The Brand Lab Is Working to Change the Face of an Industry
By Danielle Fox on 09/12/2016 @ 03:00 PM
We see it on TV all the time. The same face, same voice, same American ideal peddling another product that really serves everybody regardless of demographic. But this isn’t new; the advertising and marketing industries have traditionally shied away from including diverse faces and voices in favor of appealing to the greatest common denominator. With ever-growing diversity the forefront of discussion in this country, people are beginning to hold these industries accountable for representing those whose demographics have traditionally been left out of the target audience.
The students with the Brand Lab took this mission to heart and are working to inject some much needed diversity into the marketing and advertising industries with the idea that “homogeneity simply breeds homogeneity” and that different backgrounds bring new perspectives and ideas that lead to innovation. On their SoundCloud, students have the opportunity to speak with industry leaders from various backgrounds and trades about what race means to them and what diversity would look like.
Check out their SoundCloud here to see hear these interviews and more!
Gift Ideas for the Economic Justice Advocate on Your List
By Merrit Gillard on 12/22/2015 @ 12:00 PM
There are just a couple of days left to finish up all of your final holiday shopping! So what do you get the economic justice advocate in your life? CFEDers have some book ideas that are sure to put a smile on the face of any loved ones whose idea of a good time is curling up by the fire and reading about the deep inequalities in the American economy.
What It's Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation, produced by CFED and the San Francisco Federal Reserve
This compilation of 40-plus essays from the leading experts in the field of financial well-being features a host of ideas to transform the financial lives of low-income Americans. As an added bonus, in case you’re already over your holiday-shopping budget, you can order a free copy!
Between the World and Me, by TaNehisi Coates
In this beautiful and painful letter to his son, Coates explores the devastating impact of historical and structural racism on our families, communities and country.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer
It’s one thing to read an economic treatise on the wealth gap; it’s another to read about it through the lives of real people. This is what Packer does so well in The Unwinding. He shows what deindustrialization and the technological revolution have done to real families.
Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It, by Mariko Lin Chang
A comprehensive primer on the drivers of the wealth differential between men and women, this book is a great resource on women of color and racial economic inequality.
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In this classic text, Dr. King lays out the socioeconomic foundation of racial inequality and sketches out a vision for America’s future, free from poverty and economic injustice.
Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton
Another foundational text from the 1960s, this book attempted to define what “Black Power” means, and in doing so, developed an early definition of institutional racism.
When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, by William Julius Wilson
Eighteen years after When Work Disappears was originally published, the premise of the book still resonates: communities without strong job opportunities and resilient employment sectors will likely fail, and the fallout impacts numerous social and economic measures, from health to family bonds to crime. These are fundamental challenges, and despite nearly two decades of reflection, we still have not fully grasped them.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
This selection won’t arrive in time for Christmas, since it doesn’t come out until March, but it’s worth reserving a copy. An important addition to the work on the how economic disruption disrupts everything else, Evicted focuses on Milwaukee’s north side and far south side, looking at evictions from walkups and, yes, a mobile home park.
How the Other Half Banks, by Mehrsa Baradaran
New out this year, How the Other Half Banks explores the reasons that many low-income people aren’t using mainstream financial products and services—and offers a potential solution of using post offices to meet the banking needs of low-income households.
Assets and the Poor, by Michael Sherraden and Neil Gilbert
Assets and the Poor remains a foundational book for the asset-building field, providing a solid history and context for why there is a wealth gap—particularly among African Americans—and creating a call-to-action for asset-building programs.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek
This book doesn’t focus on economic justice, but it’s a must-read for leaders in the field who want to learn how to foster successful teams and organizations that advance their mission.
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
For fiction lovers, this hilarious novel set in an IRS Regional Examination Center in 1980s Peoria, Illinois explores the political genius of making the tax code boring—so that elites can extract concessions publicly and legally without the public even noticing.
A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
The advocate in your life might not be old enough to read yet, but this beautifully illustrated alphabet board book—complete with a cat to find on every page—is sure to be a hit among parents and children alike.
Many thanks to Jocelyn Harmon, Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Melissa Grober-Morrow, Kate Griffin, Ezra Levin and Doug Ryan for their thoughtful suggestions!
Have a favorite book that didn’t make our list? Tell us about it in the comments!
Thrift in Early 20th-Century America and Today
By Andrew Yarrow on 09/29/2014 @ 10:30 AM
The United States is not a thrifty nation and “thrift” is often seen as an antiquated value in a society in which consumption is encouraged and most Americans either don’t or can’t save money. But that was not always the case. In early 20th-century America, thrift was the rallying cry for many civic, professional, business, and other organizations and was enthusiastically embraced by millions.
The YMCA, teachers, the banking industry, government, temperance advocates, anti-poverty activists, every President from Teddy Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover, and many other strange bedfellows played central roles in defining and promoting thrift. The movement’s many components and its philosophy were presented in books, pamphlets, juvenile and adult short fiction, posters, cartoons, and even silent films. Thrift was taught in schools and factories. This virtue was described and promoted during the annual National Thrift Week that was kicked off each January 17 on Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, from Gotham to small-town America.
Thrift represented a quest for control over an array of roiling social problems. Profligacy and waste threatened lives, businesses, the environment, and the country’s strength; poverty was a daily threat to the well-being of millions; and consumer society threatened values of restraint and modesty. These threats galvanized different people and groups with different concerns and agendas. For a time, they united under the banner of thrift, using a common language to respond to disparate problems.
