Poverty is a complex issue. It’s an issue that cannot be approached in isolation or solved by a select few – it effects everyone, is experienced by people in different ways, and involves a significant number of interrelated elements and stakeholders. We know this. We know that when working on complex problems, such as poverty, finding comprehensive solutions requires communities to come together to leverage and better understand their assets – knowledge, experience, skills and resources – to truly see and act on the issue from all angles.
Momentum around the importance of bringing everyone to the table to combat complex issues has been growing over the years, particularly with the introduction of collective impact in 2011 (See: Kania and Kramer, 2011). Over the last 15 years Vibrant Communities Canada (a division of the Tamarack Institute) has been building a network of cities committed to working collaboratively to reduce poverty. Cities Reducing Poverty is a collective impact movement of 57 member cities or regions who together aim to reduce poverty through local interventions at the individual and household levels and through policy and systems changes. These local, multi-sector initiatives are bolstered by provincial and territorial poverty reduction strategies and by the federal government’s recent mandate to develop a Canadian poverty reduction strategy. Together, we are in the midst of a country-wide movement to overcome poverty.
However, while we say bringing all voices to the table is key in moving the needle on issues like poverty, the practice of doing it is not so simple. Oftentimes it is the process of engaging the right people from across multiple sectors and viewpoints and harnessing that engagement to create lasting change that can be the most challenging. Overrepresentation of some sectors over others, too much emphasis on the ‘usual suspects’ and muted voices from individuals who might understand the issue the closest but lack the connections to participate, are all common challenges collaborative change-makers can attest to.
At a Cities Reducing Poverty summit last year in Edmonton, Ruth Kelly, President & CEO of Venture Publishing Inc., took to the stage in front of over 330 poverty reduction practitioners, people with lived experience and elected municipal officials and staff and stated that she was likely the only business person in the room. She also warned the audience, “if you don’t engage them [the business sector] early on, they will be barriers to your success.” She spoke about the importance of educating all members of society about the benefits (social and otherwise) of poverty reduction and that everyone needs to be part of the solution. Before receiving a round of great applause, Kelly also shared her hope that, “next year’s conference would engage a broader group of people so that we’re not just talking about ourselves to ourselves, but that we are bringing in all of us to create solutions together.” See the full video here.
This year, Tamarack’s Cities Reducing Poverty: When Business is Engaged Summit will be hosted in Hamilton, ON from April 4-6 and the often-underrepresented voices will be given a new opportunity to join the conversation. Business leaders will join together with community organizers, mayors and municipal staff, federal and provincial/territorial governments, Indigenous leaders, as well as funders, policy makers, and persons with lived experience to talk about how together we can end poverty.
We know that the business sector has an immense and important role to play in our collective efforts to end poverty. However, let’s remember that this doesn’t mean that business leaders will have all of the answers. Only by meaningfully including representatives from all sectors can we begin to piece together the poverty reduction puzzle, and start to re-imagine, re-align and re-discover what we can do to make our communities more vibrant and prosperous for all.