Civic Pathways Out of Poverty and Into Opportunity
Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE)
The majority of children living in poverty are of a minority ethnic group, and minority high school dropout rates are higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the median income for college graduates is vastly higher than for those who never receive a diploma,
According to this new study — which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates, W.K. Kellogg and the New World foundations — participation in service organizations and civic engagement opportunities may help to improve the odds of equipping low-income youth and youth of color with the tools to transition out of poverty.
Though “service and civic engagement have not exactly been framed as potential solutions to economic and racial inequalities,” the authors suggest that increased involvement in these types of organizations could lay the groundwork for both the pursuit of higher education and meaningful employment.
Using data collected from interviews with individuals in a variety of fields, the study employs terminology associated with the “pathways” theme to illustrate the tools that participation in service can provide to youth to help them reach their “destination.” A variety of “modes of transportation” – scholarship programs, political engagement, personal connections, national corps service programs, workforce development, political engagement – are benefits of involvement, providing the support needed to help youth avoid “road-of-life potholes.”
The authors are careful to draw the distinction between service and charity organizations, emphasizing that “the skill development, increased content knowledge and self empowerment resulting from civic engagement activities foster the necessary confidence and skills” for future success, in ways that financial support and short-term solutions do not.
The study also suggests that a certain amount of program restructuring is needed to eliminate “detours” that may restrict an organization’s ability to reach youth. Language barriers, a lack of program diversity, personal financial hardship, and limited organizational capacity are among the obstacles that study authors say can affect participants.
The authors also note that current outreach initiatives must be revamped to increase involvement. Service organizations and civic outlets must market themselves to youth by highlighting the ways in which involvement will help them to develop skills. As part of a longer list of recommendations, the authors propose that organizations be offered “incentives for more inclusive participation” and that leadership of the organizations themselves be diversified.
Greater efforts must be made, too, to foster connections between national and community-based organizations, and civic engagement opportunities. The study includes proposals for ways in which each type of organization or entity, including the government and the private sector, can restructure their missions to allow for more effective collaboration with others.
PACE is a national non-profit that describes itself as a “learning collaborative of funders and foundations doing work in the fields of civic engagement, service and democratic practice.”
Click here to read the study.