SparkPoint in the Mission: Collective Impact for Financial Self-Sufficiency

by mkpersyn

Sheltered by Twin Peaks to the west, the Mission District boasts more sun and warmth than any other part of San Francisco.  Vibrant, echoing with music and brimming with public art and neighborhood markets, the densely-populated Mission pulses with life.  Its roots strike deep: the Yelamu Indians lived here thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish; and Mission San Francisco de Asis (now Mission Dolores), founded in 1776, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco.  For over fifty years, the Mission has been the city’s center of Latino art, culture, and music. 

And now the Mission’s residents face significant economic challenges.  The poverty rate here exceeds the city’s average, and the stubborn recession has made jobs especially hard to find. In a region where financial self-sufficiency exceeds the reach of so many families, and in a state where unemployment recently hit 11.9%, the Mission stands out.  But the Mission has the “fire in the belly” necessary to come roaring back, which is why the United Way of the Bay Area chose to site its ninth SparkPoint Center here. 

One core intuition drives the SparkPoint Centers: people living in poverty face multiple, inter-related problems, and therefore they need bundled services and personalized coaching.  Not earning enough money is often connected to a lack of job training or education, low credit scores coincide with insufficient assets and too much debt, and poverty often affects family health due to factors such as environmental quality and lack of access to recreation and healthy food.  Accessing help one service at a time is both overwhelming and confusing.  And as I wrote previously, isolating and treating only one of these problems is like using a band-aid to cover a scrape while ignoring a person’s broken arm and concussion.  Concerted action isn’t just more effective: it’s the only thing that will work.

Previous SparkPoint Centers tested the hypothesis that families will achieve economic self-sufficiency more dependably and more often if multiple services are bundled together under one roof, and if families take advantage of more than two services over an extended period (the Centers make multiple-year commitments to their client families).  The desired outcomes are quantifiable and measurable: livable income that reaches the self-sufficiency standard for the relevant geographic area ($65,000 for a family of four in San Francisco); a credit score of 650 or above; savings equal to three months of living expenses; and a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of less than 40%.  The early evidence is in: and the answer is a resounding yes.  The Oakland SparkPoint Center measured client success against specific benchmarks including decreasing DTI by 5%; increasing income by 5%; increasing credit score by 50 points; and either accumulating two weeks of savings or meeting a specific savings goal. Interim outcome measurements at the Oakland SparkPoint center demonstrate that 65% of the families taking advantage of two integrated services reached intermediate benchmarks for the four outcomes.  For families enrolling in three or more services, the success rate was 85%. 

“One-stop resource centers” are hardly new.  What makes SparkPoint different?  Primarily, the power of collective impact.  Government and non-profit service providers don’t just occupy the same space–they work together to provide integrated services to clients, and they use one system and one set of metrics to track client progress in an Efforts to Outcome database.  And starting with the Mission SparkPoint, the partners will more consciously pursue the shared goals, priorities, and outcome measurements that collective-impact initiatives establish collaboratively.

The unified SparkPoint approach, encompassing livable income, credit score at least 650, three months of savings, and DTI less than 40%, produces robust and significant results impressive enough to draw industry’s notice.  On June 3, Chevron donated $1 million to the brand-new SparkPoint Center in Richmond.  Visitors have toured Bay Area centers from as far away as the Netherlands; the concept has been copied all over the country.  Its flexibility and scalability will likely be tested soon; the Mission SparkPoint leadership is currently considering adding partners to boost job development, public health, fresh food access, and more.  The core concept is collaboration on an equity basis with shared agenda, goals, and measurement: collective impact in motion.

On June 14, the group of ten community partners that will open the Center, led by the Mission Economic Development Agency, will sit down at a table at Plaza Adelante in the heart of the Mission to imagine–together–a supercharged Mission District revitalized by the power of small business, improved credit, increased assets, and financial self-sufficiency.  (Read the original San Francisco SparkPoint RFP, including a more detailed explanation of the SparkPoint concept and a list of FAQs.)  The Mission was born before San Francisco was even an idea.  Now, as the United Way sparks economic revitalization, entrepreneurship , and empowerment here, the Mission SparkPoint Center could provide a national-level model for community-based economic recovery.  I’ll periodically post about the Mission SparkPoint Center here.  (Disclosure: I am a founding member of the UWBA Women’s Leadership Circle, which supports the UWBA’s ten-year project to reduce Bay Area poverty by 50%.)