While sharing a coffee with some colleagues the other day, the topic of poverty and its undercurrents was brought forward. One of my fellow-travellers – let’s call her Mary – works directly with an agency that deals with it in several ways, though she often wonders whether they are making a significant difference in a transformative fashion, or just settling for providing the necessary help to fellow citizens facing serious hardships – the so called bandage intervention, of course necessary.
Then, another colleague – we may call him Jimmy – who was until recently involved in policy making dealing specifically with the issue of poverty, said some adjustment were made, increases in support, and additional resources brought to bear. While sipping our coffee I couldn’t help but think why in a city|province and country as wealthy as ours we have poverty in the first place?
- “There is no fundamental social change by being simply of individual and interpersonal actions. You have to have organizations and institutions that make a fundamental difference.” – Cornel West
Who could possibly benefit by having families, individuals and many kids living in constant hardship, and I am not talking just about people who may receive financial support from governments, I am also talking about the so called “working poor” – a big segment of our population that no matter how hard they work and produce, they are constantly falling behind, struggling to meet their most basic needs, including having enough money to buy food or medicine.
My friend Mary said how appalling it is to witness families and/or individuals having to make decisions such as – “do I buy these medicines” or “do I buy food” … Jimmy concurred, even if in his position, he was far from the frontlines of poverty and hardships – his empathy towards his fellow-citizens always showing on his skin, so to speak.
- “Love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that’s being pushed to the margins right now, and you can see it.” – Cornel West
But, which organizations? Which institutions? Governments? Non-profits? The private sector? Banks? The conversation moved to exploring the notion of social responsibility in a larger canvass, equity and sharing resources in whatever form possible and ideally within a dynamic cycle of engagements by those directly affected by the ups & downs of our economic system, even if it sometimes for temporary relief. Then Mary said something requiring deeper thought; how do I as social worker and others in the field can create or be part of a larger social impact in poverty alleviation; eventually, its elimination? Has the time for a guaranteed basic income come? …
- “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”– Toni Morrison
Jimmy posed the question – do political parties have to play a role? Of course, said Marco, who had been rather quiet until now – civil society organizations should lead, cultivate its leadership and become the main protagonist, otherwise little will change beside cosmetic policymaking. I ventured to say, as it was time to return back to our endeavours, that we need to take time to articulate what would effective samples of a world (or rather, a city) without poverty could look like, and maybe model or pilot initiatives that would and could empower “the poor” to break free from the bondage of poverty. We all nodded in agreement – let’s keep the conversation going said Mary. –