Design for Financial Empowerment

Making Public Financial Services more Effective and Accessible


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.

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. DFE started in 2014, when 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. 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.

In Tax Time Services, the first project from Designing for Financial Empowerment, they explored how to expand uptake of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by making free tax preparation services in New York City more effective and accessible.

In Citizenship and Financial Empowerment, The New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) joined with Citi Community Development and the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab at the Parsons School of Design to develop a new approach that maximizes the economic benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen by weaving citizenship and financial empowerment together more effectively.

In Financial Counseling, DFE’s team works to encourage more long-term engagement from New Yorkers so that counselors and clients can work together to understand the client’s current needs and create a roadmap for reaching their goals.



+ Students from Transdisciplinary Design Spring 2016 Intensive studio class

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