Recent News

January 17, 2017

Seeking Insights From Those We Help

United Way defines Equity as fair and just inclusion where all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. We commit to equity in every aspect of our work. To achieve the Bold Goals, we recognize disparities by race, class, and gender are pronounced and require we intentionally focus resources on vulnerable and traditionally marginalized populations.  

“As United Way gears up to fight even harder for opportunity for everyone in our community, we know we have to start with learning directly from those we are seeking to help,” says Ross Meyer, vice president of community impact, United Way of Greater Cincinnati.


That is the basis of Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change, a report developed by our partners at social innovation firm Design Impact, and funded by United Way.

Download and read the full report

Design Impact has worked on more than 30 projects directly related to poverty and inequity in the Greater Cincinnati region using their human-centered design approach — putting the individual in the center to try and understand and empathize with their wants, needs and desires.

While each project looked at separate social problems, the Design Impact team began to see patterns in the insights collected. As United Way develops a new approach to funding strategies to move more families out of poverty, a deeper dive into these “metathemes” to reveal a more nuanced understanding of structural inequality, potentially leading to a more transformational framework for addressing inequities.


“We want to start hearing from, learning from, and incorporating these insights directly from the families and individuals we’re seeking to help,” said Meyer. “A lot directly address the kind of systems changes that needs to happen; the way United Way needs to change how we do things, the way partner agencies can do things differently to better incorporate and learn from those we are seeking to help. It can help us be even more courageous in tackling the inequities that are creating poverty in our community.”

The Design Impact team has currently uncovered six metathemes to catalyze the beginning this new dialogue for social sector change-makers. The ultimate goal is for the six metathemes to be revisited, refined and reimagined by others seeking to drive equity and innovation in the social sector.

The Metathemes

1. Bridge Norms

Value me for who I am, not who I’m told to be. Challenge me to grow.

2. Go Beyond Feedback

Move from community voice to community leadership 

3. Feed My Soul

Tap into my passion, tap into my power. 

4. Redesign the System

Decrease system complexity to increase engagement and dignity

5. Give Room to Heal

Consider my whole self, including my trauma and history 

6. Keep Promises

Show up every time. Deliver on your word


Meyer says United Way is applying this information on two fronts.

“Internally, we’re using this in a pretty integral way to incorporate the insights gained and inform how we’re designing our new approach to expand opportunity for families in poverty. We’re also using this with our agency partners to help equip them with not only understanding the insights, but in developing their calls to action in response.


Portions of this story were taken from the Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change report by Design Impact. To learn more, contact Kate Hanisian, Design Impact,