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)

Website: YouTube:

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?

Over 50 years, poverty in America has not significantly improved. 50 million people live in poverty with many more only slightly above it. Entrenched in traditional approaches to poverty are stereotypes that poor people are lazy and dumb. Programs are needs based — disincentivizing initiative and mutual assistance adding to the stereotype. By recognizing and investing in the initiatives of low-income families — together we can eradicate poverty.

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. Policies actually penalize the poor for their efforts by cutting off benefits if they manage to create even the smallest financial cushion. 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 analyze family data and 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 11,000 individuals, 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?

As we enroll families, we are also calling upon government, foundations, and the private sector to join us in proliferating practices that listen and learn from families by: • Building a family-led movement for policy change, • Inviting others to provide capital resources to our families such as loans offered to our families by Nusenda Credit Union, • Partnering with community organizations to adopt our model — we have 1729 individuals enrolled at 6 partner sites, • Collaborating with researchers to learn from our families such as our partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

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 from foundations, corporations, and individuals through diverse strategies. We also partner with community organizations to implement our model, increasing enrollment and creating earned revenue through technology licensing and support fees. As more than 50% of our costs are direct-to-family dollars, as we increase resources provided to our families by others and evolving our technology platform to automate manual entry and decrease overhead, we will decrease costs.

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?

Our leadership team primarily hails from the population we serve and have expertise in community organizing, financial systems, technology and more. They are supported by a national board. At our sites, we recruit community leaders to oversee the site and they are supported by local advisory councils. 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
  • Low-income community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Program Design Clarity

FII families make a two-year commitment to work towards their goals. Each month they meet in peer groups and report on financial and nonfinancial areas, and build community support online daily. We give families a computer and data stipend, access to flexible dollars that match their efforts, and audit and verify their data. We analyze this data and tell others about their initiatives, successes, and challenges at our 12 sites and nationwide.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • education / literacy
  • investments
  • loans
  • money transfer
  • other

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

With FII, our families are often the innovators. We partners with families to fuel the solutions that they uncover and develop for themselves.

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)
  • Institutional innovation (Creation or changes in organizational structures, the setting up of new types of financial intermediaries, or to changes in the legal and supervisory framework)

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

FII reduces barriers to capital by recruiting institutions to invest in low-income family’s efforts towards their goals through the UpTogether Fund.

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

We partner with community organizations, such as Alameda County and Catholic Family Center, to incorporate the FII model in their programming and advocate for family-led mobility. We also partner with others to provide resources directly to our families, such as Mission Asset Fund’s credit building lending circles, individual donors that provide scholarships and direct cash transfers through donor-advised funds, and Deutsche Bank and Nusenda Credit Union to provide zero-fee, low-interest loans.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

The prize money will be put into FII’s UpTogether Fund, dollars that match family efforts towards their self-determined goals. Like Estefany Gonzalez and her husband, who used FII’s data tracking and the Fund to pay off debt and save money to buy their home and continue his bachelor’s degree.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

For the FII model, founder Mauricio Lim Miller was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2012 and named an Ashoka Fellow in 2011 and Prime Mover Fellow in 2013. Our model has been endorsed by key figures such as California Governor Jerry Brown and President Obama. The New York Times and the Stanford Social Innovation Review, among others, have published pieces about FII’s work and philosophy.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Janet Xiao

CEF is a big FII fan! We've learned so much from your framework of investment in leadership/ownership of families, and especially the way that FII families are in the driver's seat when it comes to reporting and learning from their own data. It's cool to see how your model really flips the script!