Imagine a country where kids don’t have to go to school hungry.
Imagine there are no homeless people.
Imagine working for a living and not having to rely on food banks.
More than one hundred Canadian Mayors and Councilors do.
So do Paul Born and Mark Holmgren. Paul founded Vibrant Communities Canada and Mark is the current Director. Vibrant Communities’ bold goal is nothing short of aligning municipal, provincial, territorial and federal poverty reduction strategies in order to reduce poverty for one million Canadians.
That’s why they are hosting Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead, an unprecedented gathering in Edmonton, April 5 – 7. The heart, vision and intelligence behind Vibrant Communities and the summit is Paul Born. I wrote about Paul in my new book Impact. His use of dialogue to address poverty and its associated challenges like racism, addiction, nutrition and indifference altered my understanding of the power of conversation.
Paul, Mark, their team and Canadians from every walk of life are doing serious damage to the phrase “talk is cheap.” With Cities Reducing Poverty decades of working behind the scenes is bearing fruit. Nearly four hundred leaders are registered. To honour the richness of hosting conversations with purpose I wrote the following vignette. It’s based on a true story which I adapted from a Sufi story often told by master raconteur, John McKnight.
Don’t Ask Alice
Alice was the Mayor of Lac Sagesse a small town in Quebec. 812 people live there. It is a town where no one is poor. When the town’s mill shut down, nearly everyone was affected. Alice convinced the town Council to help out. Alice being a mother understood the fundamentals of life. Everyone agreed to provide all families with free diapers and milk for as long as it took to revive the town’s economy.
For this and similar reasons, the economy is thriving in Lac Sagesse. Everyone has something to do. No one is ignored.
Word spread of Alice’s wisdom.
Poverty activists from across Canada invited her to speak at their big conference. The room was full of living wage advocates, minimum wage organizers, guaranteed annual income proponents, homeless prevention workers, welfare reformers, human rights strategists, politicians, business owners, researchers, food bank operators, philanthropists and social workers. Each had their preferred solution. Each anticipated Alice’s remarks would lend credibility to their approach.
Alice walked to the podium and without fanfare asked this question, “Do you know how to end poverty?”
“No,” said the audience. They did not want to appear presumptuous – false modesty being a silly Canadian trait. Even though each of them was certain their solution was best, they wanted to hear Alice speak.
What she did next stunned everyone.
“Any given moment – no matter how casual, no matter how ordinary – is poised, full of gaping life.”