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SIE Lab launches initiative, survey tool to support and empower communities to overcome poverty

What if a simple survey could offer struggling communities a better understanding of their economic, health and social well-being, and what if the results from this same assessment also empowered individuals and families who lived there to work together with their neighbors to increase their access to opportunities?

The School of Social Work’s Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab (SIEL) has spent the last year adapting such a tool as part of the launch of a new Community Aspirations Hub. The hub initiative was developed following staff training last year in the “Poverty Stoplight” project. The social enterprise Fundación Paraguay created the project and the original survey, which focuses on the assumption that families have the strengths and abilities to overcome their own challenges with support and connection to resources.

SIEL staff and community partners recently completed the hub’s version of  this survey – an app-based tool known as “Aspire” that will help households self-assess their well-being and create their own action plans for improvement, said Tanya Jisa, clinical assistant professor and SIEL’s community education coordinator.

“The main purpose is to give families a snapshot of where they are in six areas of their lives and to help them consider their own obstacles and come up with their own priorities of what they want to work on,” she said. “The survey gives each household the ability to ask, ‘What makes the most sense for me given where we are right now in terms of moving toward taking action in the well-being of my life.’”

Using metrics from the Poverty Stoplight, the Aspire self-assessment enables individuals and families to measure their strengths and to consider opportunities for growth across the following areas:

Income and employment (i.e. access to credit, savings, and employability readiness)
  • Housing and infrastructure (i.e. access to stable housing, working home appliances and reliable transportation)
  • Education and culture (i.e. high school completion, English literacy and access to the internet)
  • Health and environment (i.e. access to health and mental health services, nutritious foods, and insurance)
  • Organization and participation (member of a community, civic engagement, and able to resolve conflicts) 
  • Interiority and motivation (i.e. self-confidence, emotional well-being and continual learner).

The survey includes illustrations and definitions aimed at helping households rate their current situation or environment based on categories that are color-coded like a stoplight: red for extremely poor, yellow for poor and green for not poor. The survey’s design aims to help families easily visualize their stumbling blocks, break down the overwhelming concept of poverty, and to chart their own plans for overcoming significant challenges, Jisa added.

“Ultimately, the hope is that the assessment can help families identify the systemic issues that exist in their communities and to think about what the collective community can do to draw attention to these issues so that they can be improved,” she said.
Four partner organizations in Cabarrus, Orange and Wake counties are currently piloting the Aspire survey and are working with participating households to connect them to additional resources or services as needed. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled a full rollout of the assessment, about 50 surveys have been completed thus far, Jisa said. Part of this pilot also includes a separate brief survey to determine the impact the pandemic has had on participants’ social and economic well-being.

Long-term, the SIEL Community Aspirations Hub plans to train other organizations to use the Aspire tool to assist the clients they serve and to help individuals and families identify their own solutions for lifting themselves out of poverty.

“The idea is to empower them,” Jisa said. “This is their data and they can take it and use it in a way that they think will be most beneficial to them. It’s their tool, their data, their decisions, and their choices about what to address and when and how. And they will have support along the way to do that through these partner agencies and the coaches and the resources they offer in their community.”