Using Entrepreneurship to Escape Poverty: Mauricio Lim Miller, Keynote Speaker at Elevating Impact Summit 2018
Author: Melinda Crouchley
Posted: January 25, 2018
Mauricio Miller

To be named the keynote speaker for Elevating Impact Summit, you must demonstrate how societal change happens. Mauricio Lim Miller, founder of Family Independence Initiative (FII) has done that many times over. 

“Mauricio did not come from a privileged background, but he was able to draw on his own experiences and the resources around him to develop his idea,” said Abby Chroman, Elevating Impact director. “His model goes beyond direct service to those in poverty, to actually changing the systems that perpetuate poverty in the United States. His life’s work directly reflects the potential of social entrepreneurship. We hope everyone can adopt that mindset, and give themselves permission to address the problems right in front of us.” 

Miller, is what’s referred to as an advanced-stage social entrepreneur.  He has implemented an original concept, using data driven evidence, to create social change in cities across the country -- including Portland, Oregon. At Elevating Impact Summit, he’ll speak to his FII model that’s working through Multnomah County and making connections. 

“I’m interested in developing new tracks and expanding the program curriculum for the next generation,” said Mauricio Lim Miller. “We need to be vetting non-traditional types of helping systems, and the Summit seems like a great way to connect with others and keep moving our work forward.” 

Breaking the Poverty Cycle
Poverty is a subject with which Mauricio is intimately familiar. He was raised by a single mother who moved Miller and his sister by bus from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to San Jose, California. The family was poor -- sometimes in crisis and at other times stable. His mother would often give up her own medical care or even food to save money so he could go through college to be an engineer. 

After graduating from UC Berkeley with an engineering degree, Miller became absorbed solving the problem of poverty. He ran some of the most successful social service programs in the country, and was even invited to the 1999 State of the Union address by President Bill Clinton.  For twenty years, he worked with nonprofits and saw some success in alleviating the effects of poverty, though realized the social system was rigid and barely made lives survivable. 

The two decades shifted his expectation of the working poor. He began collecting data about the families in his programs and noticed a trend that many parents — single or raising children with their spouses or extended families — were applying the same drive, creativity, and tenacity to address their issues. They all wanted the best for their children and worked hard to get it. But oftentimes their efforts went unrecognized or underfunded. These families were incredibly resourceful, but found the current system patronizing.   

Mauricio began to study the history of marginalized groups building community and generating economic growth and saw that mutual support, coupled with access to some level of capital, spelled success for entire communities. 

A Social Entrepreneur is Born
In 2001, Mauricio Lim Miller received a phone call from then-Oakland mayor and current California governor Jerry Brown and offered resources if Miller could build an innovative, high-impact program.

In that moment, the Family Independence Initiative (FII) was born. 

FII enrolls families in groups with friends. These friends — not staff — provide peer counseling and direction, reinforcing the centrality of self-determination and initiative. It’s evolved into a national model that taps into the initiative and capability of low-income households to maximize their own networks and resources and guide themselves out of poverty. Families receive small cash stipends for achieving their self-initiated objectives — such as finding employment, reducing debt, or saving toward buying a home — and for documenting and sharing their progress toward these goals. 

FII’s success is notable; in a recent review, participating Oakland families reported income gains averaging more than 25 percent over the two-year enrollment period, as well as significant improvement in the level of savings (up 144 percent) and in the grades of school-aged children. From its initial site in Oakland, FII has expanded to San Francisco, Oahu, and Boston, all similarly positive results. Multnomah County is already integrating his model into their current social services. 

Tickets to the Elevating Impact Summit on February 9, 2018 are available online now. 

More About Mauricio Lim Miller’s 
Mauricio is a MacArthur Prize winner, an Ashoka Fellow, and an Encore Fellow. Each of these distinguished designations are further evidence that Mauricio’s work has been considered and assessed by organizations that see thousands of social change ideas every day, but his ideas stand apart. His work with the Obama Administration White House Council for Community Solutions shows the scale at which his ideas are taking root. Lim Miller recently published, “The Alternative: Most of What You Believe About Poverty is Wrong,”, which strives to give people a picture, heavily through stories and some research about what life is like in poverty.