Investing in Families Means Investing in More Than One Generation: Lesson #5 from #EmpowerPhilanthropy 2016!

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This is the fifth installment of a 6-part series on lessons from Empower Philanthropy! Annual Conference presented by ABFE-A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities

By Natasha A. Harrison

It was no news to me when Melissa Harris-Perry exclaimed, “When investing in families, it takes more than one person to take the unit out of poverty,” during her luncheon keynote. I had lived that truth.

I grew up on poverty in Atlanta, Georgia. Community-based services often filled in the gaps of food security, rent and utilities payments, and children programs that provided positive exposure and allowed me to dream beyond my community. Although these programs helped us get our short-term basic needs met, I don’t recall any of these programs assisting my mother with defining ways to improve our situation, i.e. better paying job, affordable housing, or access to affordable healthcare.

The focus of these services seemed to be my brother and me. I felt that the way they provided services viewed my mother as a “lost cause.”

Many services backed by foundations are still emphasizing support for children with little attention to the entire family unit. This approach is not helping children move out of poverty.

For example, a child raised in Atlanta’s bottom fifth income bracket has only a 4 percent chance of ever reaching the top fifth. On average, the child will end up in the 31st percentile based on a recent study.

Foundations have a great opportunity to support families holistically to produce long-term positive change. As Cara Thompson, Vice President, Program Strategy of W.K. Kellogg Foundation challenges, “Children and parents do not exist in silos and neither should our solutions.”

Here are two ways to get started.

Connect with Foundations Blazing a Trail

Annie E. Casey Foundation launched Family-Centered Community Change, a two-generation approach initiative that provides grants, professional development and consulting to established local initiatives in Buffalo, NY, Columbus, OH, and San Antonio, TX. The initiative focuses on delivering a two-generation approach in supporting families by promoting positive academic and health development in children and supporting parent and economic development.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation advocates for investments that strengthen two generations simultaneously. Avance and Inpeace are two examples of their investments in two generations support.

Understand the Data and Potential Solutions

There is a lot of research out there on children moving out of poverty and family economic mobility. It can be overwhelming.

Start with reviewing The Equality of Opportunity Project, led by researchers at Harvard University, Stanford University, and UC-Berkeley. It is a data project that seeks to answer, how can we improve economic opportunities for low-income children?

Check out The Raising of America’s 9 Ways to Reduce Poverty. It provides proposals to improve opportunity structures.

Begin to understand the journey of people living in poverty by reading The Washington Post’s A lonely road.

As Dr. Jack P. Shonoff of Harvard University points out in his study:

The broadly accepted assertion that the development of young children unfolds in the context of their relationships with the important adults in their lives leads to a natural conclusion that effective interventions for disadvantaged infants, toddlers, and preschoolers ought to include significant engagement with parents and other caregivers.

We intuitively know this. It is time that philanthropy invests in what works for families.

Natasha A. Harrison is founder and president and CEO of CommunityBuild Ventures, LLC. CommunityBuild Ventures provides training, consultation, and coaching services that result in strategic solutions. CB Ventures equips government agencies, businesses and nonprofits to effectively produce sustainable, large-scale social change in African American communities. Follow CommunityBuild Ventures @CBVentures1.

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