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Family Independence Initiative

Investing in families so they can chart their own course out of poverty.


Family Independence Initiative provides direct financial capital to families – trusting them to use the resources however they best see fit – and a platform where they can grow and strengthen their social networks and move up, together.

Stacy’s* kids were struggling with their schoolwork, getting Ds and Fs.    

The four siblings were smart and motivated, and the poor grades weren’t from lack of trying. The children were simply missing class too often to keep up with their daily lessons. Stacy’s youngest has chronic asthma, and when he wasn’t feeling well, she couldn’t leave him by himself. She also couldn’t take him with her on the public bus they used to get to school.   

So, everyone missed class when an asthma attack flared.   

Stacy knew her kids didn’t need a tutor, new laptops, or remedial assignments to get their grades up. They just needed a way for her to safely get them to school when their little brother was sick.   

She was involved with the Family Independence Initiative (FII), a national nonprofit that gives families an online platform to connect with their community for support and also provides direct cash investments to families earning low-incomes to use however they see fit. 

Stacy used her investment from FII to improve her financial position and put herself in a position to buy a car. When her youngest wasn’t feeling well, she could now take him with her while she drove the others to school.   

The result: her kids’ school attendance increased, and their grades rose to A’s and B’s. Stacy knew what her kids really needed, and she just needed a little support to get there.   

*Name changed to protect privacy  

Traditional anti-poverty programs often fail

America’s social sector often fails to recognize the inherent resilience and resourcefulness of families earning low incomes. 

Government and philanthropic anti-poverty programs generally have good intentions but tend to be top-down approaches that assume what people need and how best to help, rather than letting families decide for themselves. These programs address the symptoms rather than the root causes of poverty. Given that, it’s not surprising that those programs often miss the mark on what helps the most. Consider:  

  • America declared a “War on Poverty” more than 50 years ago. Decades later, poverty rates have barely budged.   
  • Social mobility — the ability to move up the economic ladder — is on the decline.   
  • Government agencies and nonprofits spend billions annually to try to help individuals with low-income. Yet, income inequality in America has widened. In fact, the ratio of white family wealth to Black family wealth is higher today than at the start of the century  
  • One in eight Americans are at or below the poverty line. Fifty percent of those who lift themselves above the poverty line will fall back within five years.  

Direct social and financial investments make the difference

But the situation isn’t as bleak as it may seem.   

We just need to re-imagine our approach and change the way we think about economic and social mobility: Trust families to know what’s best for them. Invest in their strengths and initiatives, and recognize the power of community. FII does just that.  

It built a technology platform called UpTogether where families can grow and strengthen their social networks and community — sharing goals, offering support, and celebrating successes — and receive direct cash investments to use in any way they see fit. 

Funding mainly comes from philanthropies, corporations, and government agencies.   

To date, more than 150,000 families across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have collectively received more than $130 million through FII and its UpTogether platform. With the direct investments and community support, families, called UpTogether members, have been able to put down payments on homes, pay for college, start new businesses, pay off debt and achieve a host of other goals. 

And the return on investment is extraordinary. Historically, on average, over two years with UpTogether, members report a 23 percent increase in monthly income and triple their liquid assets. 

**And like Stacy’s kids, other students are getting what they need to thrive in school. Nearly nine in 10 UpTogether members say their children have excellent, good, or improved grades.  

**These data points are from families who received approximately $2,400 from FII, over two years, before the coronavirus pandemic. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict outcomes moving forward in light of COVID-19’s disruption. Each individual member is different and specific outcomes are not guaranteed.

“The problem with a social sector in general is that they are guessing at a problem. The alternative is pretty simple. Stop. And put the money in the hands of people who are actually creating those solutions.”

Jesus Gerena, CEO, Family Independence Initiative

Inspired by a mother’s love

Twenty years ago, the mayor of Oakland, California asked FII founder and social services and community development expert Mauricio Lim Miller a tough question: What approach would it take to truly alleviate poverty?   

Mauricio’s answer was based on the resourcefulness of his own mother, Berta. She was a twice-divorced immigrant from Mexico with a third-grade education who readily learned new skills, became a U.S. citizen, and helped Mauricio to secure his engineering degree from the University of California, Berkeley.  

“My mother figured out what to do to get me out of poverty,” he told the mayor. “And I think every mother, father, or guardian will know the best way to get their own families’ lives together.”  

And with that, an innovative new initiative was born — one that believed in families and their ability to lift themselves out of poverty.

**These data are from families who received approximately $2,400 from FII, over two years, before the coronavirus pandemic. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict outcomes moving forward in light of COVID-19’s disruption.

By the numbers


Average increase in monthly income


Average increase in monthly savings account balance


Average increase in retirement investment account


Average increase in monthly business income with 66% of new family-owned business activity


Aiding people in a time of crisis

In 2018, FII joined Stand Together Foundation as a Catalyst. Working collaboratively, the two organizations created a plan to expand the UpTogether digital platform to exponentially increase the number of families who could receive direct cash investments and use the platform to build and strengthen their social networks so their communities could move up, together. The vision: to “democratize” philanthropy by recognizing and investing in the strengths of communities and people living in poverty.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, anticipating the economic fallout for families, Stand Together Foundation and FII quickly mobilized to launch the #GiveTogetherNow campaign and use the UpTogether platform to deliver direct cash assistance to communities and families financially impacted by the pandemic.     

Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst community came together to identify families across the country to receive support and the UpTogether platform was used to distribute direct payments. Ultimately the campaign tapped into hundreds of nonprofits and thousands of individuals to raise $120 million which will reach more than 200,000 families around the country.

#GiveTogetherNow as an ongoing relationship

Stand Together Foundation continues to partner with FII, investing millions to help build out its UpTogether platform where people living in poverty can surface and strengthen their social networks, and pursue their goals while receiving financial investments.

With your support, we can power FII’s growth across the nation, building a community-led movement to boost and sustain economic and social mobility for the millions of people in America who live at or below the poverty line. 

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A Disruptive Approach to

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Jesús Gerena


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