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The Inclusive Economy

Everything I need to know I learned at CFED…

By Sean Luechtefeld on 10/18/2010 @ 11:17 AM

Tags: Innovation

Ten months ago, I joined the CFED Team as a Graduate Communications Intern for innovation@cfed. This week, my short tenure (or extended internship, depending on how you look at it) comes to an end, and I wanted to share with the community what I’m taking away from CFED as this was my first real foray into the Assets & Opportunity field. When I was trying to narrow down my top three takeaways, I thought of dozens of lessons I’ve learned, so excuse me for rambling about what many of you already know; these are simply those lessons that resonate so strongly with me.

  1. A stable income means nothing if coupled with asset poverty. I have to admit that until I worked at CFED, I never really thought about financial stability in terms of anything beyond income and savings. Ultimately, this meant if you had a good job that allowed you to pay the bills and live comfortably while putting a few dollars in your savings account, then you were good to go. Sadly, that’s not the case, and asset building through things like affordable homeownership and self-employment really is a critical piece of the puzzle. Furthermore, the rhetoric of the past that posited that it was all about “making ends meet” really doesn’t do justice to the economic climate in which we live. Being able to pay the rent or the mortgage and putting groceries on the table means little when the car breaks down, a medical accident occurs or, worse yet, when a hardworking American loses their job to the recession. Living with a hole in your pocket really can be financial ruin, and confronting asset poverty is the only proven mechanism for ameliorating these harsh realities for many families.
  2. “Partnership is an advanced technical skill.” This one came to me from Mindy Hernandez via CFED Senior Program Manager Genevieve Melford. It’s such a simple statement, yet totally true. We often can articulate that collaboration is a valuable endeavor, but can also recognize that it’s an endeavor that rarely reaches its potential. Partnering across the field and across other disciplines is the keystone to success. Whether it’s partnering with research organizations to make more robust our data collection techniques, partnering with community foundations to identify and share best practices or partnering with the public sector to bring innovative approaches for savings to scale, one thing is clear: we can’t do it alone. Developing the partnership skill is perhaps the single-most reliable strategy for increasing our effectiveness.
  3. The triangle really works. During my first few weeks at CFED, everyone I met came up to me with their thumbs and index fingers joined such that their hands formed a triangle. They repeatedly asked me if I had become familiar with the three-pronged approach to our work. Indeed, within a day I was intimately familiar with the “triangle”: community practice, private markets and public policy. I have to be honest about this: if one more person showed me the triangle during those first two weeks, I might have left and never come back. Early on, I could talk about how CFED was built on the premise that the most effective strategies for expanding economic opportunity were those that worked across all three prongs. Yet, it made no sense to me at the time. Now, ten months later, I could not believe more in such an approach. What sets CFED apart from other organizations in the field, in my opinion, is this methodology. Change simply can’t happen if it’s focused solely at the policy level. Likewise, policy reforms don’t work absent the right community practices. And, like the point I make in #2 above suggests, little can be effective if nonprofits work on their own and fail to partner across private markets and with the public sector. In other words, let the triangle live on!

I could go on, and I probably should since I could write a whole blog about how awesome my colleagues here are. Unfortunately, this is probably already my longest blog post! So, in short, my experience here has been incredible, both because I’ve worked with some incredible individuals, and because I have learned so much about the exciting and challenging work this field does.

Thank you all for reading my rants, and thank you for being such an important part of the movement to identify innovative approaches that create the save and invest economy. Do keep in touch, too: find me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter!

Signing off for now…stay tuned to meet our new innovation@cfed blogger, Lauren Stebbins!


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