Tell us about the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s economic opportunity work.
The Foundation’s economic opportunity work was born out of our post-Katrina work on housing and community development, which included a five-year, $25 million initiative to support the organizations and systems that repaired or created new affordable housing. We organize our grant programs into nine categories of community and human development to work toward creating a thriving community for all.
In 2012, together with the Ford Foundation, we commissioned Prosperity Now (then CFED) to create an Asset and Opportunity profile of New Orleans. The report showed that more than a third of New Orleans households lived in asset poverty, meaning that these households lacked the means to cover basic expenses for three months should a job loss or emergency leave them without income. Almost a quarter of local households lived in extreme asset poverty, meaning they have no assets or are in debt and have a negative net worth. We know that households living in asset poverty are extremely vulnerable to emergencies, whether that’s an unexpected health care cost, car repair, or a mandatory evacuation.
The report helped us understand the full scope of asset poverty in our region and the importance of asset building in the context of recovery. We intended this report to be a call to action and presented the data to local nonprofit, government, community and philanthropic leaders to think about ways to work collaboratively to reduce asset poverty and build savings both in and beyond protecting families in times of crisis. Our economic opportunity work, which includes grantmaking, facilitation, and our own initiatives, focuses on creating opportunity through meaningful employment, paths to affordable homeownership, savings and investments, financial education and counseling, and small business growth and development.
What is the Foundation’s Economic Opportunity of Practice?
Through conversations with a diverse set of nonprofits – some working in the VITA context, some working with local homebuyers, and others working with specific, marginalized communities – we realized there was a need for a learning community of nonprofits working to provide families with the best financial education, tools, and resources to become self-sufficient. In late 2015, we launched the Economic Opportunity of Practice and are now in our third year of working with nonprofits within this learning community. It’s a shared practice of peer-to-peer learning, and we also help provide assessment of existing programs, technical assistance for financial coaching, and training for front line staff. We currently have five nonprofits in the cohort working in partnership with The Financial Clinic, and we are piloting different financial coaching models. We also see this work as being connected to bigger advocacy pushes and we help nonprofits build their own advocacy power to develop and implement a public policy agenda based on asset building.
How does the support of VITA and EITC outreach fit into your portfolio? Why is supporting this work essential to your mission?
Through our Communities of Practice work, we have grantees who are working to incorporate financial capability into their work and we hope to help them expand the work around VITA and EITC outreach. We have a long-standing relationship with these non-profits and we know there are many layers to program development and sustainability. The work takes time and relationship building. Our partners provide a variety of programmatic support and are on a spectrum of having established this work. Harmony Neighborhood Development, for instance, works on issues around financial capability through credit remediation, budgeting, and financial coaching within their Wealth and Asset Building Program. One of our grantees, Kingsley House, has started incorporating VITA support through its community-based services by partnering with the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, as well as making it a strategic priority to incorporate financial capability programming for families participating in their Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and clients in their Community Supportive Services Program.
Our mission is to help create a just and equitable community — there’s a legacy of asset poverty as well as a racial wealth gap in New Orleans. In order for this region to reach its fullest potential, we have to invest in work that addresses income and assets.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
I am interested in talking with funder colleagues about the need to invest more in organizations with deep roots in community, especially those founded by and serving people of color. To paraphrase our friends from the Family Independence Initiative, people know the solutions to their own problems, and what they need to solve those problems is access to resources. Most of the grantees we have worked with over the years in our Economic Opportunity Community of Practice have an intimate understanding of the challenges faced by clients, some have lived through similar challenges, and all have a passion for the work that motivates them to think outside of individual organizations and programs, and to see what really works for the people that they are serving.