CII Challenges the Way Communities of Poverty Are Viewed: CII Staff Share the Shifts in Their Perceptions

Alex WagnerDevelopment Revolution, Rethinking Organizations

Contributions by: Eli Rangel, Alma Flores, Nestor Lara, Robert Cuerdo, and Natalie Foxworthy

Esta publicación también está disponible en el blog de Root Change en español.

Since 2019, Root Change has partnered with Children International (CI) and Family Independence Initiative (FII) founder Mauricio Miller to launch the Community Independence Initiative (CII). What started as a peer-driven change model for families in Oakland, California has now expanded to 300 families in Mexico, Colombia, and the Philippines. With six months of the initial pilot completed, now is an opportune moment to reflect on what we have learned so far.

Natalie Foxworthy, Director of Global Programs at Children International, has been involved with CII since the beginning. She says that she was drawn to Mauricio’s unique alternative to typical social services but wondered about how it would work in comparison to Children International’s sponsorship model. While interventions in health, education, empowerment, and employment can be effective in reducing poverty, the core of the CII model centers on families deciding on how they want to improve their own lives. Instead of telling families what to do, they share information on their progress and actions through monthly surveys, which the CII team then aggregates, analyzes, and redistributes to all families in the same country. This way, families are empowered to make informed decisions based on their own data and that of others in their communities.

CI Staff Take on New Roles

Family liaisons are essential to the success of CII because they meet with the families and gather quantitative and qualitative data on how they are improving their own lives. Meetings include groups of five families once a month and individual families every three or four months. Eli Rangel and Alma Flores are family liaisons in Jalisco, Mexico where they share the responsibility of working with 100 families. “I was very nervous,” Alma said when she heard about CII. “I wasn’t all that sure what it was about.” Eli says, “a thousand doubts and questions entered my head about how it was going to work since we were not provided with a manual.”  While Eli transitioned from a leadership facilitator who developed children’s life skills through interactive activities and now dedicates all of her time to CII, Alma continues to work as an education facilitator at a CI library center, balancing her new role with her old one.

Their colleague in Santa Marta, Colombia, Nestor Lara, had a similar first impression of his transition to CII. “It was still a very unknown project at that time and we had no idea what was coming, but I wanted to respond to the confidence that they were putting in me.” That confidence has proven to be well-placed as the liaisons skillfully adapt to their new roles.

Changing Perceptions

Robert Cuerdo in Bicol, Philippines was a field officer for education programs before becoming a family liaison. In his previous role he was the one that set the agenda, provided guidance and delivered information based on a curriculum with predetermined outputs.  But as he explains, “CII families are the experts of their own lives. We shouldn’t think of any solutions for them because they will think of the solutions for themselves.” Nestor agrees with this sentiment. “It’s the families who drive the action and I follow their trajectory. This allowed me to have more confidence in the flexibility and resourcefulness that they have. It also allowed me to strengthen my own abilities, like listening and understanding their situations.” Alma has gained a similar perspective from her experience in the initiative. “We trust in them and let them do what they want to. Each family has their own essence and we learn from their family dynamics,” she says.

New Challenges, New Opportunities

Despite the added complications of mandatory social distancing due to the Coronavirus pandemic, families have continued to rely on one another to solve issues facing their lives. Sharing food, helping with their children’s schoolwork, and providing emotional support are a few of the ways they have relied on one another. “I’m very impressed with how they’ve adapted to COVID,” says Eli. “You learn about all the parts of their lives and see that they’re very resilient people.”

Families have also begun to receive their first investment, which are lump sums of cash that they can use as they see fit given every 6 months as part of CII. “We’re in a really exciting phase right now with the investment,” says Nestor. “It’s exciting to see their ideas realized on how they are going to improve their quality of life. It will also be exciting to see how these pilot families teach others in their communities about what they’re learning.”

Looking to the Future

In the coming months, the CII team will be eagerly watching to see how families use their investments. Families have expressed interest in renovating their homes, starting businesses, and improving their childrens’ education, among other goals. “It would be really great to see CII families strengthening others that aren’t in the initiative,” says Eli. “That way it can have a bigger reach.” Through the CII pilot, we  have already seen support grow and strengthen both among CII families and with those outside of CII, giving us the confidence that families have the necessary skills to face any challenge.