Fast-forward from the 1920s to 2014: Although the United States is by many measures the world’s wealthiest country, the median assets of an American adult, about $53,000, are below those of 15 other countries. Our national savings rate, which stayed above 10 percent into the early 1980s, plummeted to zero in 2005, only to regain a little ground since the Great Recession. Still, the 2013 savings rate of less than 4 percent is a far cry from what individuals or the nation needs for economic health and is only a tiny fraction of what early 20th-century thrift advocates proposed. But even these alarming aggregate statistics dramatically understate the problem. Well-to-do Americans are doing just fine when it comes to saving, building up substantial fortunes in securities, real estate, and other investments. Since the savings rate is an average, the healthy savings of the affluent are counterbalanced by a vast swath of the population with minimal savings and a similarly vast swath who have no savings and are, in fact, mired in debt.
We live in a society in which too many who can save don’t, and too many simply don’t earn sufficient income to be able to save. Without savings, we are less able to take care of future needs, less able to provide the next generation with a down payment on a good life, and less able to help others in need. While the United States remains an attractive destination for foreign investment, our own people’s lack of savings diminishes the pool of funds available for investment in current needs or new ideas, products, or businesses. Without private savings, there is less money available for the private and public investments necessary for a flourishing economy. Private saving is the major source of funding for investments that enhance productivity and, in turn, raise real wages and living standards.
The numbers are grim. Many upper-middle-class Americans have frighteningly little in the way of savings, but much of America’s savings crisis stems not from either rampant consumerism or individual character flaws but from the extraordinary degree of socioeconomic inequality that has developed in the United States since the 1970s. The average net worth of the top 1 percent of households is about $16.4 million, whereas the poorest 20 percent of the population had negative net worth averaging -$27,000 and the second poorest quintile had average net worth of just $5,500 in 2010. Approximately one-fourth of Americans are in debt and have no savings.
Although the early 20th-century thrift movement waned in the 1930s, do many of its ideas have relevance in the 21st century? Does an idea predicated on wise resource use have new meaning today, at a time of high public and private debt, when the economy is floundering, the middle class is strapped, the Earth faces environmental threats, and profligacy and waste seem more widespread than ever? Can a new iteration of thrift, recalibrated to contemporary social realities, illuminate a path to a better future?
Andrew L. Yarrow, a historian, public-policy professional, and former New York Times reporter, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Thrift: The History of an American Cultural Movement.” For more information on the book, to be published this winter, visit Amazon.
Have Fun at the ALC (and Network, Too)!
By Paul Day on 09/10/2014 @ 05:30 PM
The fast-approaching 2014 Assets Learning Conference is full of fun times. Check out the awesome receptions we have to offer!
Two Incredible Receptions
Wednesday, September 17
Evening Networking Reception / D.C. Street Fair (5–7:30 pm)
Attendees will mix and mingle at this D.C. street fair-themed evening reception with food carts, exhibit tables and games from the 1:1 Fund and Assets & Opportunity Network, co-hosts of this fun evening. A photo booth will give attendees a chance to share their experiences, and if you show the bouncer that you've used hashtag #ALC2014, he'll let you into the ALC Speakeasy, where signature cocktails and a local beer tasting will take place. With all the food, drinks and fun you could need, this reception is the perfect place to connect with old friends and make new ones.
Thursday, September 18
ALC Awards Program (5:30-8 pm)
Join us as we honor the best in asset-building achievement. Winners from our Platforms for Prosperity Contest will be unviled and presented with $10,000 checks. We'll also recognize some of the individuals and organizations who have made significant investments in our field's work. And, with as much food and drink as is typical of a CFED reception, this one is not to be missed! (Rumor has it there might even be dancing afterwards. Just sayin'.)
Additional Networking Opportunities
Download the Official 2014 ALC Mobile App. With the app, you’ll get a ton of information about the conference, including a directory of attendees to make networking easy. From there, you can connect with those attendees via social media, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Capitol Hill Visit Prep/Networking Luncheon (11:45 am-1 pm)
Unless you work for a federal agency and are attending the Capacity-Building Intensive for agency staff, then this is the lunch for you! Use this time to network with others and learn about the political climate in Washington as it pertains to asset-building policy.
Want to coordinate transportation, networking happy hours or other fun evening activities? Be sure to join the ALC Facebook Group to connect with your fellow attendees. The Facebook Group is also the perfect place to share your best pics from the conference.
Intern Testimonial: Career Foundations at CFED
By Macy Cheeks on 09/03/2014 @ 02:28 PM
It is hard to believe that my time here at CFED is coming to an end. I am overwhelmed at the amount of experience that I’ve gained over the past 3 months. From day one, I was taken seriously as an intern. My voice was heard and my projects were a vital part of achieving CFED’s organizational objectives.
Not only did my experience surpass my expectations, but I also learned a lot about myself as a future HR professional this summer. I am so grateful for Wes, Joanne and the entire CFED staff for being so warm and welcoming. The unique and vibrant culture provided me with insight into the culture / work environment in which I best thrive.
Witnessing how valuable diversity of backgrounds and perspectives are to the seamless collaboration of the staff at CFED reconfirms my interest in diversity and inclusion. I am eager to share my experiences with my peers and apply my broadened knowledge of the HR field to my coursework.
Overall, my internship at CFED provided me with an irreplaceable foundation to build upon as my professional career advances. Thank you CFED for a wonderful summer!
All Good Things
By Alexander Scarlis on 08/27/2014 @ 10:30 AM
My final blog post as CFED’s Government Affairs (GA) Graduate Student Intern will hopefully give you a sense of what I did these last three months and what I’ve learned.
We interns were told early on that we’d have to write this post so I must confess something. To make writing it a little easier, I kept a diary of tasks I performed. Then I color-coded it. Please forgive my OCD. It’s only occasional.
- Blue for blog posts.
- Green for writing projects and related research (e.g., fact files, comment letter on regulations)
- Red for research projects that required no final written product other than a brief memo/email.
