Poverty Scholars Program: Training Many "MLKs"

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Poverty Initiative
City & State:
New York, 
New York
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The mission of the Poverty Initiative is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor. The Poverty Initiative is focused on re-igniting the Poor People’s Campaign launched in December 1967 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by training and strenthening a national network of low-income, community and religious leaders for networking, leadership development, skills training and joint action.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Poverty Initiative:The mission of the Poverty Initiative is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor. To do so, Poverty Initiative employs information technology, using Microsoft Office, the WWW, email and other tools to train and network leaders in low-income communities across the US, to broadcast advocacy campaigns of these organizations, and to develop new educational models that utilize information technology in low-income communities with little access to education and technology.The Poverty Scholars Program:The Poverty Initiative has both an educational and organizing mandate; technology has been vital to both. Our cornerstone program—the Poverty Scholars Program (PSP)—provides leadership development, training and networking for a core of 150 grassroots low-income, church and community leaders from over 35 impoverished US communities. The PSP enlists veteran grassroots organizers with proven success at the local campaigns on issues of unemployment, community revitalization, housing and homelessness, immigration, water privatization, ecological devastation, eviction and foreclosure, health care, hunger, low-wage workers rights, organizing poor youth, public education reform, grassroots media production, and living wages. By using information technology—especially Microsoft Office tools including Powerpoint, Excel Spreadsheets and Microsoft Word—we have been able to coordinate, communicate and disseminate information that is central to our national network, its educational outreach and campaigns. We’ve developed publications, educational materials, letters and invitations using Microsoft Word. We’ve organized our list of donors, supporters, participants and budgets using Excel spreadsheets. PowerPoint allows us to create educational presentations for our Poverty Scholars Program, which uses a Train-the Trainers model. These presentations are available not only to our core of 150 leaders, but can also be repeated in the home communities, therefore drastically expanding our reach and thickening our network. The Poverty Scholars Program therefore can make an impact at three levels: 1) to provide leadership development and skills training for each individual leader or “Poverty Scholar”; 2) to inform and sharpen existing and future local campaigns conducted by each partner organization; and 3) to create and nurture a national network that will unite across lines of race, religion, geography and issue-focused organizing into a social movement to end poverty.Poverty Scholars participate in a series of Strategic Dialogues and a Leadership School. Themes and skills covered include: technical trainings on the use of the internet, email, Flip cameras and blogs; comprehensive study of the economic crisis and its impact on our communities; the history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign and his shift from civil rights to human rights; how to use human rights to organize; sharing campaigns and lessons learned from local organizations; and training on how to create effective communication mechanisms. The curricula used incorporate participants’ stated needs. Since Poverty Scholars are themselves seasoned educators, they’re encouraged to share strategies, educational modules, and materials. All Poverty Scholars receive copies of DVDs, PowerPoint Presentations, and readings presented so that they can bring the information back to their respective communities and organizations—all produced using Microsoft products. We have included just one example of many of the PowerPoint presentation used and distributed throughout the Poverty Scholars Program with this submission. In addition to the materials received by all participants (including DVDs, fact sheets, training guides) and put online for regular access, we plan to compile these materials into a training manual and tool kit. The PowerPoint presentation presented here is called “Poverty and Inequality is in the USA” serves as introductory curricula for the Poverty Scholars. This PowerPoint was first presented at our first Poverty Scholars Strategic Dialogue in September 2008 and has been repeated for recent participants and allies who have joined our program. Additionally, this presentation—along with several others on the impact of the economic crisis on low-income communities—have been shared via email with our partners across the country. The Importance of Technology:The impact of this program is spread to 35 low-income communities in urban and rural areas of the US because of our reliance and use of information technology. While we have trained 150 leaders, these leaders are affiliated with organizations and communities back home, spreading the impact of this technology to thousands of marginalized Americans. Once trained in delivering PowerPoint presentations, Poverty Scholars replicated them at home in 15 workshops with nearly 500 low-income women, men and youth in attendance. This training allows people living in poverty to understand their personal struggles in an economic context, showing that they can work together with their peers to create the change needed in their lives. Our organization has deepened its impact as well as spread to low-income communities with otherwise little access to these tools of information technology. We have helped grassroots organizations use information technology, especially the Microsoft Office Suite, to advance their organizing work. Information technology has been a powerful tool for breaking the isolation of grassroots organizations, allowing them to spread their message and find allies from all sectors of society and build networks of support. Feeling connected to the work of an organization tends to increase people's commitment to change. To be able to follow an advocacy campaign day by day, with multimedia content, really makes people feel a part of something. We have found that mastery of cutting-edge tools—like PowerPoint and the internet—inspires and empowers people who’ve been excluded from society’s mainstream, opening up a whole world to those whose lives have been very circumscribed by poverty. By training low-income leaders in PowerPoint, we have enhanced their ability to create and distribute visual presentations, which are a principal method of education and advocacy for these groups. They’re able to present images and facts about the conditions they work in and their own organized responses to these conditions. Even more significant, the experience of seeing themselves and their campaigns represented via information technology is immensely powerful; it clearly and forcefully shows the importance of their struggles, and allows members to see unmistakable examples of their own leadership.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
Supporting Work Files