Family Independence Initiative

FII trusts and invests directly in low-income families so they can work individually and collectively to achieve prosperity.

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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

CA, Oakland (94612)
CA, San Francisco (94134)
LA, New Orleans (70119)
MA, Boston (02130)
MA, Cambridge (02139)
MI, Detroit (48226)
MN, St. Paul (55104)
NM, Albuquerque (87102)
NY, Queens (11373)
NY, Rochester (14604)
OR, Multnomah County (97214)
OH, Cincinnati (41001)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Health & Fitness
  • Human Rights & Equality

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • over $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL

Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Mauricio Lim Miller garnered praise over 20 years as a social service Executive Director, but was disheartened by witnessing multiple generations of families cycling through poverty. He founded FII in 2001 after Oakland’s then-Mayor Jerry Brown challenged him to craft a strategy to help low-income families transition permanently out of poverty. Remembering the resilience of his mother, who came to California to escape poverty in Mexico, and researching immigrant groups who helped one another achieve self-sufficiency, Miller was inspired to develop the FII model. Since then, FII has consistently shown that giving families choice, connections and capital results in their increased self-determination, civic engagement and economic mobility.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

In the last five decades, America’s poverty rate has not significantly improved. Entrenched in traditional poverty alleviation approaches are stereotypes that poor people are lazy and dumb. Programs are also needs based — disincentivizing initiative and mutual assistance adding to the stereotype. Policies actually penalize the poor for their efforts by cutting off benefits if they manage to create even the smallest financial cushion.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

As a nation, we have missed an opportunity to invest directly in the initiative and strengths of low-income families. Under the current system, families struggle to build the necessary assets to weather the next crisis and aren’t rewarded for their initiative in doing so. FII is changing this resource gap for low-income families by partnering with, learning from, and investing directly in families.

FII’s community-focused and innovative technology-based approach has five major components:
1. Family Owned Solutions: Families work together and on their own to set goals and find solutions.
2. Monthly Feedback: Families report monthly on their activities, finances, and progress and strengthen their networks of support both online and in family groups.
3. Feedback Loop: We analyze data from families and reflect it back to them so they can track their progress.
4. Data Driven Resources: We make capital resources available to families that they use to accelerate their mobility.
5. Shared Lessons: We inform stakeholders — like foundations, policymakers, and private companies — about what works so that they too can steer resources directly to family-driven solutions.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

In 2016, we partnered with the Oregon Department of Human Services to help them experiment with new ideas and human-centered solutions to better achieve long-term change in the community. They were exploring a redesign of the deployment of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars, with the longer-term goal of revolutionizing the delivery of human services statewide.

In addition to providing guidance in launching a fully operational FII site
in Multnomah County, we have been collaboratively exploring a variety of creative policy changes for low-income families in Oregon, including tax credits for FII participation. Since launch, Multnomah County has enrolled over 100 families across eight jurisdictions, including the City of Portland. In just their first year of our model, Multnomah County families are experiencing a 26% increase in income and 130% increase in assets.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

We partner with hard-working low-income families. 96% are people of color and the median baseline income is 91% of the poverty line. Many of our families have no or bad credit and some have no social security number. All lack access to mainstream financial products. We trust these families, giving them a technology stipend to utilize our online platform where they track their progress and access capital resources to pursue their goals while they build financial literacy and capability.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are many other organizations that champion participant-led solutions. Give Directly is the most closely aligned to our strategy. However, FII’s model is unique in the U.S. social sector in our combination of peer networks, progress tracking, and provision of resources — empowering families and inspiring their efforts. Our one-of-a-kind and proprietary technology allows families to benefit from their own data by providing actionable insights while accessing resources and advice from their peers. Simultaneously, we demonstrate a consumer-feedback model of economic and social mobility.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

With over 3,000 family partners, millions of data points that definitively point to success, and growing traction with stakeholders in key sectors across the country, our momentum is charging a movement and changing the narrative about those living in poverty. Over the two years they are enrolled in FII, families grow their yearly income by $5,829 (22%) and their assets by $4,089 (500%).

Families like Albuquerque’s Flor Gonzalez who utilized FII dollars to formalize her daycare and triple her monthly income. Or San Francisco’s Pamela Thompson who used FII dollars three times: to repair her fireplace, buy a car, and to take classes to improve her party planning and decorating business. Or Boston’s Valencia Jacobs-Brown who used FII dollars to put a down payment on a multi-family home —now she and her son live in one unit and use the income from the other unit to help cover their bills.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

While we continue to demonstrate that families achieve collective prosperity when they have choice, control and a sense of community, now we are calling upon government, foundations, and the private sector to join us in proliferating practices that listen and learn from families by:

• Building a movement for narrative and policy change,
• Inviting others to provide capital resources to our families,
• Partnering with community organizations to adopt our model,
• Collaborating with researchers to learn from our families.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Lobbying, Policy Change

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

FII fundraises nationally and locally from foundations, corporations, and individuals through diversified strategies. We also partner with community organizations to implement our model, increasing enrollment and creating earned revenue through technology licensing and technical support fees. Since 50% of our costs are direct to family dollars, we also partner with third parties to provide resources to our families through our technology platform.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Structurally, we are a family-centered and lean organization that runs like a start-up technology company. Our core leadership team of three is supported by a national board, and a management team that oversees the day-to-day operations. On the ground in our demonstration sites, leadership and local advisory councils support site staff. FII families take the lead on uplifting their communities, advocate for the FII approach and organize their communities around issues important to them.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

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