Radical Change Calls for Radical Approaches

Dinah SandovalReimagining Projects

After years of the development sector waging the war on poverty and billions of dollars invested, nearly half of the global population still lives on $2.50 a day. Yes. Poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue. However, stereotyping people living in poverty as lazy and helpless is not only an inaccurate portrayal but also exacerbates the issue. Mauricio Miller, founder of the Family Independence Initiative (FII) and author of the The Alternative, believed that people living in poverty knew how to get themselves out because they possessed talents, strengths, and resilience epitomized by the fervor for upward mobility demonstrated by his Mexican mother. Mauricio clearly saw what most policy makers, traditional development workers, and the worlds’ elite don’t see — the potential and resourcefulness of people living in poverty.  He knew that if they were given resources often afforded to those born into wealth, achieving upward economic mobility would be possible.

Traditional social programs may do some good and are led by people with the greatest intentions, but they strip people of the pride and ingenuity that comes from leading their own path out of poverty. Conversely, the FII model creates an environment in which families set their own goals and receive support from a group of peers throughout their journey. As they take initiative, families get more, not less, access to resources that can accelerate their efforts.  Two years into FII, families report a 27% increase in their annual income, 36% decrease in government subsidies, and that 88% of their children, on average, have excellent, good, or improved grades. 

The success of the FII has led to the question of whether this effective initiative could work globally–a question that Root Change has recently begun to tackle in partnership with Children International and the Community Independence Initiative.

Getting Started

Three organizations–the Community Independence Initiative (the global version of FII), Children International (CI), and Root Change–are testing the FII model overseas with the objective learning about the ingenuity and mutuality that exists in communities around the world. The three organizations met in Kansas City in September 2019 to start laying out a pathway towards operationalizing the initiative. The collaborative decided to pilot in three countries: Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. Over the course of two years, the initiative will partner with 300 families and learn what strategies they employ to achieve economic prosperity. 

How did we get here?

Over the past two years, CI has undergone an exciting organizational transformation. As a result, CI has challenged the assumption that one child in a household can rise out of poverty, untethered from their parent’s, brother’s, or sister’s poverty, and has begun to make a critical shift towards an ecological model of support for children, their families, and the communities where they live. This pilot presents CI with the opportunity to build off the success and learning of FII in the U.S. and to begin to answer critical questions about families in the communities that CI works with as it reorients itself towards a new change model. 

How will it work?

  • Changing the Narrative: The Community Independence Initiative is a learning initiative that puts the family at the center.  Families are no longer beneficiaries; instead, they are partners in addressing poverty in their communities.
  • Recruitment and Onboarding: A starting family is asked to reach out to four other families that they highly trust to form a group and are given an orientation by a family liaison, a CI staff member that has been trained to facilitate and broker relationships within families and does not provide any solutions that can strip the families of their agency and pride.
  • Family Journals and Monthly Meetings: The family is paid for monthly journals to help surface strategies used to improve their economic mobility. The group of families also gather monthly to discuss topics that are important to them without a prior set agenda.  By providing a space for families to get together, families can learn from one another how to best address social issues that exist in their communities.
  • Family Feedback:  The family journals are shared back with the families in form of a  visual feedback report so that they are able to follow their own progress and make adjustments as needed. 
  • Investment: After a four month commitment, families will be provided with small financial investment. They are then encouraged to pay it forward by investing in another family that they trust, thus supporting the growth of their local economy.


This past month, Mexico and Colombia have started to implement the pilot and we are excited to learn how this model starts shifting the power towards communities to become more resilient highlighting the inventiveness and the mutual ties that exist in poverty labeled communities. This month, the Philippines will be launching in the province of Bicol.