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A Conversation with Alicia Atkinson

United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey recently welcomed Alicia Atkinson to the team as Managing Director, Financial Empowerment. Let's learn a bit about Alicia and her journey to United Way:


What drew you to United Way’s mission?

I was drawn to United Way’s bold mission along with the team’s thoughtful approach to partnerships and deep roots in the community. As we move forward in tackling complex multifaceted challenges around financial stability, we need a thoughtful, sustained, and place-based approach. I believe the United Way has the tools and relationships required to move transformative programs forward with communities in the Greater Philadelphia area.


When did you first start your journey in the financial empowerment sector?

My journey with Financial Empowerment started in graduate school at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. As part of my Poverty Alleviation Concentration curriculum, one of my first required classes was Assets and the Poor, where we read Michael Sherraden’s foundational book of the same name. I was fortunate enough to work at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy during my time in graduate school as well, and dig deep into longitudinal qualitative and quantitative data around the Racial and Gender Wealth Gap. Throughout my career, I’ve continually been drawn to the need to be thoughtful on how each anti-poverty program, policy, or product we pursue is allowing families to build and maintain social, financial, and human capital. As I’ve researched and designed programs and policies with people experiencing financial insecurity, I’ve become even more convinced of the need for low-income households to have consistent and reliable access to financial assets in order to weather financial shocks and to plan beyond tomorrow.

What’s something that you wish more people knew in regards to your portfolio of work?

I have a passion for participatory research, design, and evaluation of programs that center dignity, respect, and choice in government programs and services. One of my proudest achievements is having an article published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Participatory Research, featuring a project I led around how families save and learn together. The program was designed to disrupt the shame and judgment many families may feel during traditional financial education classes. Instead, the curriculum honors and supports the unique ways families who are experiencing deep poverty save while providing a safe space to explore the difficult financial trade-offs families have to make daily.


Do you have a favorite book or inspirational quote that resonates with you?

Wow, I love this question. I recently read Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown and her words and process of moving transformative ideas forward have been at the forefront of my mind lately. I have also found Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva and Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas to be important books for our field as we aim to shift conditions in communities experiencing poverty. I’m an avid reader, and I would love any and all book recommendations!


United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey is in the active pursuit of barriers that stand in the way of communities being able to thrive. To learn more about our Financial Empowerment efforts to support individual and family income, assets, and stability, please visit here.

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