Thinking about Progress


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I am glad to see so much attention being paid by many community groups to addressing poverty. The Vibrant Communities initiative across the country is heartening and it is producing results in terms of achieving poverty reduction for thousands of households. An evaluation of this intiative is forthcoming, if not already released from Tamarack.

I am heartened by work of Homeward Trust and the substantive work this cross sector collaboration has accomplished to date. I am glad to see the Government of Alberta providing significant funding to help homeless people find a place to live and refresh their lives. It will be interesting to see if the recent Homeless Count in Edmonton will reflect the successes of this initiative or if homeless continues to grow despite these successes.

The question on many minds is to what extent is the work the sector and its partners are doing moving the needle on poverty and homelessness. It is not that these intiatives are not having successes, but rather is the rate of poverty and homelessness still growing beyond those who have been helped?

Quite often I hear non profit leaders criticize themselves and the sector for not moving the needle on poverty and homelessness as if addressing these problems are the sector`s alone to remedy. We all know to address such complex issues, all three sectors – the government, business, and the nonprofit sector – must do so together – not to mention another group called the general public. These are societal challenges, not one`s sector.

I wonder if the real truth here is that the problems and issues facing society are growing beyond our collective capacity to address them, much less over come them. If an initiative results in several thousand people moving out of poverty but overall the poverty rate is increasing, is this the fault of the intiative or does such growth indicate that the problem is growing faster than our answers?

Society has a history of under funding solutions to its problems. Approximately 15,000 people go to the Edmonton foodbank each month. If this number increases in the future what will that mean? Will it mean failure for the poverty reduction iniatives underway?

I think we can point to a lot of  progress, a lot of successes, and alot of people being helped to overcome poverty and homelessness, not to mention other problems. That progress requires more volume and that will take the collective will to create the capacity required to move the needle.

For me, this is a community development challenge and speaks to the vision and aspirations the community itself has for the community. Do we want to manage poverty so that it stays at an acceptable level or do we believe it is wrong that people are poor and we need to do something about ALL of it?

This suggests to me that the solution is not a programmatic one. It is not confined to poverty reduction initiatives or to housing initiatives. First, these are value questions society needs to address. If we don`t care enough as a society to eliminate poverty and homelessness then we won`t. If we do care enough, then the hope to change things will be accompanied by the will and resources to act.

Maybe that sounds a bit altruitstic or idealistic or whatever. What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Holmgren
Mark Holmgren Consulting
Mark Holmgren is committed to helping non profit organizations and local governments build capacities for new visions. Mark does this through the provision of custom designed strategic services that fit an organization's culture as well as its aspirations.


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