How can we end poverty in our communities?

Q and A with 2020 Alumni Achievement Award recipient

Paul Born grew up as the son of refugees that worked together to survive and then thrive. Today he is a large-scale community facilitator focused on poverty reduction and a Senior Global Ashoka Fellow. In 2019 Born was appointed to the Order of Canada. Here he shares his expertise and insights on how to help end poverty.

What inspired you to devote yourself to poverty reduction?

Paul BornMy mom and Dad were refugees. We were part of a Mennonite church community of about 400 members who shared the same refugee experience.  Many of the families were led by single mothers (like my grandmother) as most of the adult males had been executed in the Ukraine by Stalin, including both my grandfathers. As a community we joined together to heal from unspeakable horrors experienced as a people. We came to love Canada.

I was driven to try and understand how we might build a peaceful world. I concluded that ending poverty was the most powerful action that could be taken to ensure that no one else would experience what we did.

What do we need to understand about poverty before we can work towards reducing it?

There are many reasons people live in poverty. Ending poverty is complex and for the most part systemic. To end poverty, we need to address racism, inequity of opportunity and the mental models we have created about the nature of success and failure. Why are so many people opposed to a guaranteed basic income or a living wage yet in favour of universal health care? The vast majority of people living in poverty work, live in vibrant families amongst neighbours and move in and out of poverty many times in their lives.

We can end poverty. In the last 5 years Canada has ended poverty for more than 1 million citizens. Through the network of Cities Reducing Poverty I founded in 2002 we have seen a significant reduction in poverty in most of our cities and communities. Canada (pre COVID) has achieved the lowest level of poverty in our history. If we continue as we have, I am convinced we can end economic poverty in Canada by 2030.

Tell us about ‘collective impact’ and ‘community engagement’ and how they make a difference in our communities.

Our approach to ending poverty and building great communities for all is based on a methodology we have created over 30 years. Some of the basics of this technology I discovered while a student at the University of Waterloo. As David Brooks New York Times columnist describes our work, “They adopted a specific methodology to fight poverty. So, they began building citywide and communitywide structures. They started 15 years ago with just six cities, but now they have 72 regional networks covering 344 towns.”

First through wide ranging community engagement techniques we help communities agree on a common agenda and a shared measurement goal. We then advance mutually reinforcing activities that are multi sector, encouraging business, government, not for profit organizations and people in poverty to collaborate. Through continuous communication and a unique governance structure we advance place-based strategies to reduce poverty.

What actions can individuals take to help?

I want you to keep giving to charities and food banks that help the poor. We need to help people in poverty survive. When you do give, I want you to commit to learning about reducing poverty remembering one idea, “We want less poor not better poor”. Great places to live for us all, means that we have ended poverty in our community. This is our best chance for a peaceful and prosperous society. Ending poverty is the best thing you can do for the future of your children and those you love.

Read Paul Born’s Alumni Achievement Award citation.