Changing Systems So Everyone Can Thrive


The work that UpTogether is doing is so important because it’s challenging us to really reimagine poverty in our communities and to also rethink the assumptions we’ve made in designing our systems.

Brion Oaks, Chief Equity Officer, City of Austin

The Problem with the Current System

The majority of programs and policies directed at people with limited incomes are: 

  • Generally needs-based, which disincentivizes initiative. This adds to the negative perception of families in financially under-resourced communities as liabilities rather than assets.
  • Contributors to the “cliff effect,” which disincentivizes mobility by punishing many families when they get a raise, or save more, by making them ineligible to continue receiving all or some of their public benefits. Most of the time, the increase in pay is not enough to cover the cost of what the benefits provided, leaving many families in a worse financial situation than they were before, contributing to the cycle of poverty.

To successfully remove these barriers to economic and social mobility, UpTogether centers its work on systems change.

What is systems change?

To understand how UpTogether defines “systems change,” let’s first talk about what a system is. A system is a network of relationships between individuals, groups and institutions. There are many types of systems including education, government, healthcare and criminal justice.

“Systems change” means making significant and lasting improvements to how a system operates in order to achieve a desired outcome. 

At UpTogether, our vision — is for all people in the United States to be seen and invested in for their strengths, be able to build power, reinforce their autonomy, and drive their own economic and social mobility. 

Examples of systems change that would move us closer to that vision are reinstating the expanded Federal Child Tax Credit and increasing the gross income limit for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). 

Systems change is a complex process that doesn’t happen overnight. It involves many stakeholders, a coordinated effort and a clear understanding of the challenges of the current systems. 

Our strategy to create systems change

The Problem

A deficit-based* view of people who experience poverty and other financial hardship drives policies, practices and systems.

*A deficit-based view focuses on what people lack. It blames them for their financial situation without acknowledging the systems and policies that make it difficult for them to get ahead despite their hard work.

Our Solution

In order for systems and institutions to change their policies and practices, society must first shift to a strength-based* view of people experiencing poverty and other financial hardship. 

*A strength-based view recognizes people for their initiatives, abilities and self-determination.

Our strategy

Together, with our members, partners, community organizations and other supporters, we:

  1. Invest in families and individuals with limited incomes by providing them with cash they can use however they wish, no strings attached
  2. Amplify stories to change the narrative and tell the true lived experiencesof people facing financial hardship and financially under-resourced communities

Rally for state and local policies and practices that support and accelerate socioeconomic mobility

Our intended impact

All people in the United States are seen and invested in for their strengths and are able to build power, reinforce their autonomy and drive their own economic and social mobility.

“Over the last 50 years, we have tried almost everything. But the approaches we’ve taken tend to be program-centric rather than people-centric. We fund mentoring organizations who take at-risk black and brown boys on field trips, but we won’t give a black father $100 to take his own damn kid on a field trip. There’s something wrong with that dynamic. Although well-intended, the system itself has become part of the problem…We are super excited to start on this journey with UpTogether and although we have no idea where it will lead, we know it won’t be like anything we’ve done before. This is about empowering people so we’ll be asked to get out of the way and let families take the lead. That’s going to be hard for us. But it will cause us all to change.”

Lisa Morrison Butler
Former Commissioner of City of Chicago Family & Support Services


Join the Movement

Everyone can play a role in changing systems. Here are a few things you can do. 

  • Community members

    • Tell stories about how current systems and policies have (are) impacting your life
    • Connect with likeminded people to bring attention to harmful policies and elevate community-led solutions 
    • Support public officials and candidates who champion systems change or even consider running for office yourself
    • Advocate for policymakers and elected leaders to incorporate the strength-based approach into new and existing public policies and decisions 
  • Policymakers and government officials

    • Incorporate the strength-based approach into new and existing public policies and decision-making 
  • Philanthropy
    • Reject traditional and paternalistic ways philanthropy operates and instead trust communities to lead.
    • Fully integrate strength-based aligned operational policies in day-to-day operations, giving, assistance, and strategic goals.
  • Community organizations

    • Amplify stories about how current systems and policies have (are) impacting the people in your community
    • Support financially under-resourced communities through resource organizing aimed at bolstering the viability and sustainability of strength-based, communal-borne ideas, networks, skills, talents, and programs.

If you want to join us in our efforts, click here.

Interested in partnering with us or want to learn more?