- Orange for covering events like think tank panels, conference calls, CFED’s staff summit, webinars; includes cleaning up my notes. Much could be viewed online so I rarely left my desk.
- Brown for coalition work, i.e., engaging with partner organizations.
- Pink for “politicians”: Capitol Hill visits, congressional hearings (all viewed online to facilitate note-taking), conference calls with staffers; includes cleaning up my notes.
- Black for editing others’ publications (all GA team members edit each other’s writing).
Doing this confirmed what I’d felt throughout the internship: advocacy work is rarely boring. There’s just too much variety. Reviewing the diary, I already see three different colors shading my first week, four colors by the second week, and six colors by the fourth.
Of course, this level of diversity didn’t last. Although no week other than the first ever dropped below four colors, only the last week of July brought a rainbow of seven. A list of what I did that week is illustrative of the type of work I’ve been doing:
- Edited a report on tax policy and another report and accompanying blog post on credit history
- Finished my notes covering a Senate hearing on empowering women entrepreneurs
- Covered a Joint Economic Committee hearing on increasing economic opportunity for African Americans, and wrote a blog post and accompanying tweets about a board member’s testimony
- Covered a SunTrust Bank/Operation Hope event launching their partnership on financial literacy
- Updated a database and map I created showing partner sign-on’s to a coalition letter I co-wrote asking members of Congress to oppose a bill Drafted and revised a blog post on the Urban Institute’s report on delinquent debt in the U.S.
- Wrote a one-pager for CFED’s Savings and Financial Capability team on new language relating to financial literacy in the recently reauthorized Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act
- Continued revising my fact file on prize-linked savings
Here’s a rough idea of how much time I spent on each category of tasks:
For those considering a government affairs internship, you may be surprised that not more time was devoted to Congress. Remember:
- You’re an intern, not a registered lobbyist.
- This town is dead in August (congressional recess).
- Government affairs, at least at CFED, is much more than rubbing shoulders with members of Congress and their staffers or covering hearings. Unless you’re a constituent, you’re not getting in the room (and taken seriously) without proof of credibility. These folks have way too much going on to have their time wasted (despite Congress’s negative reputation, it’s important to recall that they’re trying to collectively steer the most powerful country on Earth). For anti-poverty non-profits like CFED, that proof of credibility comes in the form of expertise. That expertise is derived from in-depth research and the on-the-ground experiences of the state and local anti-poverty non-profits that comprise the Assets & Opportunity Network that CFED coordinates.
CFED is blessed to have a crack Communications team that exports the in-house expertise wherever and whenever possible. Yet the government affairs staff must also exhibit excellent communications skills of their own. It’s one thing to know something well; it’s another thing to talk and write about it well enough that people actually pay attention.
As I prepare for another school year, I plan to build my expertise (specific poverty policy TBD) and communication skills. I leave CFED with a stronger understanding of asset policy and federal advocacy (and manufactured housing!). I am grateful to CFED staff, and my GA (and other 2nd floor!) peeps in particular, for their guidance, support and sense of humor!
Gaining Career Knowledge at CFED
By Macy Cheeks on 07/31/2014 @ 01:00 PM
I would be lying if I said that my master’s program prepared me for the work that I am undertaking this summer at CFED. While I have gained a wealth of theoretical knowledge during my collegiate career, nothing can substitute the hands-on experience I am acquiring this summer.
Last semester I took an interest in Equal Employment Opportunity and the Compliance Regulations that government contractors must abide by. Although most (all) HR professionals find compliance tedious, I enjoy taking on the responsibility of protecting an organization and its stakeholders, building a positive reputation and increasing productivity through regulatory compliance. So you can only imagine how exhilarating it was when I was entrusted with evaluating CFED’s human resources practices to ensure federal compliance as well as leading the development of a written affirmative action plan (AAP).
Having theoretical knowledge in the HR field is essential because it aids in building a general framework and a deeper understanding of the “why” behind our responsibilities. My time at CFED is valuable because I am figuring out how to bridge the gap between the “why” and the “how”. Surprisingly, bridging that gap has proven to be particularly challenging. There is nothing more daunting than realizing that my 5 years of college have not fully prepared me for the workforce. My biggest challenges were figuring out where to start, understanding what type of data I needed and being clear about what I needed help with. I found that asking for help when I was stuck and being transparent about my abilities to be valuable tools in overcoming my challenges.
One day, I want to play a key role in placing women and minorities into top-level executive positions to more adequately reflect the demographics of our society. Analyzing employee data, assessing HR practices and building an AAP are all irreplaceable experiences that I will never have in a classroom setting. My main deliverables allow me to develop vital skills and gain real-life experience needed to achieve my goals.
Overall, I have realized there are some things that you can only learn through experience. I plan to soak as much in as possible before my time at CFED is over.
Behind the Scenes: Recruitment @ CFED
By Macy Cheeks on 07/09/2014 @ 09:00 AM
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second post in a series from our Graduate Intern for Human Resources, Macy Cheeks. Today, Macy goes behind the scenes in the recruitment process, sharing the process we go through to bring the most amazing colleagues ever to CFED.
Wes Lin is our Human Resources Generalist. He’s been away for a couple weeks as he got married at the end of June (congrats, Wes!). In his absence, one of my main tasks has been to keep our recruitment efforts going. I quickly recognized that recruiting for an organization of CFED’s caliber would be a challenge. CFED is able to achieve and make significant strides in programs, research and policy advocacy because of the intelligent and dedicated staff. I thought to myself, “How do I recruit candidates that will add additional value to this organization?” Needless to say, a mini panic attack soon followed. However, Wes made sure that I was well prepared by providing me with a crash course in recruitment and a much needed pep talk! Days later, I leaped head first into this jigsaw puzzle called staffing at CFED (and my first recruit, Digital Media Manager Paul Day, starts today!).
