The 10th Anniversary of My Final Rejection

Remarks by Mae Watson Grote, founder and Executive Director of The Financial Clinic at the 10th Anniversary Celebration Honoring Bill Eggers, author of The Social Revolution

Clinic Founder and Executive Director Mae Watson Grote with Board Members.

Clinic Founder and Executive Director Mae Watson Grote with Board Members.

Many thanks to the Clinic’s Board of Directors for their leadership, bringing this organization into its second decade, and thanks to everyone attending tonight for joining us to celebrate this momentous occasion…

…which I know many of you think is a celebration of the Clinic’s 10-year anniversary, but in fact, exactly 10 years ago—May 2005—I received my very last rejection for a fellowship to launch the Clinic.

I had this idea that working poor people’s financial security was worthy of support. This was radical if you consider it was my fourth or fifth rejection. Or, it was a premonition if you consider that there are now thousands of financial coaches across the county, an entire sector of nonprofits focusing on financial capability, and a new federal agency—the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau—with an entire team and agenda devoted to our emerging sector.

While I’ll take the lion share of the credit for that initial idea, the more remarkable thing is what the Clinic’s incredible team has accomplished in just 10 years. As Margarita [Brose, the Clinic’s Chair] noted, we’ve put $30 million in the pockets of 15,000 working poor people. We are most definitively accomplishing our mission.

I have the privilege of working with colleagues and directors who have also made our vision—systemically building the financial security of the 20 percent of Americans who struggle to make ends meet—a reality.

I’d like to illustrate how this dedicated and driven team is taking concrete steps to vision with three brief examples.

But before I do so, let me note that one of the reasons I’m most proud of this team is our collective commitment to innovation. Instead of following any commonly accepted limitations to anti-poverty work, the Clinic’s team always looks beyond. “Scrappy start-up” might have captured that mindset for our first five years, but not as cute as we approach the mid-life cycle!

Celebrating 10 years of The Financial Clinic.

Celebrating 10 years of The Financial Clinic.

After absorbing Bill Eggers’s esteemed work, I think I found it: We’re Wavemakers! Our goal is to solve problems, rather than simply expand a successful program. I’m now convinced that to have progress on vision you must be a Wavemaker.

To wit:

One, the Clinic is a Wavemaker, evidenced by the fact that Urban Institute chose it for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s inaugural rigorous evaluation of our field, so that our innovations and fresh approach to old issues will become the “gold standard” for how thousands of financial coaches will implement high-performing services.

Two, the Clinic’s team is comprised of Wavemakers because in seeking to disrupt old operating models for alleviating poverty, we’ve changed city policies to create systemic solutions: So that tens of thousands of New Yorkers achieve greater financial security, whether they walk through the Clinic’s doors or not.

Third, we are Wavemakers because we are erasing public-private sector boundaries by creating a social enterprise, Change Machine, which will not only scale our mission, but create faster, better, cheaper outcomes for our partners as well.

May I ask my colleagues and the directors to make themselves known by raising their hand, or maybe doing a happy dance, so that we may applaud you for making the Clinic’s vision a reality in only 10 short years.

And so it is a great honor to have Bill Eggers, the man who gave us a fantastic new description—Wavemakers!—that perfectly captures how the Clinic thinks about solving the problem of financial insecurity, here tonight to help us celebrate our accomplishments. It is my pleasure to confer the Clinic’s Directors Award to Bill for his expansive work to redefine the way the public and private sectors can solve society’s toughest problems, like financial insecurity. Thank you Bill!