mutuality still exists across every ethnic group in low-income communities across the country, ready to be encouraged and resourced.
Because Sometimes Helping Doesn’t Help
Often those of us with the best intentions can’t help but be helpful—too helpful. Programs and services targeting low-income families and communities are set up with case managers and social workers charged with directing, leading, and helping their clients. This prevents families from setting their own priorities and goals; it keeps people from owning their own solutions. It places the program—instead of friends and family—in the position of supporter. In the short term the family may get a specific service such as childcare or job training, but this approach does not build sustainability because the information, resources, and access are owned by the program. FII’s approach turns this paradigm on its head.
Because “Poor” Doesn’t Mean Incapable or Lazy
Stereotypes of poor people abound on both the political left and right as either helpless victims or “moochers” and “takers.” The reality is that low-income communities are full of initiative, wisdom, creativity, and people willing to work together to move ahead. What they are lacking is access to resources that allow them to leverage their strengths on their own terms. Today, just as in the past, there are groups of families, friends, and neighbors, self-organizing to support each other and improve their lives.
Because What We Do Now Doesn’t Work Well Enough
This country has been fighting a War on Poverty since 1964. We have helped people, but in some ways what we’ve done has just made poverty more comfortable. We are not breaking the cycle of poverty. FII’s approach is not going to end poverty in this country, but we can make a big dent in it.