Maurice Lim Miller

Ashoka Fellow
,
Fellow Since 2011
Family Independence Initiative

Citation

This profile was prepared when Maurice Lim Miller was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Having advanced more traditional anti-poverty and job training efforts in the 1980s and 1990s, Maurice saw that progress was slow and, more worrying, that the funding and incentive structures to aid the transition of low-income Americans into the middle-class were misaligned with desired outcomes. He found that prevailing anti-poverty approaches were largely built around the deficits of America’s poor rather than their strengths: The more you needed, the more you got. While appropriate for people in crisis, that model isn’t effective, Maurice realized, for working poor families attempting to rise on the economic ladder.

Starting in 2001, Maurice designed an approach that leverages families’ strengths and supports them in helping each other. Through it, he is showing that resident-led solutions and mutuality—the simple practice of supporting one another—offers a lasting ladder into the middle-class. His effort eschews the label “program” because it builds and grows in a more organic way, driven by the families that participate and benefit. Family Independence Initiative (FII) invites families to pull together six to eight of their friends to work together to help each other for an initial two-year period, during which time they record and share their progress in a standardized way. These families can earn up to $2,000 per year—payment for their time spent recording data and meeting as a group. As they gain footing, and see themselves and other families succeed, they also actively contribute to growing the effort by changing stereotypes of poverty, bringing friends into the network, and supplying a continuous data stream and stories that shows their progress and illuminates what’s working and what’s not. The aggregate data allows Maurice’s team to guide thinkers in this field up a learning curve to a new understanding of the best principles and practices for transitioning the working poor to the middle-class. Currently, 180 families actively participate in California (San Francisco and Oakland) and Boston.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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