Top 4 Takeaways from the Assets and Opportunities Leadership Network Convening

AandO Network ConveningOn December 3rd and 4th, CFED’s Assets and Opportunities Network (A&O) held its first Leadership Convening of statewide coalitions, advocates, and service providers working to deepen the impact of asset-based strategies. For those who didn’t make it, here are our top four takeaways.

1) Understanding Scarcity is key to anti-poverty work
Plenary speaker, Eldar Shafir, spoke on the role scarcity plays in all of our lives, but especially for those experiencing poverty. Scarcity of money or time captures our minds, causing us to focus in on immediate decisions to the neglect of other important longer-term issues.  His book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is a must-read for those of us actively working to end poverty. One big takeaway from his speech is that we need to consider the bandwidth cost often required of those experiencing poverty to accept program services. For example,  providing support services like child care, transportation, or assistance filling out paperwork can be a much more appreciative and valuable incentive for a person than a $10 gift card as it frees up cognitive capacity to focus on other aspects of their life.

2) It’s a good time to be a kid in Nevada
Treasurer Kate Marshall_shorterNevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall made news when she created a program to open up a Children’s Savings Account (CSA) for every child in a rural Nevada county, seeded with $50 from the state. She made even bigger news on Wednesday, telling the gathered crowd of asset building advocates that Nevada’s CSA program will be extended to the entire state. The new initiative is a $1.8 million per year, 3-year pilot, to fund and administer CSA’s for public school children in the state of Nevada.

3) Is 2014 the year of Children’s Savings Accounts?
In addition to Nevada, several other states are providing state-tailored CSA’s for their kids. David Rothstein of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland shared information about efforts in Cuyahoga county. In the past, Cuyahoga county, which includes the city of Cleveland, had invested much of its economic development funds into place-based ventures, but with graduation rates in the teens, a new county charter required new people-based investments to improve the education outcomes for residents. Cuyahoga county is poised to launch a new CSA program to open up a savings account for every kindergartener in the county and seed each account with $100.

Colorado is taking a different route with a two-generational approach through a 3-year pilot using Colorado’s 529 college savings account. Next September, certain pre-kindergarteners will have a 529  account opened up in their name with a $50 initial deposit from the state, and the first $100 in contributions per year will be matched. Financial education is provided to both kids and their parents.

In Illinois, we are championing the creation of a statewide Universal Children’s Savings Account program based on recommendations from the Illinois Children’s Savings Account Task Force.

4) Showing up matters
CFED, and other national advocacy groups, need power to affect change. With hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of legislation each year to read, review, and understand lawmakers and their aides need to hear from organizations in their community about how policy effects people on the ground. Sometimes it takes a sit-down meeting with legislators and their staff to put the issues that are important to our communities  on their agenda.

IABG serves as the Illinois’ lead organization in the A&O Network. However, you can get involved in the national movement as well by joining the A&O Network as a lead local organization and joining IABG.

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