“It takes a village” is a phrase that I’ve heard repeated at different fora and conversations in the western world. I heard it used again by Allison Hewitt on the Social Innovation & Poverty Reduction Strategy panel at the recently concluded ‘Cities Innovating to Reduce Poverty’ Eastern summit that took place in Mississauga from September 18 to 19, 2018 and it got me thinking deeply about the original meaning of the phrase and how it applies to the work that attendees at this summit do.
The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is a proverb from the Igbos of Nigeria in West Africa. It describes the way African communities support the training and upbringing of children. Children in African villages know that they cannot get away with bad behaviour because even if their own family members are not there, a stranger can discipline them and even go as far as following them home to report to their parents. African children know that a stranger will help them anywhere they meet just because they’re from the same village. “It takes a village” simply means that the business of each individual in the village is the entire village’s business.
Poverty is a daunting task because it contains several layers and trying to peel them all off at the same time is overwhelming. In a country as prosperous as Canada, millions are still living in poverty, despite decades of effort to forestall it. My big question coming into the summit was: What can we do, where we are, to change the poverty trajectory?
According to our day two panelists, bringing a systems lens and social innovation practices would help us achieve visible change in our community poverty reduction collectives. Their position was buttressed by the successes shared by the City of London, Chatham-Kent, Peel Region and Calgary, Alberta. London For All is changing mindsets through cultural safety and cultural competency trainings; Chatham-Kent’s Prosperity Roundtable is breaking barriers to an inclusive and supportive community through art; Peel Poverty Reduction Committee advocated, got approval and launched the affordable transit program; and Calgary, Alberta’s Enough For All got the laws on predatory lenders changed to give the province the lowest payday loan borrowing fees in Canada.
One resounding learning from this summit is the need for conversations. There is great power in conversations, down-to-earth, open and straightforward conversations where people can talk until they agree. In this space, diversity is appreciated, curiosity is allowed, and confusion is welcomed. It is a place where difficult conversations are stripped of their awkwardness and the reason in the absurd can be found.
Margaret Wheatley, a beloved author and a proponent of the power of community to create positive change said, “very great change starts from very small conversations, held among people who care.” This summit opened me up to new conversations that sometimes left me confused, and at other moments, gave me clarity. It also left me with some questions, which made me pleasantly satisfied because according to Paul Born, “questions advance the work of change.”
The need for the quote, “it takes a village”, to become more than mere words, and become our practice in each of our communities, is what this summit taught me. The Eastern summit brought us together to create a village of care and inspire action that will change the poverty story in our communities positively. It is when the village comes together that solutions are possible.