It Takes a Village
The Power of Collaboration in the Fight to End Poverty in Rochester
By Ebony Eli, Nonprofit Events & Marketing Intern, Summer 2019

It’s never just one person. The best ideas, the most noteworthy inventions, the greatest performances- none of them happen alone. Even though blockbuster superheroes and lore about “the chosen one” might have you believe that there’s one great individual who will save us all, the truth is, it’s millions. Collaboration is an integral part of success. What makes it such an important and valuable component of any effort, is that it brings together people with their own unique perspectives, experiences, and ideas to the table. Collaboration is a powerful tool for solving complex problems like poverty.

You’ve heard this story before: Rochester has a long-standing history with poverty dating back to post-civil war. Poverty disproportionately affects racial minorities, as well as women, people with disabilities, single families, the LGBT community, and the elderly. Decades of research show that education, housing and food security, transportation and much more are deeply-rooted in the poverty issue as well. More recently, the City of Rochester set out to explore the demographic and earning disparities in Monroe County’s workforce and the findings were striking. The report found that minorities earn less than their white counterparts in nearly every industrial sector and that the wage gap persists regardless of educational attainment.

It is a complicated, messy challenge that is not unique to Rochester. Many communities implement a service-based approach, tackling the symptoms of poverty – food pantries, shelters, and clothing drives certainly play an important role in providing real-time, basic needs to people in need. There is also a more comprehensive and collaborative approach, like what we’re doing in Rochester today, through the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI).

RMAPI was started in 2015, after the city received a grant to help fight poverty. The initiative's primary goal is to improve quality of life by reducing poverty and increasing self-sufficiency. To do this, RMAPI is focused on increasing income, making basic needs more affordable and accessible, and lowering concentrations of poverty. RMAPI is a diverse coalition including community leaders, local and state government, service providers, funders, faith institutions, volunteers, youth advocates, and people impacted by poverty. By bringing together leaders from a myriad of backgrounds and philosophies, RMAPI coalition members have united around a common agenda to fight poverty in an intentional and collaborative way.

The RMAPI coalition is supported by many partnering organizations that provide expertise, resources, and services to fight against poverty, including Causewave Community Partners. Since 1950, Causewave (formally the Ad Council of Rochester) has been working throughout the region to make community change happen, in partnership with coalitions, foundations, community organizations and other nonprofits. Because of this, Causewave recognizes the power of collaboration. And as an expert in bringing diverse stakeholders together, Causewave has been providing support to RMAPI by helping to build stronger relationships with supporters, facilitating results-based meetings, guiding strategic communications, increasing awareness, and so much more.

An organization is only as strong as its members and doers. Building capacity and fostering collaboration is more than just making sure the staff get along and communicate effectively; it also means fostering positive behavior and mindset shifts. Thanks to the support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, their backbone staff, and partnering organizations like Causewave, RMAPI coalition members have celebrated real success. Projects like the Bridges to Success/Family Independence Initiative, Clearwater Organic Farms project, City of Rochester/RTS Vanpool Project, the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, Raise the Age program, and housing anti-discrimination legislation are making real progress in the community. This wouldn’t be possible without the community members and leaders who recognize that ending poverty takes time, that ending poverty is everyone’s problem, and that everyone can do something. You can learn more and join the movement by visiting: endingpovertynow.org.