Every day I sift through dozens of applications and cover letters on Newton, our applicant tracking software. When I come across a great candidate, I forward their resume and cover letter on to the hiring manager. The hiring manager will review the documents and if the candidate looks good, will recommend moving forward with a telephone screen. A phone screen serves as a tool to gauge the overall experience and interpersonal skills of a candidate. At first, conducting screens was the most nerve-racking part of my internship! Once I became comfortable I started to truly enjoy chatting with candidates about their background and professional interest.
If the phone screen goes well, I will schedule a phone interview and possibly an in-office interview with the hiring manager. Logistically, I found that the most challenging part of recruitment is coordinating interviews with staff. With calendars booked months in advance, attempting to find a free hour that works for both the candidate and CFED team members is tough.
I give the interview team time to debrief after the in-office interview, and if the candidate is a good match, I get to deliver the news. Notifying a candidate that they have been selected for a position at CFED has been the best part of my internship so far!
During these three weeks, I have gleaned some important lessons about staffing/recruitment at CFED:
- The employees are CFED’s biggest asset and are responsible for the everlasting success of CFED. It takes time to find the right individual who is sincerely passionate about the work that we do here. You can’t rush recruitment.
- From an applicant’s perspective, HR professionals are the face of the organization. Unwavering confidence and the ability to communicate well are crucial traits to have when attracting potential employees.
- The most rewarding part of HR is making job offers. Finding someone who will mesh well with the team and contribute to the bigger picture is a fabulous feeling, comparable to completing a very difficult jigsaw puzzle.
Interested in a career at CFED? Browse our openings!
Inside CFED’s Government Affairs Team
By Alexander Scarlis on 07/01/2014 @ 10:00 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of posts by Alexander Scarlis, Graduate Intern at CFED. Today, Alex goes behind the scenes of what it's like to work on CFED's Government Affairs Team.
My last post focused on finding an internship in the asset-building field. Today I’ll take a closer look at what it’s like to be the Graduate Student Intern for the Government Affairs (GA) team, what they do and why they do it well.
I encourage interested students to read the posts of my fellow interns on other CFED teams to help figure out where you fit in the asset-building field. CFED pretty much does it all: advocacy, policy and program development, research, “grasstops” organizing, not to mention the crucial functions of any well-run organization such as communications, human resources, IT, development, operations and finance.
GA focuses on advocacy, policy analysis and policy development. It’s a great place to be if you like to get your hands in different asset policy areas, hit the streets every once in a while and read Politico. The GA team is the political face of CFED in Washington, DC. That means not only suiting up to wow highly intelligent (and overworked) Congressional staffers with the magic of asset-building, but also coming in as a trusted expert in the field prepared to counter the skeptics. At CFED, GA also serves as advisor to the Assets & Opportunity Network, which includes state and local asset-building coalitions across the country on how to most effectively advocate at the federal level.
My primary contribution to this workhorse of a team is to their countless written publications, including fact sheets, policy briefs and reports. I read and write a ton, doing background research and submitting my findings in the form of publication drafts or internal memos. This is where a policy analysis curriculum comes in handy because it gives you the tools to translate the dense academic literature, federal regulations and various research reports you’ll inevitably encounter into digestible prose.
I also cover congressional hearings (online, which makes typing notes much easier), think-tank panels (in person, still bring your laptop) and external conference calls so GA stays abreast of the never-ending flow of asset-related policy information coursing through the capital. And of course, I’ve donned a suit to observe the team in action on the Hill, from intimate lobbying sessions with legislative staff to a presentation before the Senate Economic Mobility Caucus on Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs).
I consider my role as intern to help others be more productive at what they do and in the process get well versed in how they do it (and, where possible, do it too).
So how do they do it? How did a GA report released a month ago on higher education tax spending end up being cited in the first few minutes of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) opening statement at a hearing last week? How did the GA Director get to speak about CSAs along with U.S. House of Representatives and Treasury Department officials at a Capitol Hill event hosted by the Aspen Institute?
Simple: painstakingly cultivating relationships across all levels of government, from federal agencies to the White House, using carefully crafted, in-depth policy analysis pieces grounded in rigorous research. The GA team is prolific, publishing everything from op-eds to policy proposals to blog posts almost every week as it builds CFED’s status as a thought leader on asset-building policy. GA also engages national partners and potential partners to ensure a united front when crafting messages for government leaders on the importance of asset building and eradicating poverty.
Equally important, GA is a tightknit group that communicates constantly with each other, has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each team member, and actively fosters a culture of support among staff. For example, everyone edits each other’s work prior to forwarding publications to the Communications team for the final once-over.
Finally, inter-team relations at CFED are especially vital for GA given its mandate to advance CFED’s entire agenda to federal policymakers. GA collaborates regularly with the Savings & Financial Security, Entrepreneurship, Affordable Homeownership, Applied Research, and State & Local Policy teams, thereby tapping into the wealth of policy and program expertise in this building and in our California and North Carolina offices.
In a nutshell, GA is about relationships, relationships, relationships. Be a great writer and an even better speaker. Know your stuff.
Sound like fun? It is.
Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Internship, Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Intern
By Macy Cheeks on 06/27/2014 @ 03:00 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Macy's blog post is the last of our introductions to our staff of summer interns. Not to worry; this isn't the last you'll hear from these six incredible young professionals. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn more about how their work at CFED is coming along!
After spending two exhausting semesters in tornado alley, I have to say that it feels so good to be back in the District! Hailing from Woodbridge, VA, I spent most of my childhood admiring the commotion of DC. I graduated from Howard University in 2012 where I received a Bachelor’s in Psychology. After spending a year working, binge-watching Netflix and downright freaking out over the GRE, I decided to pursue my Master’s in Industrial Organizational (I/O) Psychology. I/O Psychology isn’t as confusing as it sounds. Simply put, I/O is the study of human behavior related to work. We solve people-related business problems through the scientific study of individuals within the workplace using psychological principles, theory and research. Currently, I attend Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, and you can only imagine how many Dorothy and Toto jokes I hear on a daily basis.
