ECCF Commits $1.3M to Help Tackle Income Inequality

March 4, 2019 — The Essex County Community Foundation, based in Danvers, last week announced it will provide $1.3 million to support four collaborative efforts over the next three years to identify the root causes of income inequality in Essex County and create solutions to benefit the region with the potential to replicate them statewide.

“Income inequality is a complex issue that is the foundation to many challenges we face here in Essex County,” said Beth Francis, president and CEO of Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF). “This is why ECCF is committing over $1.3 million over the next three years to address the issue through an engaged model of philanthropy.”

The effort, called Empowering Economic Opportunity, is part of ECCF's Impact Essex County initiative, an effort that spans100 indicators tracking the quality of life in Essex County.

According to ECCF, 300,000 people in Essex County—38% of all residents—live below the living wage, making it a struggle to pay rent, put enough food on the table, and afford quality childcare, making it nearly impossible to save for emergencies or higher education.

Four collaboratives were chosen from 30 collaboratives already working to improve economic opportunities for Essex County resident. Scheduled to roll out over the next six to nine months, they are:
  • Financial Coaching and Literacy. Working with the five community action agencies in Essex County and community colleges, financial literacy providers, banks, and community volunteers, this program focuses on financial literacy education and one-on-one financial coaching integrated into existing adult programming.

  • Credit for Prior Learning. Launched in January and based on a North Shore Community College program, this solution enables adult learners to translate their specialized experience and skills into college credits. Partners include Northern Essex and Middlesex Community Colleges, Salem State University, Gordon College, regional workforce investment boards, adult education, and English as a Second Language providers and employers.

  • Small Business Resiliency and Venture Fund. This project expands a Lawrence-based commercial lending program for non-bankable small businesses. It will offer micro-loans from a pool assembled by a coalition of banks and partners in the region, supplemented by strategic technical support. Mill Cities Community Investments will serve as the backbone organization.

  • Essex County Think Labs. ECCF will convene key stakeholders and attract experts around special areas of focus at multiple Think Labs to harness local knowledge and expertise and inspire creative thinking to incubate future program ideas that will influence the economic landscape.
Francis stressed the importance of the collaboration and systems that will ultimately make this project a success: “These efforts will take real partnership and advocacy, and our partners will come from all different perspectives, but they will share a common goal: to provide the knowledge, tools, and opportunities for Essex County residents to live a better life.”

“With these four programs, we want to uncover the root causes of income inequality in our region to make lasting change,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s vice president for community leadership. “The foundation is not inventing new programs or making the rules. Our systems approach is community defined, not foundation defined.”

Addressing 200 community, nonprofit and business leaders, philanthropists, and legislators who gathered at Peabody City Hall last Tuesday when the plan was unveiled, Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College, said, the initiative will help build Credit for Prior Learning and create a model that can be repeated across Massachusetts.