Just over one in every five of New York City’s 8.2 million residents are living below the poverty line, according to the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity. For these vulnerable households, financial instability is the common thread that often connects issues of health, family, housing, employment, food security and other challenges. But while the fight to combat the poverty crisis in New York City is an old one, the City is engaging new partnerships and exploring new approaches for developing services that address the complex challenges facing low-income New Yorkers and empower them to achieve a secure financial future.

In 2014, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment and Citi Community Development brought together the Center for Economic Opportunity, the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab at the Parsons School of Design and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to launch Designing for Financial Empowerment.

Designing for Financial Empowerment (DFE) is a cross-sector initiative to explore how service design can be used to make public sector financial empowerment services more effective and accessible.
This landmark initiative envisions New York City and other large urban areas challenging the cycle of poverty by holistically examining current public policy and service offerings; understanding the interrelated needs of the City’s most vulnerable populations; and enabling community members to participate in the co-design of the very services that they use, alongside policymakers, advocates and service providers.


As the first local government initiative in the country with the specific mission to educate, empower, and protect individuals and families with low incomes, OFE creates innovative programs, products, and services for New Yorkers so they can build assets and make the most of their financial resources. OFE’s goal is to increase access to high-quality, low-cost financial education and counseling; connect individuals to safe and affordable mainstream banking and products and services; improve access to income-boosting tax credits, savings, and other asset building opportunities; and enforce and improve consumer financial protections to safeguard financial stability. To this end, OFE works with government agencies, community-based organizations, philanthropic partners, think tanks, and the private sector.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs promotes the well-being of immigrant communities by recommending policies and programs that facilitate successful integration of immigrant New Yorkers into the civic, economic, and cultural life of the City.

The Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) is the City of New York’s anti-poverty innovation unit. Working in conjunction with City Agencies and other partners, CEO develops, manages and evaluates program and policy initiatives to help the City improve its systems and identify effective responses to poverty and its related challenges. CEO provides expertise in the areas of evaluation, policy research, and program design and management related to antipoverty programs and policies.

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization that facilitates high-impact public-private partnerships throughout New York City’s five boroughs, including Designing for Financial Empowerment. As the City of New York’s primary non-profit partner, the Mayor’s Fund works to combine the reach of government with the creativity of the private sector. The Fund leverages individual, philanthropic, and corporate partnerships to support public programs advancing key Mayoral and agency priorities. The Mayor’s Fund is focused on supporting public programs in areas including mental health, youth workforce development, immigration and citizenship, domestic violence, financial empowerment and support for young men and women of color.

Parsons DESIS Lab practices a multidisciplinary approach to social and service innovation, providing a unique capability to integrate theory, research and practice. The Parsons DESIS team for this project includes designers, and public policy experts from across The New School with areas of concentration including: financial empowerment in low-income communities, alternative financial services, and cross-sector partnerships focused on poverty alleviation and capacity building for community-based organizations.
Citi, the leading global bank, has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citi provides consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, transaction services, and wealth management.


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