SAINT JOHN - The city's unique way of tackling poverty will be celebrated at a "social innovation" forum put on by Vibrant Communities next month.
Organizers hope to draw big name speakers to the all-day event, to be held Jan. 20 at the UNBSJ Grand Hall uptown.
"It's the first time we've actually convened a session to talk about such an obvious strength in Saint John," said Chris Baker, president of Continuum Research, which has been hired to help put on the event together with Gary Stairs of Stellar Learning Strategies.
"We're not hiding our talents under the bushel basket," Baker said. "We're putting them on display for all to see, as a recognition of this is what we do, this is what we do every day."
Baker and Stairs, along with Regena Farnsworth, the chairwoman of the leadership roundtable for Vibrant Communities, revealed the plans for the forum in an editorial board meeting with the Telegraph-Journal Wednesday.
Farnsworth, who is also the dean of the Faculty of Business at UNBSJ, said when she travels to other cities, people always talk about how unique Saint John is and the great poverty reduction initiatives happening.
"People all over the country want to know how you get the business community engaged in anti-poverty initiatives," she said, referring to the Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative in Saint John.
The forum will also present an opportunity for Vibrant Communities - which acts as a policy umbrella for the city's five priority neighbourhoods - to review its strategic plan, she said.
Wendy MacDermott, the former co-ordinator of the organization, is the new executive director of the United Way of Greater Saint John. The organization is now being run by an acting co-ordinator until a new plan is established.
Stairs said the idea of social innovation and poverty is somewhat of a paradox, and it presents a new way of thinking about the issue.
"People are not just waiting for a cheque from Ottawa or Fredericton - but we're telling the stories of success and resilience and tenacity. We're celebrating their spirit and collaborative efforts," he said.
Vibrant Communities has existed since 2004, running with the goal to reduce poverty to 15 per cent by 2015. Poverty rates have dropped from 30 to 20 per cent, as a result of various anti-poverty initiatives in the city, Farnsworth said.
"There's been a remarkable improvement," she said, but there is still much work to do.
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