Forty Under 40: Christina Williams

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,794 views 

Class of 2023 Forty Under 40 Christina Williams Founder & Executive Director Circles NWA, Fayetteville

From a childhood in Hong Kong, an entrepreneurial father, and parents who exposed her to service and varied people and experiences, Christina Williams developed a life mission to help people escape poverty.

Three years ago, she launched Circles NWA, the local chapter of the national Circles USA financial stability nonprofit.

Circles flips the traditional mentorship model, putting the people receiving help in charge of leading the growth process. These Circle “leaders” team with “allies,” middle- and upper-income people who ask questions and learn first, then advise when appropriate.

The chapter now has three full-time and five part-time employees. Williams also created a nonprofit parent organization, Innovative Poverty Solutions, with broader goals for the future.

After earning a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Arkansas in 2015, Williams managed a research team for Field Agent and was director of research and strategy for Potter’s House.

She and her husband were drawn to seek solutions for poverty after befriending people with low incomes and longing for them to experience upward mobility.

“We spent the past decade trying to learn from people experiencing poverty and get in close proximity with them. We shared meals at soup kitchens, built friendships and invited people into our homes,” she says. “For all the good things happening in NWA, we saw a lot of work to manage poverty, but we weren’t seeing it reduced or ended.”

With her market research and program evaluation background, Williams defines success by Circle Leaders’ progress (increase of incomes and community connections) and by whether there is a shift in how community members understand and think about poverty.

“That’s the precursor to community and policy change,” she says.