Union Capital Boston (UCB) Increases Civic Engagement. Involved Residents and Their Communities Make Economic Gains.
Our rewards model combines community network building with mobile technology to build social capital and advance economic prospects.
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
Where are you making a difference?
Massachusetts: Boston (02119)
Massachusetts: Boston (02121)
Massachusetts: Boston (02124)
Massachusetts: Boston (02128)
Massachusetts: Boston (02130)
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)
Website or social media URL(s) (optional)
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.
I have always wanted my life’s work to be grounded in the struggle against oppression. Figuring out what that work would be has taken me from experiences as a teen in the Mississippi Delta learning the lessons of Freedom Summer, to teaching in a faltering school system in North Philadelphia. In these spaces, I learned that the essential work of organizing - the one-on-one relationship - is the foundation for sustainable change. Back in Boston, I needed to build relationships to understand the city today and how I might engage to make change, especially as a white male of privilege. I never imagined how powerful the act of community networking could be, when facilitated by a mobile app rewards program, governed by its members. (Eric Leslie)
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
20th Century social capital was created by interactions in cafeterias, church basements, and other hubs. In these spaces, people built community and generated power to make substantial progress in racial, gender, and income equity. Today, neighborhoods are fractured and transient, and the resulting decline in social progress, civic cohesion and economic status is striking. Untapped social capital can be harnessed to improve economic outcomes!
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
UCB is a cross-sector organizing approach that increases involvement in health, education, finance and community opportunities. 87% of members report, “UCB increased my involvement in my community.”
UCB sparks and sustains engagement. Residents use our mobile-based loyalty rewards program to connect to hundreds of resources. They log their engagement in the App and earn financial rewards for the time they commit.
UCB’s cadre of trained Network Leaders mentor and activate members to build relationships and work collectively. Each week across the city, they host Network Nights, a space where residents exchange information, discuss ideas and challenges, and host a marketplace. Take a look (bit.ly/UCBNN) ! This resident-led network of 1,200 members has grown through word-of-mouth and through our partnerships with mission-driven organizations.
The combined tools of technology and place-based relational networking increase civic engagement, employment, and community resiliency.
In 3 years we will grow to 3,000 members, connecting to 10% of Boston’s under-resourced population. 35 Network Leaders will enroll and lead members to drive improvements in 5 Boston neighborhoods.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.
UCB Members collectively have led voter registration efforts, successfully demanded safety upgrades to the Mildred C. Hailey public housing development, created the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen, and run for City Council, among many examples.
There are also very personal successes. One UCB member signed up for the program at a time when he had a “boot” or wheel clamp on his car that prevented his vehicle from moving. The man had a job, but every dollar of his income had already been allocated toward meeting basic human needs. Shortly after joining UCB, the member logged his civic activities and earned a gift card, funds that allowed for a trip to Boston City Hall to get the boot off. The member was then able to drive and apply for a better job, one which he ended up securing.
Our rewards program serves dual functions as an incentive to engage, and also a source of modest funds.
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?
Boston has a plethora of financial resources that often go underused as low-income families make trade-offs with their time and money. And even when time is set aside, the right resources may not be available. Residents may have access to homeownership classes when their concern is credit score. UCB is membership-built, so is responsive to members' needs. UCB's network of resources, relationships, and rewards connects residents to needed opportunities, which advance their family outcomes.
5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:
6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?
There are many organizations that seek to boost citizen participation, however UCB is the only known national model that combines traditional organizing practices with modern technology to address inequities and engage residents in solutions. The UCB App mobile platform is the only resource aggregator in Boston that lists hundreds of events and programs and allows people to build a resume of volunteerism and activism. While technology has an isolating effect generally, UCB’s app expressly creates engagement. Elderly members remark that they leave home more often as a result of UCB membership.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Union Capitalists currently number about 1,200. They have collectively contributed over 450,000 hours to community improvement, all submitted through the UCB App. Members collectively have earned over $384,000 to help alleviate family financial burden. A unique outcome is our members’ improved employment. Members’ overall full-employment when they join UCB is 41%. Each year we check in with members; nearly 60% were fully employed when we followed up, a 46% increase in member employment. We consistently find a 32% decline in unemployment. Members with a high school education or less and enrolled in UCB for one year were nearly 20% more likely to be employed in December 2016 than individuals who had just enrolled in UCB. Union Capitalists generate these outcomes for themselves by committing to create opportunity for their families and communities.
8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?
UCB aims to triple our membership to 3,000 over the next three years. Based on an average family size of 3-4 people, we will directly impact around 10,000 lives, or about 10% of Bostonians who live at or below the poverty level. By concentrating our network building in specific neighborhoods, we believe we will be able to reach a critical mass of residents and achieve certain ‘tipping points’ that not only improve individual outcomes of our members, such as employment and education levels, but also neighborhood-wide measurable gains, such as improved safety, prosperity, and civic action.
8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?
Large Scale Partnerships
9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?
UCB’s multiple-source funding model ensures sustainability. The more funding and support we receive, the more Network Leaders we enroll and train to lead their fellow community members. We keep operations costs low so as to channel as much funding as possible towards Network Leadership and the UCB Rewards Program. We have received foundation support from respected institutions and our SVP consultants have assessed that UCB has a reputation that is “disproportionately strong and positive.”
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?
UCB’s three-part leadership structure keeps member interests at the center. The Core Team of 2FT/3PT drive daily operations, financial and strategic growth. 23 Network Leaders work 15 hours/month to grow and steward the network of 1200+ members - bring in new members, connect them to resources, and lead Network Nights. The working Board of Directors is active and advisory and includes UCB members, lawyers, and clergy. Our growth model includes one new FTE and 10 Network Leaders.
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)
White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)
No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community
How did you hear about this challenge?
If you replied "Other" in the question above, please specify. (optional)
Darcy Madden, Social Venture Partners Boston