I am so grateful to catch my first glimpse of the Human Resources (HR) field as CFED’s graduate HR Intern! Because it is so important that HR professionals make meaningful connections with their organization’s mission, I wanted to select an internship that would provide me with the opportunity to contribute to a larger cause. CFED’s work to ensure low- and moderate-income families achieve the American Dream is innovative and relevant—so it was effortless to become invested in the human capital behind the mission!
I’ve only been at CFED for a month and I can attest that this is NOT your run-of-the-mill internship. Forget filing paperwork and fetching Starbucks, I am waist-deep in recruitment and federal compliance. I will also lead the development of CFED’s Affirmative Action plan, assist in the collection of mid-year reviews and participate in talent management activities.
I am looking forward to updating the blog as my summer at CFED progresses!
Why CFED? Why Not?
By Valerie Marshall on 06/26/2014 @ 11:15 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth of six introductions we're making this week to help you get to know our wonderful staff of interns who are spending their summers at CFED. Today we're introducing Valerie Marshall, who is supporting our Applied Research team for a few months.
It was a standard question that even a less-seasoned job applicant would have expected at some point during the interview process: “Why would you like to work for this organization?” However, rather than struggling to find the ‘right’ words to answer the question, or providing a typical, formulaic response, I couldn’t help but think, “why wouldn’t I want to intern at CFED?” As a graduate student with a long-standing interest in poverty alleviation eager to learn more about the asset-development field and its connection to policy, CFED seemed like a natural fit. Not to mention, having the opportunity to intern at its headquarters in Washington, DC, would mean spending the summer in a city that I was previously only familiar with through television and daydreams.
My journey to CFED began as a research assistant interviewing low-income adolescents and homeless families living in Boston, Massachusetts, about their experiences in substance abuse, mental health and trauma-informed case management programs. With a natural inclination toward social justice, I pursued a master’s degree in applied sociology to uncover the socioeconomic dynamics underlining economic inequality. Advancing my formal education strengthened my research and analyses skills and helped confirm that public policy could be used as an effective vehicle in creating social change. As a result, I decided to apply to Ph.D. programs in social policy and recently completed my first year as a doctoral student at the Heller School for Social Policy at Brandeis University with a concentration in children, youth and families.
As an Applied Research Intern at CFED, I look forward to contributing to an array of ongoing projects, including financial literacy programs for youth and providing technical assistance for program evaluations. This work not only connects directly to my schoolwork and research interests, but it reminds me of why I chose to enter social policy research—to help create policies that reduce and eliminate disparities in wealth and foster intergenerational economic mobility among low- to middle-income families. I am excited to begin this journey with CFED and gain hands-on experience with work that I hope to one day emulate. Looking forward to a great summer at CFED!
Finding an Internship in the Asset-Building Field
By Alexander Scarlis on 06/25/2014 @ 09:00 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Today is the fourth in our series of six introductions to CFED's awesome slate of summer graduate interns. Today's post comes from Alexander Scarlis, who is working toward his MPP at Brandeis University and supporting our Government Affairs team this summer. Welcome, Alex!
Today is my first blog post…ever. Be gentle.
Last Thursday marked exactly one month into my three-month stint as the Graduate Student Intern for CFED’s Government Affairs (GA) team. I’ll use this opportunity to briefly introduce myself and offer fellow students some advice about finding an internship in the asset-building field.
About me: I’m a Brandeis University public policy master’s student who worked for a labor union after graduating from Northwestern University in Journalism and Political Science.
So far, I’ve worked on a wide variety of GA projects: conducting policy research (regulations, academic literature, government and nonprofit reports, etc.), writing internal memos, drafting a public comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on payday lending, updating older CFED federal policy publications, sitting in on legislative staff meetings on Capitol Hill and covering various think-tank events and a House Budget Committee hearing on reforming federal poverty aid.
I’ll target my advice toward students who may not have extensive familiarity with the asset-building field but who were perhaps exposed to the assets concept in a class, through reading, friends, etc.
The asset-building field is bigger than you think. It can take time to sort through the different organizations, their various subspecialties, and even what department or division you want to intern for. Answering the following questions will help you quickly narrow the choices:
In what capacity do you want to serve the asset-building field? Do you like crunching data and contributing to academic research that advances the field? Or would you rather be on the front lines helping people on the ground? Maybe you love politics and want to advocate on behalf of low-income people in the halls of government (that’s me). Are you a budding policy wonk or program specialist who can’t wait to dig into the details to develop better legislation, regulations or best practices? Perhaps you have a knack for social media and want to help effectively message the field’s achievements.
Is there a particular “asset” you’re interested in? From homeownership to entrepreneurship to financial capability to savings vehicles like Children’s Savings Accounts and Individual Development Accounts, there are all sorts of ways to specialize in the field. Building expertise in an area is a good way to stand out in your future job search.
Do you want to work at the national, state or local level? National organizations, of course, usually work at the federal policy level in DC. In the assets field, CFED is the only national player that also coordinates a network of independent state and local asset-building organizations. State and especially local organizations are naturally more connected to the grassroots but often operate on tight budgets (although a strapped staff might offer more hands-on experience to interns).
I was curious to compare my state-level advocacy experience with federal work. I appreciated the accessibility of state legislators, especially to nonprofits, but also knew that maximum scale can only be achieved through the feds.
