Up at Night

Author: Heather Reynolds, LEO Managing Director

I recently talked with a good friend who was struggling at work. She asked for my advice. Not close to the problem she was encountering, my role became that of a listener and question-asker. Could I have spouted a lot of ideas about what she could do to improve her situation? Sure. Would that have been helpful? Probably not. My friend had her own answers. She just needed someone who would listen to help her get to her own “ah-ha.”

This conversation reminded me of one of my favorite tenants of the Catholic Church—the teaching of subsidiarity. Nowhere is LEO’s foundation more evident than in our embodiment of subsidiarity—the idea that those closest to a problem are best suited to solve it. We believe that social service providers—those serving people in their communities day-in and day-out—are key to understanding how to end poverty.

This is core to how we do our work, embracing bottom-up solutions from all types of providers throughout the nation. We believe that when we partner with these service providers to study the interventions they have developed, the evidence we produce together lights the way to learning even more about what works to end poverty. LEO has 77 social service partners dedicated to testing their ideas, building evidence, and sharing what works with more people who need it.

The value of subsidiarity makes our mission work better. It’s practical. In this issue, you’ll read about Corner to Corner, one of our newest research partnerships in Nashville, Tennessee. When co-founder Will Acuff started Corner to Corner, he did so after spending years living in the community, understanding what the community needed, and hearing about the hopes and dreams his neighbors had for themselves. As a result, Corner to Corner developed the Academy, a program designed to help Black entrepreneurs start, support, and grow their businesses. Corner to Corner is an incredible organization doing life-changing work. I have no doubt their services are better because they were designed in collaboration with those the very closest to the issue of poverty.

I also think about our partners at Thread in Baltimore. They’re working to build community and a sense of belonging with high school students, to improve high school completion rates in a community that often feels hopeless. Thread’s leadership team has developed an organization that puts the voices of these high school students front and center in their work. Thread Family Volunteers don’t just show up once—they show up for years, forming deep connections that last a lifetime. These deep connections facilitate a vital feedback loop. In such deep relationship with their high school students, the Thread team always has its finger on the pulse of what their students need—and don’t need.     

It would be easy for organizations like Corner to Corner and Thread to design their programs in the board room. Instead, they start their programs in the community, in solidarity with the poor. Like us, they believe that the solutions that are best positioned to work, and to eventually scale, are those that are developed by the very people they are intended to help. These are the solutions that I am proud LEO gets the opportunity to test.

Our work at LEO is done with service provider partners leading the way. And while it is not always easy to integrate services and research, this type of partnership remains LEO’s heartbeat. The best solutions aren’t going to be discovered inside a building at Notre Dame. The best solutions are created by those closest to the problem of poverty, our partners, and the people they serve.

As we enter LEO’s second decade, we are proud to be scaling our work in partnership with poverty’s fiercest adversaries and in alignment with Notre Dame’s call to have a disciplined sensibility to fighting poverty, inequity, and injustice. For LEO, this means we are not only called to scale for the sake of our mission, but also because we are part of a larger institution whose own mission demands us to. And doing so with subsidiarity at the center of our work, the impact our partners are positioned to have is incredible.