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. 


At the center of the fight to reduce income inequality and expand economic opportunity, the Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) works to support New Yorkers and communities with low incomes in building wealth and improving financial capabilities.

OFE is the first local government initiative in the country with the mission to educate, empower and protect New Yorkers and neighborhoods with low incomes so they can build assets and make the most of their financial resources. OFE uses the tools of research, programs and services, financial products, partnerships, policy, and convenings to advance its mission. In addition, OFE employs five core strategies:

  1. Boosting income and building assets
  2. Providing free, high-quality, one-on-one financial counseling and coaching
  3. Increasing access to safe and affordable financial services and products
  4. Advocating for consumers in the marketplace
  5. Empowering low-income neighborhoods to generate wealth

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 Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) uses evidence and innovation to reduce poverty and increase equity. We advance research, data and design in the City’s program and policy development, service delivery, and budget decisions. Our work includes analyzing existing anti-poverty approaches, developing new interventions, facilitating the sharing of data across City agencies, and rigorously assessing the impact of key initiatives. NYC Opportunity manages a discrete fund and works collaboratively with City agencies to design, test and oversee new programs and digital products. It also produces research and analysis of poverty and social conditions, including its influential annual Poverty Measure, which provides a more accurate and comprehensive picture of poverty in New York City than the federal rate. Part of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYC Opportunity is active in supporting the de Blasio administration’s priority to make equity a core governing principle across all agencies.

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.