“…it’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America” speech at Stanford University, April 14, 1967

AFN believes that the philanthropic commitment to equity and economic justice with a racial and gender lens can relegate the Other America, referred to by Dr. King, to history. It is why we chose the seven focus issues—education, employment and income, financial health, health, housing, small business, and the wealth gap—for the development of facts, highlighting root causes, and identifying solutions including where the system needs to be changed. It is also why we understand a just economy provides a household with stable income that covers basic needs and creates disposable and discretionary income that allow saving, secure housing, and investments in longer term assets. The challenges that we seek to face and address are simultaneously daunting and energizing.

When I first was learning to be a policy advocate, I learned the adage that “all politics are local” – it meant that problems confronting constituents in the community needed to be addressed by any changes. That often meant fixing a systemic problem causing a lack of services, tools, eligibility, or access.

At AFN, we designed our network understanding that the returns on aligned or collaborative philanthropic investments are very often local. Our chapters have gathered funders and addressed regionally identified priorities with focused research, changes in services, introduction of tools new to the area, strategic communication and narrative change to support systemic change, and innovations that redress systemic bias, address the legacy of past racism, or focus on new solutions designed to address the changed economic circumstances households face today.

In AFN’s annual report, we highlight several regional accomplishments of the past year and there is more to celebrate as a foundation for going forward. In Texas, we now have three chapters – North Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth), San Antonio, and Central Texas (Greater Austin).

The newest chapter is the Central Texas AFN which emerged in 2022.  At the end of the year the members joined their voices to highlight the need for the local bond issuance to increase the stock of  housing that is affordable for those who work in the area. It was a statement that mattered locally and will help keep the focus on low and middle income household asset building.

The San Antonio Area AFN celebrated its five year anniversary reflecting on their regional income and asset scan released in 2019 that has influenced philanthropic and public policy investments and fostered coordinated efforts since then. These collaborations have ensured a greater focus by local AFN members and their grantees on addressing financial health, non-profit capacity building and community development. They successfully worked to gain business support to restructure water rates so that 83% of households, mostly low and medium income households, would see a reduction in their rates, and many households who use the least amount of water would get their water for free.  The City Council unanimously adopted this new structure effective January 1, 2023. This year, the AFN chapter’s Steering Committee is focused on reducing or eliminating government fines and fees that hold residents back from seeking opportunities in order to build household discretionary income and assets.

And in North Texas, the chapter celebrated its 10th year anniversary reflecting on all of the ground they have covered with their grantees. They invested in and helped frame a shared community-wide understanding of asset poverty through the award winning One Crisis Away with KERA (North Texas public broadcasting). The funders aligned efforts to address affordable credit gaps by bringing new providers into the market and helping existing community non-profits to add credit building to their services. And they invested in professionalizing and standardizing financial coaching in the area as well creating a local infrastructure for training coaches. The chapter members worked together to expand the capacity of asset building focused nonprofits with unrestricted funding, training, and peer learning, and launched a CSA initiative with an equity focus in local schools. And that’s a selective list of the regional chapter’s impact!

The framework of asset building builds on the concepts of equity, agency, and justice. The commitment to asset building is fundamentally an affirmation in what we can be to move to eliminate the Other America. For this reason, AFN is renewing our strategic focus on the power of our regional chapters and helping new regions to emerge as we learn from and help our existing regions continue to develop and increase their impact.

Interested in helping to develop a chapter? Join us and let’s get started!