University Establishes System-Wide Anti-Poverty Federation

All 10 Blum Centers from each UC campus will merge to form the Blum Federation, the UC Office of the President announced in a press release Feb. 8. The Blum Centers conduct research on poverty in California.

The purpose behind the merger is to allow campuses to share their specialized research, UCOP Media Specialist Kate Moser told the UCSD Guardian.

“The Blum Federation expands the systemwide impact of and access to each campus Blum Center in the service of fighting poverty globally,” Moser said. “Each Blum Center has a unique specialty, and coordinating on a systemwide level gives UC researchers and students across campuses a chance to benefit from each other’s expertise for new research and education opportunities.”   

In order to develop the resources to collaborate across the UC system, the UCOP issued a $1.32 million grant in seed funding to finance the merger.

The money is not to be spent on base funding for each program, UCSD Associate Political Science Professor and co-founder of the UCSD Blum Center Fonna Forman told the Guardian.

“What that money is intended to do is to elevate our capacity to be a contributor to the Federation,” Forman said. “It is not intended to actually infuse support into our local programming.”

Forman also noted that the new federation will have an important impact on the UCSD Blum Center, allowing them to improve their research and interactions with more university students.

“It is going to make our research better because we will have a repository of knowledge that we can all draw from,” Forman stated. “It is going to be this amazing networking opportunity for students to study across the state.” 

The UCSD Blum Center has a transnational specialty. Its main project, the “UCSD Cross-Border Initiative,” studies the wealth of San Diego and the extreme poverty across the border in Mexico.

Forman’s counterpart at the UCSD Blum Center, co-founder and Visual Arts Professor Teddy Cruz, told the Guardian that with this new Blum Federation in place, students from other campuses will be able to come and gain hands-on experience with international poverty.

“The asset that we bring to the whole network is that students from [UC] Berkeley, [UC] Irvine or UCLA can come to work in very real settings on experiential learning by engaging these neighborhoods that are definitely very poor and disenfranchised,” said Cruz. “Instead of sending the students to Africa, they can be in some of the poorest areas of Latin America in the morning doing field work, and in the afternoon, they can be back in the lab or the classroom.”

Other Blum centers also examine a variety of interdisciplinary aspects when trying to understand poverty, UC Irvine Blum Foundation Director Richard Matthew explained to the Guardian.

“The campuses take different approaches,” Matthew said. “Some focus on poverty in relation to health, like UCLA, or poverty in relation to engineering and innovation, like UC Berkeley.”

According to Heather Lofthouse, Director of Special Projects at the UC Berkeley Blum Center, prior to the formation of the collaborative Blum Federation, UC Berkeley’s program facilitated most of the centers’ communication.

“Before we had multiple teleconferences each year and in-person meetings,” Lofthouse explained to the UCSD Guardian. “[The merge] will ensure that we have more of those and that we can incorporate students into more of those meetings.”

Cruz explained that this increase in communication will not be without its challenges. Centers might struggle with needing to both advance their own research and share it with others.

“Before you collaborate, you have to produce the content that you want to share,” Cruz said. “When we are struggling to make this project actually sustainable on the ground, it is difficult to imagine having enough energy to also be administering the kind of communication that we have to have in the network.”

However, according to Matthew, the foundation of the Blum Federation created an unprecedented level of enthusiasm.

“I have been in the UC system for 17 years, and this is the first time that I have seen so much excitement and energy about collaborating and finding the platform to collaborate,” Matthew said. “It makes me feel very much impressed by the potential that the UC system has to solve some of these real world problems.”