Last week, we revisited the game-changing model presented in Bridges Out of Poverty. The model suggests professionals and communities can help people in poverty only by first understanding their mental state and systematically addressing the challenges they face. This week, we highlight two of the book’s most important lessons for social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs – developing empathy and finding new areas in which to create social impact.

Lesson #1: Extend the mental model for poverty to the working poor, including employees. 

As we previously discussed, mental models depict elements that contribute to the stability and sustainability of people across economic classes. For people in generational poverty, relationships are key assets that provide stability when other elements in the model are in flux, such as transportation, child care, debt or housing. While it is critically important for social entrepreneurs to consider all the elements that must be stable for people in poverty to have good quality of life, it is equally important to remember the working poor, some of whom may be our colleagues, in the same context. The mental model for poverty also extends to the working poor who live paycheck-to-paycheck. While some earn enough to have limited options, the working poor are more likely to fall back on relationships rather than achievement in the face of catastrophic life events. One of the key differences between the working poor and people in poverty is the limited availability of government assistance to provide support. Earning a wage or salary 200% above the poverty line does not guarantee a stable life, and it is critical we remember this when we serve our customers and colleagues alike. We encourage our clients in the social sector to create a work environment that allows employees from all classes to stabilize their home situation, which should ultimately make them more effective for the mission and build loyalty to the organization. This can take many forms, including flexible time, benefits counseling or discounted services with agency partners.

Mental Model of Poverty


Community Stability Grid

Lesson #2: Think about a community sustainability grid as a useful tool in identifying opportunities.

The community sustainability grid identifies key actors and strategies that must be addressed to systematically improve the lives of those in poverty. While nonprofit leaders can use the grid to assess the ways a particular organization creates change, it can also be used to identify areas that need additional support – either through a new organization or initiative of an existing nonprofit. Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can record peer organizations in the grid that are working to identify the gaps in key areas of services. Some cells in the grid will have multiple players, indicating potential market saturation in a particular area. Identifying all the actors in the early stages of planning can help entrepreneurs avoid duplication of services and address real, underserved needs in the community. If you are thinking of starting or expanding a program, we encourage you to follow our lean start-up principles.

Bridges Out of Poverty asks us to live the proverb, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”  By engaging in empathy with our clients and colleagues and seeking opportunities to improve the way we serve others, we can help those suffering most achieve stability and a high quality of life.  We invite you to share applications you have found for Bridges Out of Poverty.

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