Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

11/02/2011 05:42 pm ET | Updated Jan 02, 2012

The Occupy Wall Street movement, while disjointed, offers the basis for a national conversation about economic disparity.

Everyone involved in the movement seeks to change the status quo. People who have felt ignored are fighting against disenfranchisement.  The question for the movement now is how they push the right levers to seek the change they want?

This set of protests, as well as those done very early on by the Tea Party, demonstrate a hankering for choice and control.  People want to rise -- to live the lives they want to live -- and they want access to the resources they need to do it.  If America still worked like, and felt like, a meritocracy, there would be a lot less steam behind this engine. 

Well, ultimately, all things are local.  And when we look past the noise, we find the basis for a meaningful, if slightly surprising, form of solidarity.  Choice and control.  Access to the resources you need to rise.  These are same things that will break the cycle of poverty in our own urban neighborhoods.

Last week, Boston Rising, launched the first-of-its-kind resident-led fund, the Grove Hall Trust, to bring choice and control to the residents of a Boston neighborhood where we have focused our anti-poverty efforts.

We founded the Grove Hall Trust on two of our core beliefs: communities know what they need to improve their outcomes, and sustainable impact comes from shared risk and responsibility.

The Grove Hall Trust is built upon the principles of pooling knowledge and resources, and fostering collaboration between families, the community and donors.   The goal is to improve community capacity and leadership, while increasing the flow of educational opportunities, jobs, capital and social connections that can help end the poverty cycle.  

A group of nine local trustees who live and work in Grove Hall will assess grant applications and award funds to support community-based projects proposed by nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations as well as unaffiliated residents.  They will have 100% control over the resources, and full accountability for the outcomes of their investment decisions.

Our approach is one of co-investment -- of shared energy, time, connections, capital and resources which, we believe, deepens commitment and generates meaningful long-term results.

In this spirit, the trustees are exploring ideas such as requiring a dollar-for-dollar match on the amount given, either through other funding sources, in-kind contributions or volunteer labor. 

These projects will increase community pride and build social connections among neighbors.  Along with the grants themselves, the Trust will also cultivate a new generation of neighborhood leaders in the Trustees, who will share their learning with others in the community.

It is clearly becoming increasingly difficult for people to rise out of poverty - and now our middle class is falling backward.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that this can be the time of the "rising class."  A time of tremendous innovation in the fight against poverty -- from the opportunities that technology provides to the incredible work being done by social entrepreneurs.

At Boston Rising, we don't believe that we are "helping the poor."  We believe that we're clearing the way for the next rising class. By focusing on the strengths and extraordinary potential of communities and individuals, we believe that breaking the cycle of poverty is completely doable.