By Anne-Marie Fischer
As the new Manager of the London Poverty Research Centre, I have had a few weeks to settle into this role, get acquainted with colleagues and partners, work with the Board to confirm our ongoing priorities, and make plans to kick the already existing work of the LPRC into high-gear. This time has been one of great learning for me; it’s not only confirmed things I have already thought or known, but has also brought to light new perspectives, new phenomena, and the reminder that the fight for poverty is an incredibly tough one.
I’ve learned that some things with the greatest potential start at the grassroots level. Walking in as the only staff member of the LPRC, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a volunteer-driven organization. What I came to witness, and witness every day, is a Board who takes the LPRC work to heart, and makes daily contributions to our work and our community despite many other demands on their time. This is a group of people who came to the interest in developing the Centre from various and differing perspectives – lived experience, academic interests, community advocacy interests – and made these perspectives blend into one bold vision: to see an end to poverty in London, Ontario. I’ve often drawn upon the famous Margaret Mead quote in my work, and it certainly applies to the Board of the LPRC: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Will the LPRC change the world? It would be awfully bold for us to presume so, but we do believe that contributing to poverty reduction at the local level through compiling and disseminating locally-relevant research can help move the needle for poverty in London and Middlesex. Our team of thoughtful and committed citizens are here, and ready to support London through developing evidence-based practices that will change the way we address poverty at the local level.
I’ve learned that no one has all the answers. The fact that we still live in a society that is set up to marginalize shows that. We aren’t quite sure how to take our conversations into action. Of course, there are effective models to address some issues associated with poverty, such as housing-first programs, or community-based mental health support clinics, but it is not yet evident what the right or best fit approach is for this community. We do research for many reasons: to confirm hypothesis, to interpret social trends, and to determine effective approaches to problems. The London Poverty Research Centre may not have all the answers, but we are a committed partner in helping our community explore, interpret, analyze and recommend effective approaches to poverty reduction strategies through research activities.
I’ve learned that on public issues, critics exist, and they can be harsh. Whenever someone “sticks their neck out” and works towards something that affects so many people, they automatically invite criticism upon themselves and I understood that when I took this role. To be a leader, criticism needs to be a part of the regular reflection process. Without criticism, we can’t innovate. However, criticism that is coupled with personal attacks does nothing to contribute to innovation, moving forward, or harmonizing opinions on how we should work together. It isolates people. It creates a fear-based community that exists only on fostering an “us versus them” mentality rather than working towards any real change in those issues that cause divisions in the first place. Paul Born in his book Deepening Community states that a fear-based community is a dangerous place. I agree. This is not the type of community the LPRC wants to promote or participate in. This is not the type of community I’ll participate in myself.
I’ve learned that London & Middlesex has an incredible amount of community literacy on issues of poverty, and we have a great amount of citizen experts informing the policy and research on poverty. As an advocate for Community Based Participatory Research, I have always placed great importance on community knowledge as a means to solve community issues. In my role, I will do what I can to continuously leverage this community knowledge, including participating in community conversations, meeting community members to hear their perspectives, and finding ways to intentionally include the lived experience at all stages of our research.
Finally, I’ve learned that poverty reduction happens when people show up. London & Middlesex is an incredibly proactive community that demonstrates the importance of involving citizens in its decision-making. We have seen the conversations that have happened with the Mayor’s Panel on Poverty and the draft recommendations that are being worked on, because the community showed up, and are continuing to show up, to provide their input. We saw a group of citizens come together to weigh in on Basic Income Guarantee at the North East Community Conversation, all because they had a keen and personal interest to see change happen, and be a part of that change. We can no longer rely on governments or institutions to make the change. The change starts here, with the citizens.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
–Anne-Marie E. Fischer (LPRC Manager)