The NYC Center for Economic Opportunity’s recent Poverty Measure categorizes more than 21 percent of the City’s 8.3 million New Yorkers as living below the poverty threshold. But the fight to combat the poverty crisis in New York City is not new. In 2006, as a champion of innovative programs, the Center for Economic Opportunity launched the first-of-its-kind Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) in the Department of Consumer Affairs with the mandate to educate, empower and protect individuals and families with low incomes. 

Now in 2015, with the generous support of Citi Community Development, the Office of Financial Empowerment has come to together with the Center for Economic Opportunity, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, and Parsons The New School for Design's Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab to launch Designing for Financial Empowerment.

Designing for Financial Empowerment is a cross-sector initiative to explore how service design can be used to discover, understand, and leverage opportunities for integrating financial empowerment services into existing human services.

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; identifying the interrelated needs of the most vulnerable populations, including minorities, youth, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated; and enabling community members to participate in the co-design and prototyping of the very services that they use.

Since financial instability is often a common thread throughout these vulnerable populations, Designing for Financial Empowerment is researching how integrated human services could meet multiple social, health, housing, family, and employment needs and build on financial empowerment programs that increase access to economic opportunities such as microenterprise development, cooperative economic practices, financial literacy, microfinance and skills training.