Recently, I’ve had several people ask me how 3rd Creek Foundation (3CF) chose its mission: to help individuals achieve economic independence. I thought this warranted a relatively simple answer, since our mission is the fundamental basis that guides our work. Yet, to my own surprise, I have found myself slightly tongue tied as I explain the rationale for economic independence.
While it is frustrating to stumble through explaining the core of 3CF, it makes sense that this would be the case given that 3CF is a young and growing organization. I liken the communication issue to that of start-up entrepreneurs, who are notorious for describing their businesses in roundabout ways. These entrepreneurs are known to give lengthy, detailed descriptions of certain business components while missing the big picture essence of what it is that their businesses actually solve.
The struggle to communicate organizational models and missions in simple terms might be a common occurrence, but it is also a costly one. Investors consistently warn that if they cannot understand an entrepreneur’s business model within a minute, they will not invest in the idea or the company. While 3rd Creek Foundation is not a start-up business pitching its model to investors, it is a young organization that will perform better if it can convene more stakeholders around its objective: promoting economic independence among individuals.
I decided to map out and share the what, why, and how of economic independence here to synthesize the explanation of our mission and afford our board and community an opportunity to take a deeper look at what we do and how we can do it better.
What do we mean by economic independence?
In its most elementary form, we refer to economic independence as the ability of an individual to access and mobilize enough economic resources (land, labor, and capital) to meet his or her basic needs and those of his or her dependents. But what we strive for through our mission is to support individuals to access economic mobility. In other words, 3CF aims to support economically disadvantaged individuals to become capable of generating and earning enough disposable income to reshape their lives and the opportunities available to themselves and future generations. We also understand that economic independence generated across households translates to increasingly vibrant communities and society, and thereby includes rather than excludes the structures of interdependence that make up our global social framework.
Why do we think economic independence is important?
Today over 1 billion people suffer from extreme poverty surviving on $1.25 per day. This situation is unacceptable in the 21st century, particularly given the advances in technology, industry, and economic knowledge that have led to unprecedented global efficiencies and interconnectedness. While approaches to poverty alleviation are numerous and diverse, we believe that increasing underprivileged individual’s and household access to resources, increases their earnings, improves their lives, strengthens their communities, and lays the foundation for the success of future generations. Without access to economic resources, the opportunity to achieve economic mobility and move out of poverty seems impossible.
How do we promote economic independence?
We know that increased access to economic resources is key to alleviating poverty, but how to achieve that is a question that the development sector has been testing and debating for decades.
At 3CF, we apply the following principles:
- Disposable income is key to promote and protect basic needs such as health, education, and shelter.
- Entrepreneurship and employment are the primary drivers of disposable income.
- Small enterprise is a key driver of employment.
- Education prepares people with the skills and capacity to advocate for themselves and navigate their access to economic resources, as well as to secure their property and protect themselves from violence.
- Everything we do should consider the sustainability of our natural environment.
Based on the above understanding, we chose to promote economic independence through funding programs that support social entrepreneurship, micro-small enterprise development, and access to education in regions suffering from high rates of poverty. Within the scope of each program area, we look for opportunities to integrate environmental sustainability, to promote better health outcomes, and to improve living standards.
The above is an explanation of 3CF’s mission and how it works today, but it is also important to remember that we are not a static organization in terms of implementation. As we continue to grow, we are building processes to apply what we learn directly into our organizational model so as to maximize the effect our resources can have at alleviating poverty. A key advantage to being a small foundation is the fact that we are nimble, and while a well crafted mission remains relevant over an extended time horizon, the approach(es) to achieving that mission can and should be continuously refined to keep up with the ever changing environment in which we work.
 Poverty Overview, The World Bank, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview, (May 22, 2014).
Gwen Straley is the Executive Director of 3rd Creek Foundation where she oversees the foundation's grant-making processes and ensures fiscal and regulatory compliance. An emerging markets professional, Gwen has worked for a diverse range of organizations in some of the most complex environments in the world. Prior to moving to Seattle, Gwen managed a large-scale nutrition program in Mogadishu, Somalia. She has also consulted for government, foundations, NGOs, and small businesses in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. Gwen holds an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and a Bachelor of Arts from Hampshire College with a concentration in Sustainable Development. She is a travel, outdoors, and coffee enthusiast.