In many ways, individual outcomes are beyond one’s self control and instead shaped by the opportunity structures with which we interact.

The following is crossposted from

As I prepared my carry-on for an escape to Miami for the first 2013 PLACES Fellows meeting last December, I focused more on preparing myself mentally for an expected flood of challenging new concepts and conversations with my PLACES cohort. Two nights later, as I boarded a flight to an all-staff meeting, I left South Florida a bit satiated yet completely captivated with the new frameworks that promised significant implications for my work as an equity-minded funder. Having now had a month to mull over Miami’s lessons, there are two main takeaways I want to highlight for all philanthropy professionals interested in contributing to scaled impact for low-income communities and communities of color.

1. Map out structures to bring stakeholders to the table.

On the first day in Miami, Professor john a. powell from University of California, Berkeley, spoke in depth about the structural fairness of the systems currently in place in our society. A foundational tenet of his argument was that individual outcomes are shaped by opportunity structures which either enhance or constrain one’s ability to succeed; simply put, these structures are not neutral. And they exist in housing, education, transportation, and many other systems. In many ways, individual outcomes are thus beyond one’s self control and instead shaped by the opportunity structures with which we interact.

Professor powell compellingly argued further that by mapping out a particular opportunity structure, individuals can see where they are situated along it and begin to identify points of intervention to change outcomes. In turn, by addressing the underlying structures instead of addressing individual needs (i.e. reforming school district policy and practices instead of creating targeted mentoring programs), we can address intervention points to create scaled impact.

This push to be more deliberate and clear in how we think about abstract, large scale problems got me thinking. At Living Cities, we similarly believe in the need to address the existing broken and misaligned systems which produce uneven access to opportunity for low-income people. Yet we can do more to clearly articulate what constitutes a system and how systems need to be changed to maximize benefit for low-income people. There are promising cases where our partners on the ground have demonstrated the strengths of laying out what an opportunity structure actually looks like. One such example would be the Strive Network’s work to support children from cradle to career.

Continue reading and find out the second way to leverage structural and cultural impact at