Do Your Research
Armed with as much self-knowledge as possible, here’s a great place to start: CFED’s Assets & Opportunity Network. Is there a state or local asset-building organization near you? For national organizations, click here, click “All” next to “Items per page,” find (Ctrl-F) “national” and click through the different options. You can do the same for research-oriented organizations and to search for your state.
Bring Something to the Table
Your resume and cover letter should demonstrate some connection to the asset-building field, even if it’s just experience with poverty-related issues (e.g., a personal story, school paper, volunteer work, etc.). Be sure to customize each cover letter and resume to the specific internship duties and requirements, and to the specific organization.
In the meantime, read the bible of the asset-building field, Assets and the Poor, by Washington University in St. Louis professor Michael Sherraden. He revolutionized poverty alleviation efforts by breaking the deeply ingrained policy focus on income supports and bringing attention to the crucial role that assets play in reaching the middle class. A must-read.
Want to spend three days in our nation’s capital surrounded by asset-building pros from around the country? Well, lucky you: CFED’s 2014 Assets Learning Conference takes place September 17-19.
See you there.
My Journey to CFED
By Anne Guthrie on 06/24/2014 @ 10:00 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's blog posts introduces you to Anne Guthrie, Graduate Intern on CFED's Savings & Financial Security team. Anne is one of six amazing interns we're introducing this week who is spending their summer with us.
It is good to get back to my East-Coast roots in DC, but it is fantastic to be back in an innovative, action-packed workplace after the “heads down” grind of graduate school. After only a month in my graduate internship, I am still riding the “high” that I have landed in the epicenter of the asset-development world, surrounded by the top leaders in the field.
Getting to CFED has been quite a journey. It all started when I was managing workforce programs at Goodwill Industries. Despite our job placement success, I had the harsh realization that even though people were working more than two jobs, they still couldn’t get ahead. While looking for a solution, I came across CFED’s research that helped fuel my inspiration to launch the Prosperity Center to help families not only increase income, but develop assets.
I’ll never forget helping Sara get a good job, and then witnessing her ability to save for the first time in her life for a family vacation. Even though her family lived 45 minutes from the coast, her kids had never seen the ocean. Before I knew it, Sara was making new goals to purchase her first home. Working with people like Sara taught me that every low-income family deserves the ability to save and invest, and achieve their vision of success.
After four years managing the Prosperity Center, I decided to pursue my master’s degree. Believe it or not, I can also thank CFED for inspiration here; after browsing CFED staff biographies online, it was clear a master’s degree was essential for being able to contribute to the field! While completing my studies, I was fortunate enough to work for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in supporting the Centers for Working Families network. This worked crossed paths with many of CFED’s initiatives including the Assets & Opportunity Network, which I helped form locally in Indianapolis.
So you can image my excitement when I got the opportunity to work at CFED through the graduate summer internship with the Savings & Financial Security team. The team welcomed me warmly and pulled me into great projects as soon as I got here. I have already been deep in reports, analyzing trends and best practices in integrating financial capability into social services. The amount of information I learn each day is staggering—I had no idea how many great programs are being piloted and scaled around the country to help families reach financial security.
CFED has shaped and inspired my career. I look forward to working on many great projects that will continue to inspire me in learning how private and public sectors can help our most vulnerable citizens move up the economic ladder. I welcome the challenging, but rewarding, projects and experiences ahead!
Introducing Will Hansen, Graduate Intern for Affordable Homeownership
By Will Hansen on 06/23/2014 @ 10:30 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This week, we're introducing you to our staff of fabulous interns who are helping to advance our mission this summer. This morning's post introduces you to Will Hansen, our Graduate Intern on our Affordable Homeownership team.
I joined the CFED team almost three weeks ago as a graduate intern in affordable housing. I learned about the position at CFED from a posting at Seattle University School of Law, where I currently go to school. Before coming to CFED or attending law school, I spent a good deal of time working in Seattle with low-income families who were being evicted from their homes. The experience of seeing what the prospect of losing your home does to someone, coupled with our lack of options in trying to stay an eviction, had a profound effect on me. It got to the point where delaying an eviction a couple of weeks became a victory we hoped for. That is simply what happens when the deck is stacked against you. As I moved away from this work and decided to go back to school, I never stopped thinking about the lack of options available for low-income families searching for housing. What we had been doing seemed like using a squirt gun to stop a house fire. The fact is that there are just not enough homes that are affordable for low-income people who need them most.
This was a problem that really stuck with me. You can imagine my excitement when I saw what CFED was doing with manufactured housing and asset building through homeownership. This was my chance to upgrade from the squirt gun to the fire hose. So, two days after I finished finals, my girlfriend and I hopped in her little Hyundai and drove from Seattle to DC. We probably could have flown, and I am sure there were times when we wish we had, but it was an experience I will never forget. There are just parts of the US that so many people never get to see, and never would see without making a special trip for that reason. We were able to take side trips to Mt. Rushmore, Little Big Horn and the St. Louis Arch, and after the 52-hour drive, we finally made it to Washington. I started work at CFED the next day.
So far I have been working to increase awareness around manufactured homes and their potential as an avenue for affordable housing by increasing the number of members in the Innovations in Manufactured Housing (I’M HOME) Network. It is imperative to change the stigma surrounding manufactured housing, and the best way to do that is to get smart people with industry knowledge talking about the issues with manufactured housing and promoting it as a means of homeownership. I am excited to be working with a group of brilliant people focused on empowering the disadvantaged, and to see where the rest of the summer will take me.
Introducing Charles Tilley, Graduate Intern for State & Local Policy
By Charles Tilley on 06/20/2014 @ 12:30 PM
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we’re kicking off a series of blog posts that you’ll see this summer from our slate of incredible interns who are spending a few months with us. Today’s post comes from Charles Tilley, who is interning on CFED’s State & Local Policy Team.
