Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of joining staff, members, and long-standing partners of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) at the Perkins Centre in Hamilton. The occasion was a roundtable meeting to take stock of the HRPR’s past ten years of work and to discuss the years ahead. To mark this decade-long anniversary, the Hamilton Spectator recently released a 7-part series in the Hamilton poverty project, which you can access here.
The meeting started off with a brief introduction from HRPR Chair and Managing Editor at the Hamilton Spectator, Howard Elliot, followed by special guest speaker Dana Robbins, Vice-President and Group Publisher at Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Dana approached his speech with a personal story about his childhood friend, Wayne, who knew poverty all too well starting from an early age. If you haven’t yet had a chance to hear the story of Wanye, you can listen to it here in a keynote speech that Dana delivered at this year’s National Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa. It’s an empathetic story of how a young boy recognized his friend’s early and harsh experience with poverty and how it differed from his own – a story that many of us can relate to.
Dana also touched on his father’s experience as a hard rock minor, a man who worked tirelessly to escape the label of working poor and to victoriously enter the middle class. Comparing his father’s heyday to now, Dana talked about the indifference people have towards poverty that has arisen due to the number of children that have grown up in the middle-class. This indifference, he said, is the very thing that gives income inequality its corrosiveness. When we cannot understand the experience of poverty, we cannot understand how our actions contribute to an ever growing income gap and increasing margin of inequality. He proposed that we need to replace sympathy for the poor with empathy, to get inside the experience of poverty and ensure our individual and collective actions don’t do more harm than good. Indeed, I think things would look very different if we all thought and acted from a place of empathy more often.
Dana then shared what he pesonally considers the four greatest achievements of the Hamilton Roundtable:
Tom Cooper, Director of the Roundtable, spoke to more of Hamilton’s recent wins including 25 active living wage employers and recent work they’ve done with the province to limit and regulate predatory loan agencies.
After these great successes were addressed and celebrated, we broke off into dialogue groups to discuss how the Roundtable should move forward in five key areas: tools, connections, attitudes and narratives, policy and research, and meeting needs in the community. We considered what and who were missing from the Roundtable's current activities and how to bridge the gaps. It was quite exciting to particpate in this conversation which will go towards informing the HRPR's next strategy.
As a VC Partner attending my first HRPR meeting, a few reflections stood out as likely contributors to Hamilton's past successes and as influencers for its future success:
In the Cities Reducing Poverty movement we’ve long recognized the HRPR for its bold leadership and willingness to push the political envelope. With fertile ground already set for the next decade of work, I have no doubt we’ll continue to see great things come out of Hamilton.
Thanks again to Tom, Jen and Celeste for allowing me to join you and the numerous other members of the HRPR for this momentus occasion!
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