Using innovation to advance economic mobility

Name: Henry Fitts

Title: Director of Innovation & Strategic Initiatives

City: Rochester, N.Y.

Henry Fitts and the innovation team he leads in Rochester are pushing hard on new approaches to help residents climb the economic ladder. They launched a crowdfunded microloan program for small businesses, a vanpooling system to help chronically unemployed residents get to work, and a mentorship program to help adults navigate social services.

The mentorship program is the subject of a randomized control trial — a new technique for Rochester — to measure the effectiveness of its programs. The economic trajectory of 150 participants in the program will be compared over time to that of a control group of 150 residents who aren’t in the program. So far, participants have seen household earnings and employment levels more than double, a result Fitts calls “really exciting.”

The next step in Rochester’s work in this area is happening in partnership with a What Works Cities initiative testing new local approaches to advancing economic mobility. Fitts coordinates the project, which aims to encourage families who get the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to boost their savings by offering to match the funds and by providing financial counseling services. The work, Fitts said, “all dovetails really nicely” with the city’s efforts to help residents with low incomes build wealth.

Pro Tip: “Focus on building relationships. It’s really important to build a foundation of trust with the people that you are working with.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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