A new strategic vision for Robin Hood

By Wes Moore; CEO, Robin Hood

Over the course of three decades since its founding in 1988, Robin Hood has grown into an institution ingrained in the fabric of New York City and in philanthropy.

Today, we work closely with over 200 community-based nonprofits across New York City with a diverse portfolio of grants fueling interventions that attack poverty in New York City wherever it lives.

This remarkable organization has evolved so much over the past 30 years, but the tenets of our work have not changed. We use rigorous metrics and data to take bold action and create impactful solutions, we support the work of the very best nonprofits providing direct-service work in the poverty fight, and we follow the data wherever it leads us.

In June 2017, I was proud to take the helm of Robin Hood as its CEO. I grew up on the slippery precipice of poverty in Baltimore and the Bronx. The neighborhood in the Bronx where I moved when I was a child after my father died was one of the first communities that Robin Hood invested in back in 1988.

Shortly after I became CEO, we began a thorough but urgent strategic planning process to assess how Robin Hood could meet the current demands of the poverty fight. True to Robin Hood’s history and ethos, we followed the data.

Data from our Poverty Tracker — a unique representative survey of households in New York City over time — tell us that while the poverty rate in New York City has declined slightly over the past several years, hovering right around 19 percent, more than double that number — 42 percent of all New Yorkers — have experienced poverty at some point over the past three years.

Think about that…

In the largest, most prosperous city in the United States, nearly half of its residents have experienced poverty over the past three years.

The data tell us that it is far too difficult to permanently escape poverty — that far too many people in New York City and across the country move in and out of poverty over years, unable to achieve sustainable economic stability.

Led by that data, we engaged leaders from every community partner, created internal strategy committees among the Robin Hood staff, and spent time with hundreds of experts — from economists and sociologists to people in the communities we serve.

The conclusion of that process was a new strategic vision — announced at our “No City Limits: Reimagining the Poverty Fight,” conference on Feb. 4:

Robin Hood must approach this work with a focus on lifting households in New York City from poverty measurably and sustainably.

We must acknowledge that we are not in this pervasive state of poverty because philanthropy or direct service interventions did not do their jobs.

We must supplement the metrics that guide our grantmaking with a lens toward getting families to a threshold where their chances to falling back into poverty are greatly diminished.

We must address the systems, structures, and the narratives that hold and keep people back.

We must elevate the voices of those closest the problems as we work toward solutions.

We must acknowledge that racism, sexism, homophobia, and prejudice or discrimination in any form are major contributors to poverty that must be addressed and combated in our work.

We must support our direct grantmaking with increased capacities to import and export effective interventions and address policies.

And we must move in partnership in all that we do, knowing that no one individual, initiative, or organization alone can affect meaningful progress on a problem as complex and pervasive as poverty.

Robin Hood has so much to be proud of over the past 30 years; and I’m proud to lead an organization that will never be satisfied.

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