From The Director’s Desk: Financial Capability Month

director_deskApril is Financial Capability Month. There’s been so much going on at NP already this year that I feel like we’ve had a head start to take a big picture look at what is happening all across the state to support Oregonians in building a firmer financial foundation. Our heads and hearts are full of the work that the Oregon IDA Initiative does to help individuals and families reach their short and long-term financial goals, the exciting potential of Children’s Savings Accounts, and the Retirement Savings Plan being designed for all working Oregonians.

The breadth and depth of the work is inspiring. And that’s a good thing, given the magnitude of the shift that needs to happen.

All Oregonians deserve the financial stability that comes with having money to make ends meet, ride through hard times and build prospects for their children. Our systems work well to support asset building for some. But many more Oregonians need the tools to build wealth – especially those with lower incomes, and those from communities that don’t have easy access to good education, good jobs, and the tools that help create financial assets. The CFED Assets and Opportunity Scorecard highlights how far we have to go.

NP is sometimes asked why we work hard to raise up new ideas and new strategies. We, like our partners, face big workloads and the need to stretch thin resources to do our work. We, like everyone else, fall victim to the trap of scarcity* – focusing our attention on the needs and demands of the day-to-day, at the expense of spending time imagining what else is possible. Why not focus on what’s in place now, and build and expand resources for those efforts?

We need both. We need more resources for proven approaches in place now. And we need new approaches, strategies, coordination, and yes, even more experiments to see what else works, and what works in communities that need it most. Families for whom income is a challenge need help finding new solutions to make sure that the financial pothole on the road of life is a short-term problem and not the kind of problem that causes a detour. And because the potholes take new shape every day as the challenges and marketplaces evolve, so must our solutions.

One example of the power of experimentation is the New York City Office of Financial Empowerment. Their work brought us the Your Money Your Goals Toolkit, now in use in dozens of organizations across Oregon to empower staff to have better and more informed conversations with clients about financial management.  Another is the work of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to create “twin accounts”, which inspired credit building IDAs here in Oregon. Efforts like the US Financial Diaries project are helping us understand trends, and other efforts are testing ways to respond to changes in habits, demographics, and technology (prize-linked savings being just one example).

As we move into Financial Capability Month, we invite you to be inspired along with us. We’ll be sharing on Facebook and Twitter, and in emails. You can also follow the hashtag #FinCapWorks. Help us imagine new possibilities, and come join us at the table to work to build a better future for all of Oregon. We look forward to working with you to make that better future a reality.

* If you haven’t read Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, we highly recommend it!