A powerful combination of services to alleviate poverty and improve lives is to help people make a living and manage their money. We see this in the global universe of micro-finance.
One shining model at the local level here in the U.S. is East River Development Alliance. ERDA serves a cluster of the four largest public housing developments in our nation, where the median family income is $22,000, half the adults are unemployed, and 94% of the residents are minorities – mostly African-American and Latino. Nestled in Long Island City, just one quick subway stop from midtown Manhattan, ERDA provides residents with the tools and opportunities necessary for self-sufficiency and economic mobility through jobs programs, tax preparation, and financial education.
Since ERDA was launched only 4 years ago, the organization has facilitated the return of close to $4 million through tax prep; while people are on-site doing their taxes, ERDA also signs them up for workforce development, money management classes, and college access programs. Additionally, recognizing the need for residents to have access to mainstream financial services and institutions, ERDA brought the first bank into the neighborhood and is now building a credit union.
ERDA’s “Building Wealth Academy” has provided training and one-on-one counseling to close to 2,000 individuals and assisted hundreds in creating “building wealth” action plans to decrease debt, save money, and open new bank accounts. A number of families have closed on homes, and none has experienced issues with foreclosure or predatory lending.
Lessons on Leadership:
- A compelling CEO whose relationships count: The visionary who leads and drives ERDA is Bishop Mitchell Taylor, Founder and CEO, whose partner in launching and building ERDA was Co-Founder Debra-Ellen Glickstein. Bishop Taylor’s relationships among the community’s clergy, merchants, tenant leaders, and local legislators, his deep networks and the respect that people hold for him, and his ability to make the case to foundations and corporations have been essential for the organization’s dramatic and continued success.
- Strength and diversity of the board: The board is a mix of business people and experts in workforce development, and from diverse perspectives and backgrounds, who are passionate about the mission and committed to an ambitious future for ERDA in advancing the community.
- Board leadership…and the case for business people to serve on boards: The board chair is Jeremy Selman, Development Director, GFI Capital. He is passionate about ERDA, and is a lead donor, fundraiser, advocate, and board-builder. (only 31 years old by the way, and a first-time board member, for those who think that board chairs have to have gray hair!) While Jeremy gives plenty to ERDA, he is also gaining a lifetime professional development experience for himself. “In the business world, the drive is often to focus on short term gains. My role at ERDA requires a longer-term outlook – to consider the economic benefits of building a community and what that means to the future of a region. This has altered my views of green technologies as well. The ERDA experience has been transformative for me personally and professionally.”
Great leadership is powerful, vital, and inspiring. ERDA also shows us, as one ERDA funder noted to Bishop Taylor and me just yesterday, that “we have to go floor by floor” to make the world better. ERDA’s work changes lives. And one message to Fast Company readers is that business volunteers like Jeremy who serve on boards are helping to make that possible.