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In early 2021 Root Change partnered with People’s Self-Help Housing (PSHH), the longest-serving nonprofit affordable housing organization on the Central Coast of California, to pilot the Community Independence Initiative (CII). CII is a peer-driven change model that invests in the talents, strengths, and ingenuity of people living in low-income communities. The initiative offers no services or advice to families. Instead, it provides a structure within which families set their own goals and strengthen social networks that support their progress. The pilot with PSHH ran from June to December 2021 and included 20 families living in three PSHH housing communities.
The 20 families were divided into 4 family groups. The fact that the pilot began during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic posed a big challenge; from family recruitment and orientation to the actual family group meetings. Even so, families found a way to come together and share their goals and strategies with each other: in zoom meetings, in WhatsApp calls, or in in-person meetings in parks or other outdoor spaces with social distancing. Below we share some of the primary outcomes from the 6-month pilot.
Among the top goals mentioned by families in monthly journal contributions throughout the pilot were: improving their financial situation, purchasing a home of their own, keeping their children in school, starting a business, and improving their living situation. We followed up with families asking about strategies they were using to reach those goals and learned that most of them wanted to save money and increase their income to achieve their goal of purchasing a home of their own. To improve their current living situation, many families cleaned regularly, rearranged furniture, got rid of things they no longer used, and added decorations, like plants, in their homes.
Towards the final months of the pilot we learned that many families were achieving some of their goals by saving, paying off debts, and improving their families’ general wellbeing. Some participants reported that their group meetings had helped them to learn new ways to improve their finances, to feel supported by others, and to help them keep track of their goals.
When the pilot began in June, three families out of the 20 had a business, and many had goals to start a business of their own. One family was able to start a new business by using their CII investment ($1,000) to buy the necessary equipment. Many others reported saving their CII investment to start a business in the future. Throughout the duration of the pilot, we saw an 8% increase in average monthly family income and a 36% increase in the percentage of families who were saving. The average amount of money they were saving also increased from 4% to 8% of their monthly income on average.
Another big change we saw throughout the pilot was the number of families providing and receiving support of different kinds, also known as mutuality. Mutuality in CII is monitored through a monthly family journal (survey) by asking “Did anyone help you or your family last month by giving financial/non-financial assistance?” and “Did you or your family help anyone this month by giving financial/non-financial assistance?”
In June 20% of families reported receiving some sort of support and 50% reported providing support. This percentage grew throughout the pilot and peaked in October, when all 20 families received support and 19 provided support. Examples of support include giving and receiving clothes for their children, taking care of each other’s children, sharing food, providing information that can help with other’s business goals, providing job recommendations, and giving each other moral support.
Looking to the Future
There is strong indication that the social ties built during the pilot with PSHH will continue. When the pilot came to an end in December 2021, all 4 family groups stated that they were interested in continuing to meet because of the strong support network they felt with their peers. One group even mentioned the possibility of starting a business together.
PSHH will continue learning from the data collected during the pilot and to find new approaches that can better support their residents. Separately, Root Change continues to strengthen and adapt the CII model by building off of the success and learnings of different CII pilots and working to create a community of peers using this model. For example, we recently shared results from a year-long pilot in three countries and from a pilot with businesses in Oakland, California. Currently, we are launching CII initiatives, with communities in Malawi and New York City. Stay tuned for more!