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Influencer Institute: Beating Poverty One Vital Behavior at a Time

Andrew MaxfieldAndrew Maxfield is director of the Influencer Institute.

Influencer Institute

What does poverty have in common with obesity? Both are conditions—states of being—that result from repeated behaviors over time—patterns of doing.

If you’ve read Change Anything, you know that we claim both of these conditions can be dramatically and fundamentally altered by changing the habits that produce them. And habits hinge on pivot points called vital behaviors.

Influencer Institute, a charitable private operating foundation funded in part by VitalSmarts, has applied a behavior-change approach to helping people escape the clutches of dire poverty in Oaxaca, Mexico through a partnership with an organization called Cause for Hope. Let me relate a few lessons we’ve learned that can perhaps help you in your own personal change efforts as well as in your training and coaching.

First, insist on vital behaviors. There are many important and interesting behaviors, but few vital ones. You’ll know a vital behavior when you see it because other behaviors and results naturally follow if you get the vital behavior right.

In the case of our experiments in Mexico, participants who lifted themselves out of dire poverty over the course of several months did just a few key things:

  • They made and kept weekly commitments related to growing a small business.
  • They kept daily financial records of income and expenses.
  • They saved an increasing amount of money each week, even if in very small increments.

Take Connie, for example. Now a proud owner of a children’s clothing store, she describes how her monthly income grew from less than $200 to over $400 (and still growing) and how she now has accumulated $800 in savings. Further, her husband’s earnings have improved substantially due to her influence. Her children will have opportunities that she never could have provided without focusing on her vital behaviors.

Second, find or create a team. You might think that getting yourself out of poverty is your battle alone, that it’s a math problem involving your income and your expenses, period. And in a sense, that’s true—at the end of the day, you must be the one to enact the behaviors that change your condition.

However, engaging the help and encouragement of supportive team members is a powerful component in an influence strategy to change your behavior. This has been the case in our work in Mexico, too.

Each participant belongs to a “peer-mentoring group,” which provides the vehicle for ongoing peer-accountability, motivation, and learning. At weekly group meetings, participants engage in a ritual of making and keeping a commitment relative to growing his or her small business and reporting on the prior week’s commitment. Group members hold each other accountable for making steady progress and also participate in joint problem-solving sessions. These participants are progressing together in ways they couldn’t (and didn’t) alone.

Finally, consider a condition in your own life that you’d like to change. It might not be dire poverty, but there is at least one thing that you can learn from this experiment: results ensue when you pursue the vital behaviors.

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

1 thought

  1. JO

    Have you seen some of the new CityLink centers going up around the country? Its essentially a hub of influence sources/resources for poverty. They are run by city government and funded by city and state and non-profit contractors. It could be a great place for Influencer Institute to get involved. Check it out –

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