What if everything you thought you knew about poverty got turned on its head?
What if instead of struggling to “reach” people most impacted by poverty, we were working together, moving beyond “helping” to transform the relationships among people living in poverty and the organizations meant to serve them, empowering everybody to create short- and long-term solutions that work?
We are funded to address the symptoms of poverty in our community, yet often we are unable to have the impact we desire. We miss the mark by trying to address the what of poverty while ignoring the why and how. We focus on symptoms, but not causes or mechanisms. We try to meet unmet needs, but fail to listen to the stories and expertise of the people whose needs are going unmet.
We work toward a future where people of all genders, races and ethnicities, abilities, income levels, and occupations have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. We work toward everyone being compensated fairly and treated with dignity, and everyone having access to the food, shelter, and physical and mental health supports that allow families and communities to thrive. And we work towards solutions in a way that is connected and compassionate. It starts with us, all of us!
Equity Solutions is a training and consulting program that provides unique education for state agencies, social service organizations, schools, and businesses. An agency that goes through the Equity Solutions training program will gain the tools they need for strong client, staff, and leadership/management relationships, for creating a work environment where all are valued and thriving, and for actively contributing to a collective response to root causes of poverty.
Our training and consulting sessions are tailored to each organization using a distinct set of pedagogical principles, goals, vision, and tools to clarify and realize outcomes. Trainings are engaging and multifaceted, utilizing art and performance, brainstorming and problem-solving, academically proven models and local wisdom, creativity, and expertise. We know that everyone has something to learn and something to teach, and that fostering a positive, collaborative learning experience can be just as impactful as the content of the training. Our trainings support agency staff and leadership to be more effective and collaborative, and our consulting services support organizations in crafting policies and structures that support inclusive and equitable practices.
Here are a few examples of what that might look like in social service organizations:
Problem ➔ A young mother needs support services. But she feels judged or belittled during her first appointment, does not return, and is listed as a “no-show.” She does not receive the services.
Solution ➔ Social workers assess clients within the clients’ own cultural contexts: trust is established, and both clients and employees meet their mutual commitments and obligations, resulting in choices for childcare, employment, and education that are a better match for the clients’ needs.
Problem ➔ An organization pays a local business to maintain their IT, but uses volunteers from its target demographic to plan events. Workers with “higher skilled” training are paid, but workers doing “lower skilled” work never benefit from the organization’s local sourcing, and remain uncompensated for their time and experience.
Solution ➔ Organizations budget to compensate all work fairly. All stakeholders examine the volunteer policy and make changes to value time equitably, openly considering economic, social, and relational factors: management and higher income workers explicitly value lower income workers and their lived experience; lower income workers and community members are compensated for their expertise, gaining marketable skills that transfer to other jobs; the mission is achieved both outside and within the organization.
Problem ➔ Many of an agency’s direct services workers come from the same demographic they serve, but almost none of the managers do. Workers from lower-income backgrounds cannot apply their expertise to program expectations, funding priorities and more. This creates conflict between the two groups, and impacts both morale and the quality of service delivery.
Solution ➔ The agency develops a rigorous leadership development program that supports direct service workers to develop management skills and move into leadership: the agency retains employees, and can better serve a diverse constituency. The Board of Directors recruits membership from the demographic served, giving individuals immediate decision-making influence and a voice in long term organizational policy.
We are currently connecting with organizations throughout Vermont to establish key leverage points and reach the majority of service providers and educators statewide. The Equity Solutions curriculum will focus first on reaching that population in the state of Vermont, and then will expand to the entire New England region. We seek seed money to continue curriculum development and marketing to potential partners and collaborators. We will begin piloting the Equity Solutions training and consulting program in mid 2017, and release the finished program in early 2018.
We are a collaborative of teachers, trainers, social workers, community organizers, consultants, business owners, and directors of organizations. We bring expertise from our work to address inequality, as well as from our lived experiences as people who are or have been living in poverty. Our expertise also comes from our involvement in philanthropic efforts, and our membership in communities with a wide range of incomes and challenges. We strive to model equity in the ways that we are formally and informally organized. We are currently in the process of setting up a worker cooperative, we use a consensus decision-making model, and we use a shared leadership model.
Angela Berkfield, Kendra Colburn, Davey Shlasko, Chad Simmons, Deb Witkus
We invite you to endorse and/or pilot the Equity Solutions project. We also welcome ideas, questions, and potential connections. Please contact us at 802.451.0558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.