What the Declaration Initiative Believes

TDI believed from our first day that America needed to enable all its people to achieve access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All Americans should have these Declaration Rights. Only about 90% do. Ten percent of us are living in poverty that denies us access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

TDI sees that the nation needs to engage this issue as it engaged the civil rights movement. State by state, city by city, zip code by zip code, Americans need to be engaged in working with the poorest to guarantee Declaration Rights.

What we have done

TDI is barely three years old. We have spent these first years listening to the people in eight very low income communities. We have listened to young people in communities as they responded to gifted young men of color and explored their hopes and dreams together. These conversations of very diverse youth created startling insights about modern life in very low income communities. We heard the disappointments of these young people as they faced the discouraging opportunities around them. See these interviews on this website at A Time to Listen under the Media Center menu. TDI thanks the Pinkerton Foundation for the funds to complete "A Time to Listen."

During these early years, we also created a set of videos that enabled gifted low income men and women to describe in detail how they changed their own lives and the lives of others in their communities. The very generous support of the Newman's Own Foundation enabled Cynthia Farrar and her staff at Purple States to lead the design and production of sets of videos actually created by the people whose stories are presented. These are people eager and able to lead the transformation of their communities. The power in each of these six minute videos is proof that the end of poverty will come from respectfully engaging the poorest people in developing new pathways in their lives and neighborhoods. See these amazing productions also under Media Center.

Great Good Work to Reduce Poverty is On-Going in the US, BUT...

TDI recognizes that thousands of activities to reduce poverty are underway all across our country. Over the next two years, TDI believes that the leaders of these many activities should have help reaching out to each other and sharing their successes and also their failures. TDI also believes that the nation's major leaders in diverse professions should help to establish a common cause, a meta goal to end the terrible multi-generational poverty among the nation's poorest ten percent. Working together, Americans could vastly reduce poverty in our nation. Together we coudl advance the Declaration Rights so that all Americans have access to them. This is our work as beneficiaries of the Declaration of Independence.

The on-coming sesquicentennial of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 2026 offers a perfect opportunity for Americans to focus our national efforts on achieving the stunning ambitions of that document for our democracy.

TDI will spend the next 18 months developing the national structures among diverse leaders and hard-working nonprofits. By December 2016, the nation will have a decade to invest, zip code by zip code, in greatly reducing and then eliminating poverty in our democracy.

TDI staff will be reaching out to engage those working against poverty to connect to each other and share. Over the next 18 months and until December 2016 and the end of the next presidential election, TDI will work to develop a widely acknowledged set of connections among those working against poverty. From 2016 to 2026 we can work together all over the country to assure that poverty is diminishing and opportunities for health, education, and life opportunities are improving in every neighborhood. The celebration of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration will be a truly American victory.

The History of Caring about Poverty

The idea of greatly reducing or ending persistent poverty in the US has been discussed for decades. Most often the discussion begins with the question of whether government or privately funded programs are effective at addressing poverty. It then moves on to the merits of specific interventions, finally raising questions about results.

Our early conversations and ongoing research tell us that much assessment has been done through the lens of organizations conducting the assessment, but few engage the individuals and families who expect to benefit from the programs. TDI has spent the first three years planning, listening, and beginning to build trust and partnerships in some of the poorest communities.

We have confirmed that if a project will affect a whole neighborhood or community, the participation of community members is key to developing strategies to address problems. Community residents must address questions about evaluating impact along with staff from nonprofits and government agencies, as well as donors.

A critical part of the process of ending poverty in the US must involve greatly expanding our notion of who must be engaged; what should be observed and measured; and how long the period of evaluation of long-term social change should last.

We are working on answering these and other basic questions as a way of determining:

  1. Who is benefiting from dismantling the social, economic, and health conditions that keep families and their communities trapped in poverty?
  2. What incremental, intermediate, and long-term changes are required of individuals and institutions working to end poverty in the US?
  3. Which types of community-based leadership strategies are necessary to build a leadership pipeline to help dismantle the poverty trap and enable and sustain opportunity for those trapped in poverty?

In alignment with our mission to work at both the local level with community members and at the national level with leaders and advocates, we are developing participatory strategies and tools with communities, practitioners, scholars, and funders that develop the capacity of these groups to evaluate program and process efficacy and success.

Our goal is to foster and embed participatory evaluation models as new and better ways to measure outcomes of long-term change. The outcomes will be determined as communities focus their work (on social services delivery, economic/business development, and community development, for example) with the goal of significantly reducing poverty in the US in the next 12 years. Our approach may slow our progress but it will build a strong base for the permanent changes the families deserve.

Steven Mayer, PhD, an experienced evaluation scholar and practitioner, has given some thought to TDI’s evaluation questions in a recent blog post “Evaluating Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. We invite your comments as well:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . We will be developing an Impact Evaluation Advisory Committee to help shape our evaluation process. Please join us in this important part of our work. Stay tuned for more details.


From poverty to prosperity by 2026

By working at the local level with community leaders and members, TDI seeks to improve the quality of life of America’s poorest.

TDI works at the national level to inspire a movement to motivate leaders and communities across America to come together to invest in ensuring that even the poorest have access to the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.