At last week’s Cities Innovating to Reduce Poverty summit in Mississauga, I had the opportunity to learn from the City of Toronto's Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG). These group members shared some of their fantastic work in advancing the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy through advocacy, education, awareness, monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy, and it was a great reminder of the importance of making sure that those with lived experience can drive the change that they want to see.
Members of this group challenged us to think about the following: If we truly value lived experience as part of community work, why aren’t there more paid opportunities for those with lived experience? Why are paid positions for these community members still the exception, rather than the norm? It seems unusual to me that our institutions should expect people who face multiple barriers to equity to give freely of their time while we don’t expect the same of professionals.
While we all can be advocates for this kind of approach, not all of us are in positions where we can redirect funding in an immediate way. A question I heard come up a few times was, “How do I get my organization to value and integrate the perspectives of those with lived experience?” This is a tricky proposition in many cases, and one without a simple answer. It is hard to influence and control the behaviour of others.
But we can control our own behaviour. If we believe in the need to connect with those with lived experience, why wait for someone else to fund an advisory group or to hire them? What’s stopping us from simply forming our own connections, outside of our professional selves, with people who our work impacts? What’s holding you back from making friends with those with lived experience?
Are our professional convictions strong enough to make the personal effort to reach out?
- Learn more about the City of Toronto's Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG)