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March 16, 2023

Building equitable pathways to prosperity.


By Kevin Zwick
CEO, United Way Bay Area

Our first blogs this year have been about recentering ourselves on the foundations of our work. We’ve talked about how we MOBILIZE partners and resources to meet our most pressing challenges, and how we change systems and advocate for policies that DISMANTLE the root causes of poverty. The final key element of our mission is building equitable pathways to prosperity. And as we BUILD those pathways, we move closer to United Way Bay Area’s vision of a region where everyone can thrive.

We build these pathways in many ways: through our programs and services that provide resources and opportunities to families throughout the Bay Area, by listening to people with lived experiences that can help us better understand what true equity means and what it looks like, by building awareness around the systems that keep too many of our neighbors struggling to make ends meet, and by building our shared understanding of the what those impacted by poverty are facing on a daily basis.

Building on the innate power of people and families:
Building on this kind of power is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why we’ve created programs that meet individuals where they are in their journeys. Whether it’s providing employment services, financial coaching, or education and mentorship opportunities, our programs are designed to support individuals in reaching the goals that they set for themselves and create the space to set new goals and dream bigger dreams.

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Everyone has different strengths, challenges, and experiences. Our work is about helping individuals identify and leverage those unique qualities and provide the support and guidance they need to thrive. Our programs are staffed by experienced and compassionate professionals who are committed to supporting each individual’s personal definition of success.

Programs like SparkPoint, in addition to providing financial coaching, address basic needs, support individuals and families in setting short and long-term goals, and develop strategies to help achieve those goals, as we co-create each personal path to prosperity. Our programs are built on the principle that by being there for our neighbors and investing in them, we can create a brighter future and a more equitable Bay Area for everyone.

Building effective solutions by centering those with lived experience:
We understand that poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue. We also wholeheartedly believe in people-powered, people-centric solutions, and we recognize those who have experienced poverty firsthand have vital expertise. This is why we continue listening to , amplifying, and elevating the voices of our UWBA Ambassadors. As people who have faced financial hardships firsthand, and who have direct experience with our programs and services, their perspectives are critical in shaping the way we address poverty. But even more, they help us understand – beyond the numbers – the impact poverty has on real people’s lives.

Systemic issues that keep our neighbors trapped in cycles of poverty are deeply entrenched in our society. It takes a comprehensive understanding of these issues to develop effective solutions, so having Ambassadors involved in building these solutions is essential.

Building awareness and understanding:
We know that dismantling poverty means we must in parallel build a viable alternative to our current systems and structure, while ensuring a clear path for everyone to access the support they need. Building knowledge, understanding, and awareness is crucial to achieving this goal. That’s why we focus not only on providing direct support to those in need but also on supporting our network of partner organizations and educating ourselves and others about both the root causes and broader impacts of poverty.

We also work to raise public and political awareness across sectors, emphasizing the interdependencies and intersectionality of this work. One way we have been doing this recently is through a series of Regional Strategy Town Hall events. Through these forums, we are engaging with the community and discussing the aspects of poverty specific to certain portions of our region, while building a shared understanding of how these local issues impact the entire Bay Area.

Building new policy solutions:
We also recognize that forging new policies is key to sustaining critical poverty-fighting tools over the long term. While we strive to provide immediate assistance to individuals and communities in need, these efforts can only go so far without systemic change. Policies that prioritize access to education, housing, and employment are essential for creating a sustainable framework that not only supports but provides the essential tools needed to break the cycle of poverty.

By advocating for policy changes and working with lawmakers to develop and implement them, we can ensure that these tools remain effective for generations to come. Tools like the California Child Tax Credit, which we successfully advocated for extending in this past election cycle, continue to help get funds into the hands of the people who need it most. Tax credits are regarded as one of the most effective tools in the poverty reduction arsenal, but they aren’t permanent. So we need to ensure we are safeguarding existing tools while also implanting new ones – that is done by supporting comprehensive and equitable legislation.

Putting it all together:
By focusing on the power, assets, and experiences of the individuals, families, and communities most impacted by poverty, we can truly build the understanding, insights, and empathy needed to mobilize the Bay Area to dismantle the root causes of poverty and build equitable pathways to prosperity. But it will take all of us bringing all our tools, ideas, and perspectives to the table. Please consider this your invitation to join us or – for many of you – stay with us in tackling this ambitious project. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to building!