Getting “all in” on poverty reduction

  • Poverty

Caledon Enterprise
By Monty Laskin/Caledon Community Services

Monty Laskin - CEO CCSThe death of innovation. That’s what happens when poverty is tolerated. It’s what happens when we continue with half measures and when we ignore the fact that far too many children in Caledon do not eat a proper breakfast, lunch is rarely better and dinner is hit and miss. One child is too many, no? But that would be pretty wonderful if we were challenged by just one child. Within Caledon Community Services, we’re working closely with more than 200 hundred families where food insecurity is the norm.

Exactly how does poverty spell the death of innovation? Consider this: We are in pursuit of innovation with our cell phones, the money thrown at that is infinite. We fancy innovation in the construction of new green homes, there’s no end to the brilliance emerging in eco-friendly design. And we compete on innovation in the latest greatest product marketing ploys, anything to capture the attention of emerging markets.

But innovation on poverty is absent. Not from the community-based frontlines though. In these organizations, ideas emerge suggesting poverty requires complete system transformation if we aspire to do more than ensure people eek out a survival living.

Innovation can be absent from government when piecemeal policies and programs lend themselves to shocking practices on the ground: People wanting to work lose social assistance benefits and housing allowances; no real action on the obvious connections between poverty and the over-representation of young people in jails; and social assistance providing less than the poverty level itself. This is actually surprising given the push of every level of government to be credible and deliver value for money. What we have instead is a push for austerity everywhere. The results are predictable: inadequate investments to change despair into hope and short-sighted approaches to balancing the books at all costs. Is this not a neglect of poverty? And is poverty surely not one of the most odious challenges facing any growing community like Caledon? The cost, a loss of innovation, is inevitable. If we really want to do something about poverty in our community, we have to eliminate that Dickensonian question that puts the brakes on innovation, “Why are poor citizens deserving of support?” If we set aside judgement and whether one is deserving or not, we can create a very good business case for being innovative, for being “all in” on poverty reduction.

When you ignore poverty in Caledon, the real cost to the community is that innovation dries up and we resign ourselves to the erroneous belief that, “there will always be poor among us”.

Really? This is the best we can do? Do we really want to allow our frontline resources on the poverty front to spend time chasing investment capital so that innovation can flourish? Can you imagine a community in which the investment in poverty reduction rivals investment in residential development and investment in enticing a sound corporate tax base? Imagine Caledon fostering innovation in poverty reduction, encouraging it, doing everything possible to ensure it. In a community known for innovation, tacit acceptance of poverty is the most innovative approach we call upon? Surely those who aspire for Caledon to be a healthy, engaged compassionate community for all won’t settle for the death of innovation when it comes to poverty.

Consider the fact that we’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of debate on a huge warehouse facility for our community; that for years we’ve continued to look at all the angles of Bolton’s residential expansion; and that the quarry discussion captured the attention of the entire community. Surely we have the wherewithal to make poverty in this community a priority. When we do so, we will necessarily invest in innovation. The difference between priorities and dreams is that you invest in the former but just pontificate about the latter.

Within CCS we’re “all in” on this, throwing everything we have at poverty reduction. We’re blessed to have partners on board who want to challenge the silly view that there will always be the poor among us. That’s where the emerging Exchange comes in.

Soon to open on Healey Road in Bolton, the Exchange will be a hive of activity on nutrition, training and community engagement. It will invite seniors, youth, mothers and daughter, fathers and sons, and entire families to get involved in their community. It will welcome sister organizations to deploy their resources while also using those of the Exchange to improve people’s lives.

None of this would be possible were it not for the progressive thinking of our partners and supporters.

David and Marty Graham provided the initial gift from their Family Foundation. They lit the fuse of innovation! Solmar Development Corp. stepped up to completely oversee the build process and ensure that CCS’ vision is fully realized. Mars Canada committed to a five-year investment of money and resources that will support sustainable client services. Town Council invested proceeds of its last golf tournament to fully equip and furnish the Exchange. The Carbone Family promotes family health for years with their time and resources devoted to poverty reduction, youth programs and education. The Bedolfe Foundation invests annually in poverty reduction. Husky Injection Molding challenges the community to match its support to families over the holidays. The United Way includes the Exchange in its priorities for the way ahead as does the Region of Peel. It is so important for us to be part of each of their families of agencies and work closely with both of these forward-thinking funders who reward innovation. Home Depot Canada Foundation, McCain Foods Canada/Nestle Canada and so many Caledon residents are on board.

It is just plain wrong to expect that poverty will correct itself in Caledon simply through trickledown economics, a view that market forces will eventually reach those struggling with poverty. Is there any evidence to suggest this is actually happening? If we relegate poverty innovation to the back benches, we’ll get exactly what we deserve. But if we instead focus on innovation in poverty reduction, the possibilities are inspiring.

When a community is absent a critical mass of resources, both human and capital, to tackle poverty in its own backyard, the real cost is the death of innovation. Any seemingly intractable social or economic problem requires a substantial group of people and businesses to invest, to believe, to support all the way through to success. Nothing else will do. Nothing else should do when it comes to a community’s poverty challenge.

When far too many children in Caledon do not eat a proper breakfast, lunch is rarely better and dinner is hit and miss, it’s most certainly time for innovation. And for serious community investment.

Monty Laskin is the Chief Executive Officer of Caledon Community Services. His columns normally appear monthly in the Caledon Enterprise.

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