How effective are economic development programs in alleviating poverty?

15 Mar

“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty.* Like a monstrous octopus, it projects it’s nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”

– Martin Luther King, 1964 Nobel Peace Price Address

For many decades, activists, economists, lawmakers and many others in the fight against poverty have been hard at work here in the USA. From reducing the tax burden on the poor to penalizing companies that depress wages, from increasing earned income tax credits to fighting to increase minimum wages there are a number of efforts and approaches to poverty reduction in play.

The poverty reduction sector also includes hundreds of economic development programs that work to address expand economic opportunity through employment, entrepreneurship and even homeownership. Training, mentoring and supportive social networks are elements thought to be key determinants of success and the majority of economic development programs are designed to replicate the socioeconomic ecosystems thought to foster success.

From the green collar jobs movement to the push for diversity in coding and computing, non-profit and government agencies as well as a handful of private companies  have invested billions of dollars in employment programs that work to ensure access to the tools for success.

My colleagues in the sector and I have participated in and witnessed these programs in action. We have seen the impact of programs on the lives of youth of color the following questions remain:

How do we evaluate the impact of mission-based non profit organizations and social enterprises? – see my article on the promise of social enterprises here.

How do we ensure that these evaluation methods are truly participatory, with input from the constituency groups served by the foundation?

Building on the concept of organizational archetypes, how might we engage vulnerable groups like seniors, refugees and homeless families in developing ontologies that help to define, map and assess the services they use?

This summer West Harlem Group Assistance’s community engagement forum will explore the role of small businesses in expanding employment opportunities for men of color, facing a severe unemployment shortage. – In 2014 the atlantic reported Even young African-Americans with college degrees are experiencing extreme joblessness. 

We hope to generate more questions at this event and other forums planned over the next several years. We hope to expand learning and understanding and hopefully in time concrete answers will surface. – giving way to  a future of real scalable and sustainable change.

More to come… #

*For MLK, Racial Injustice, of course, was “the most pressing problem confronting mankind”.

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