By Jess Junke
In early December, Prosperity Now brought together a small group of leaders from across the country to a summit exploring the future of matched savings. At the summit, we celebrated our collective victories and reflected on what we’ve learned from the losses. The objectives of the day were to explore:
- Opportunities for innovation and taking programs to scale,
- How matched savings can help address entrenched challenges such as helping to close the racial wealth divide, and building assets while experiencing income and expense volatility, and
- Possibilities for sustaining and scaling funding of matched savings programs.
Janet, Neighborhood Partnerships’ Executive Director, and I were fortunate to be able to attend as Oregon’s representatives.
A major theme of the day was how Assets for Independence (AFI), the federal Individual Development Account (IDA) program whose budget was zeroed out earlier this year, was a victory and success – not a failure. AFI was a demonstration project from the beginning, launched with the intention to scale up in the future based on lessons learned in the demonstration period. We were very successful in that regards with our AFI projects across the country – research has shown that AFI significantly increased liquid assets, reduced material hardship, and improved perceived financial security for thousands of Americans. The failure was in moving away from it, and that failure lies at the feet of our federal legislative body. While it seems that the national energy is moving towards small dollar savings, especially focused on emergencies and smoothing income volatility, we in Oregon look forward to both exploring those matched savings innovations and aligning our efforts with the development and refinement of the Oregon Individual Development Account (IDA) Initiative.
We spent much of the summit working to imagine a matched savings landscape of the future. The key features of that future from the group’s brainstorm were:
- Be clear about what the problem is we are working to solve. AFI’s initial question sought to answer whether or not people with lower incomes could save. The question has now become can people with lower incomes build lasting wealth?
- Use an iterative, Human-Centered Design approach that includes program participants as lead designers.
- Start with pilot programs that focus on specific sectors, rolling it out initially in focused pilots like healthcare workers or trade workers.
- In addition to potential savers, include other stakeholders in design – including but not limited to non-profit practitioners, government officials, financial institutions, and foundations.
- Use technology to simplify what we can do together.
- Acknowledge the competitive landscape we face and use it to our advantage to get to solutions quicker. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
- Employ strategic communication efforts with participants from the beginning of the project to effectively demonstrate to decision makers the power of this program.
- Capture important data from the beginning and communicate the findings regularly, using it to both improve the program and advocate for expansion.
We also lifted up the importance of folding in intersectionality design considerations from the beginning of the reimagining process – including universal design, trauma informed care, and addressing the racial wealth divide through reparations. I’ll dive deeper into those in a blog post next week. Stay tuned!
Overall, Janet and I were honored to spend the day with folks from across the country who are dedicated and passionate about building lasting opportunity to financial stability for everyone in our communities. Neighborhood Partnerships is committed to our collaborative work as we build the future of matched savings together.
Here in Oregon, we will continue our work to grow and evolve the Oregon IDA Initiative, share best practices in broader financial inclusion work, and advocate for other asset building programs through the Oregon Asset Building Coalition. We also look forward to coming together annually at our RE:Conference to move forward the big projects that require all of our energy and creativity. Neighborhood Partnerships is excited to figure out with our partners how new matched savings tools and programs fit together with what we know already works, so that we can build that thriving and more inclusive future we all imagine.