I am very excited to be joining CFED’s State & Local Policy Team this summer. Currently, I am a graduate student at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree. This is not my first foray into the asset-building field—I have previous experience at the local government level in economic and community development. However, the chance to continue working on these issues in Washington, DC, for an organization with national reach is a tremendous opportunity, both intellectually and professionally.
After making the short trip from Charlottesville up to Washington this May (all two hours of it!), I was welcomed by the lavish comfort of my friend’s couch for several weeks until my housing lease started. Full disclosure, though: the couch was pretty comfortable and definitely a step up from some of my mattresses at school. Despite the geographic proximity of my hometown, Richmond, Virginia, my D.C. experiences had been few and far between prior to this summer. Growing up in Virginia, there are, of course, the mandatory field trips to DC’s museums and monuments, but I had never really gotten to experience the city. While art exhibits are certainly stimulating, it has become strikingly apparent that there is far more going on than what tourists see on the National Mall.
Fortunately, apart from the initial fears of getting lost on the Metro and the realization that everything is really expensive, the adjustment has been fairly seamless. By far one of the coolest D.C. experiences is venturing down a random street and realizing that you are in front of a really important building—and possibly on camera—as was the case for me stumbling upon FBI headquarters the other day.
Most of my time this summer will be spent researching and analyzing various state policy issues spanning education, healthcare, housing and income, just to name a few. This is in preparation for CFED’s signature publication, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. The Scorecard provides a comprehensive look at how well residents in the 50 states and DC are faring financially, and assesses the strength of state policies to build and protect the financial security of residents. Already I have learned a good deal about the interconnectivity of various federal and state programs and eligibility standards, as well as where opportunities exist for well-executed advocacy and research.
I will be providing several updated entries throughout the summer, so I will be sure to pass on any interesting insights as I go.
Staff Profiles: Meet Manny Hidalgo, Director of Entrepreneurship
By Veronica Weis on 05/07/2014 @ 12:30 PM
I recently sat down with CFED's new Director of Entrepreneurship, Manny Hidalgo, to learn more about his interest in microbusiness, experience at CFED and how his role here will benefit the asset-building field.
Q: How did you become interested in the asset-building field, particularly entrepreneurship?
My first notion of assets was when I was seven years old, living in Chicago, and my dad took me to his bank to open my own savings account. I thought of it as a complicated piggy bank but over time I saw it as a safe place to put special gifts like money for birthdays and first communion. When I had enough saved to get something special, I withdrew the money and went to the toy store in search of the latest thing. Later, when we moved to Miami I reached an age where I needed to save for a much bigger toy—a used car. I also realized that as one of five kids, I needed to start saving if I wanted to go to college, so I got a job at a local ice cream shop not far from my house. I always tried to put some of my earnings away to pay for college and in the end it worked out.
With regard to entrepreneurship, from my first job at the ice cream store to various other jobs in locally owned mom-and-pops, I witnessed firsthand how a family can sacrifice so much to keep their store running. I grew close to the families that owned these shops and saw how their stores became a core part of the community’s character. It was fascinating to see entrepreneurship at a local and personal level and it made me realize the amazing capacity of small businesses to help a family grow wealth and pursue their life’s dream. As the former Executive Director of the Latino Economic Development Center, I had the opportunity to meet and grow close to hundreds of microbusiness owners throughout the Metro DC area. Their tenacity and creative energy has always impressed me so it’s a blessing to now be advocating for their interests at the national level.
Q: What attracted you to CFED and how has the experience been so far?
I first found out about CFED when I had the good fortune of being invited to the Assets Learning Conference in 2012. Hearing Andrea and CFED discuss the value of Children’s Savings Accounts with such passion and hearing the supportive data, I was sold on the concept. After that, I stayed up-to-date with the latest research from CFED. I was also interested in how CFED marries community-based entrepreneurship with policy, so when the position opened, I jumped at the opportunity.
I recently had a small consulting practice and it helped me to understand the challenges that microbusinesses face. Owners of small businesses can often feel like they’re swimming alone and I developed a deep sense of empathy for them.
Q: What’re the main projects that you’re focusing on at the moment?
There was a whole year of research and development that went into creating an entrepreneurship portfolio here. Now we’ve begun work on implementing and growing the main projects in the portfolio.
At the moment, we’re working on finishing EFSS and getting it out to media and partners. The next phase is to take it on the road to Hill briefings and conferences around the country and get as much exposure for it as we can so that entrepreneurship remains a part of CFED’s identity. We’ve enjoyed educating people about the study and the fact that we now have a stand-alone entrepreneurship program which we’ll grow as a key part of CFED’s mission. The third phase is to develop a learning cluster that we’ll work with to bring forth their ideas for reducing the financial vulnerabilities of microbusiness owners to fruition. The goal of all this work is to put our research into action.
We’ve also developed an Entrepreneurship Advisory Network of about 20 experts. It includes thought leaders and partners at the national level to help us grow our entrepreneurship portfolio and advise us on how best to position ourselves to add the most value to the field.
This year, there’s also an advocacy piece to our work that’s coming together. We plan to ramp up our advocacy efforts on the Hill and push concrete ideas, such as the New Entrepreneur Tax Credit. We’re also finding opportunities to work closely with our Government Affairs team by identifying obstacles that microbusiness owner’s face and how policy makers can spur the growth of this sector which includes nearly 26 million jobs and makes up 92% of all businesses in the US.
Q: How do you feel that your role at CFED could help the field?
I think I bring a fresh perspective since I led this work at the regional level and have a deep sense of the value that entrepreneurship brings to low-income communities. I bring to our fellow national advocates a decade of experience working directly with low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs. I feel that it’s my responsibility to make sure that we never forget who we’re fighting for and why the fight is critical to our national character. Helping to build something that is both old and new at CFED is a great challenge to have. It helps tremendously that we’ve had such talented people forming the entrepreneurship program and that we have total support from the leadership of CFED.
