Spotlight Exclusives

Prosperity Now Summit: Bringing More Chairs to the Table

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

The crucial importance of partnerships – public-private, bipartisan, and which include representatives of the entire socio-economic spectrum – in the fight against poverty was the theme of one of the concluding sessions of last week’s Prosperity Now summit.

Titled Setting the Table, the morning plenary brought together leaders from the nonprofit, public, and corporate sectors to make the case for why inclusion and a multi-disciplinary approach are crucial. Kate Griffin, Prosperity Now Vice President for Programs, quoted former congresswoman and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm’s famous adage to set the mood: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Panelists gave examples from their own projects in which including sometimes neglected viewpoints or forging unusual partnerships was essential to overall success.

Nisha Patel, Managing Director of Narrative Change & National Initiatives at the Robin Hood Foundation and Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, recounted the efforts by the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty to include people impacted by poverty in its work. Patel was executive director of the Partnership, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She said the Partnership spent time in more than 30 communities and decided to hold its capstone event in Washington’s lower-income Anacostia neighborhood rather than a more traditional location. “People who are impacted by the conversation are often left out,” Patel said. “We’re talking about people’s lives and we have to keep that front and center.”

Russell Krumnow, director of Working Up, the economic mobility project at Convergence, said his project also tried to focus heavily on having as many viewpoints as possible represented, including employers and project members from beyond the Beltway. “We wanted half the group to be from outside Washington,” Krumnow said. “We wanted to include all actors.”

Josh Fryday, mayor of Novato, Calif., and president of CalEITC4Me, said his organization has been able to dramatically increase the number of Californians taking advantage of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit by collaborating with government, nonprofits, philanthropy, and business.

The organization, which closely partners with Intuit, has helped 1.4 million low-income residents take advantage of state EITC benefits, a total of $325 million returned to working families. “We had to be social entrepreneurs and operate like a business,” Fryday said. “We’ve pushed ourselves to be better, to innovate and to find new solutions when the old ones aren’t working.

Asheesh Advani, CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide and board chair of Prosperity Now, said that when it comes to strategies for providing more economic opportunity, no one group has a monopoly on best practices. “If we genuinely believe the problem of mobility is a problem that we want to solve, we probably know that our own individual organization can’t solve it alone.”

Camille Busette of the Brookings Institution put it this way: “We need others to row with us.”


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