Q: What's your favorite activity in DC?
I enjoy hiking in the woods and hills of Montgomery County with my family so I’ve translated that into becoming an urban hiker in DC. Walking through the many diverse neighborhoods of DC has helped me discover its unique charms and its sometimes hidden natural beauty. Of course, it helps that it’s good exercise for the mind and body. I was a History major in college, so soaking in the history of DC has always been something I’ve enjoyed. There are also a number of parks, like Rock Creek Park, which add to lots of beautiful, green spaces in the city. I also enjoy scouting out locally owned shops and restaurants to support and encourage others to support.
Q: Are you saving for anything special?
Well, my wife and I have four kids, so for the last 15 years we’ve been putting money into their college savings accounts. My wife’s parents are financial planners, so she has it engrained in her mind to save which is very helpful since it’s not my natural inclination. We aspire to be able to cover at least the first two years of college for all four kids. It’s exciting for them to know that they have that money set aside for college and it’s cute to see them adding what little they can to help pave their way to college.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Manny
Follow Manny on Twitter: @CFEDManny!
The Inclusive Economy: 2013 in Review
Here at The Inclusive Economy, we like to fancy ourselves as one of your go-to sources for all things asset building. Assuming you’re here because you think we do a good job discussing what you care about, then we thought it would be fun to let you know what you cared about most in 2013. So, we’ve compiled the top five most trafficked blog posts this year.
5. Recording of the 2013 Scorecard Release Webinar (January)
4. 2013 Action to Eliminate Asset Limits (March)
1. Wealth Inequality: Its Causes and Cures (March)
As these posts—and the word cloud above—prove, people come to our site looking for data about assets and wealth building. We hope we delivered these well in 2013, and have big plans for doing the same in 2014. In late January, be on the lookout for the release of the 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. Likewise, be sure to mark your calendars for our two signature events: the 2014 Children’s Savings Conference April 29-30, and the 2014 Assets Learning Conference September 17-19. Both of these events—to be held in Washington, DC—will highlight data that will prove useful to assets advocates.
Are there other things you’d like to see on The Inclusive Economy in 2014? Use the comments section below to let us know what topics you’d like to see covered here. And, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, consider being a Guest Contributor in 2014. Find out more here.
On behalf of all of our colleagues at CFED, we wish you the best for a happy holiday season and a prosperous and productive New Year!
Staff Profiles: Meet CFEDer Bill Pate
By Veronica Weis on 12/17/2013 @ 11:30 AM
I recently sat down with CFED's new Senior Program Evaluator, Bill Pate, to learn more about his fascinating work and projects, experience at CFED and how his role here will benefit the asset-building field.
Q: How did you become interested in program evaluation?
It happened by accident. I was working for the American Psychological Association as a Research Associate and our office was asked to propose an evaluation for an intensive four week summer experience for underrepresented minority graduate students in neuroscience. My experience to that point had been experimental research, so I designed something from that perspective with input from my supervisor. That evaluation project was funded and I’ve been working on it now for 13 years.
Q: What has been the most interesting/challenging evaluation project that you’ve worked on?
That summer program evaluation has been the most educational. The program had already been in existence for over 10 years, so some measures were in place, but others were not. I needed to blend archived data with information from new surveys, searches of national databases, and work closely with instructors, administrators, and the students. I’ve been fortunate to have great collaborators help me understand and prepare for the demands of the competitive renewal process for federally funded programs.
Q: What attracted you to CFED? How has the experience been so far?
Before coming to CFED, I was an independent consultant for two years. The opportunity to be a Senior Program Evaluator for such an innovative and purpose-driven non-profit was both a great change of pace and a chance to be part of something big again. Since coming to CFED, I’ve been learning so much about the asset-building field and how program evaluation has and can be applied to this field.
Q: What’re the main projects that you’re focusing on at the moment?
Helping to edit two reports for CFPB, gearing up for two learning clusters taking place in 2014 and beyond, and providing technical assistance for a number of existing projects.
Q: How do you feel that your role at CFED could help the field?
I think it’s all about leveraging program evaluation expertise for the field. Having an in-house evaluator allows CFED to rapidly deploy technical assistance as needed for existing work, design emerging evaluation projects, and build evaluation capacity.
Q: Favorite activity around DC?
One of my favorites is catching performances at Woolly Mammoth. Really looking forward to the Pajama Men.
Q: Are you saving for anything special?
Body work and paint for my 1973 Chevy Nova.
Q: Last question is a fun one. Do you have a favorite song?
My favorite song of the moment is Tipp City by the Amps.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Bill!
Tour the New Communications Creative Suite
The Communications team has had a blast over the past year decorating and making the new wing of the office our own. Modeled after collaborative workspaces, we picked modern decor to make the space feel more open and creative. We even found a small business owner in Virginia through Etsy to create the custom letters (bottom left, below).
To make staff more comfortable when they come to the Creative Suite for meetings, we got a pair of green chairs. We paired these with some brightly-colored lockers for storage and a sleek, little table (upper right, above). The best part is that we've added an entire dry-erase wall to help Roberto, our Creative Services Specialist, come up with ideas and play around with new designs.
To make the space feel more like home, we had an awesome team retreat at Art Jamz, a paint-and-drink space in Washington, DC. Each team member created their own painting to frame our new TV (upper left, above). Can you guess who painted each canvas?
To show our love of all things new media, we also found Twitter and design-themed pillows for the two chairs (note the Twitter fail whale). With some recent changes, the move is almost complete and the entire team is together in the Communications wing.
In the DC area? Come by and say hello next time you're in the neighborhood!
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