Canada’s tolerance of systemic poverty has no excuses. Among the richest countries in the world, we clearly have the financial resources to end poverty. It is now an urgent task as after 20 years of continuous decline from the mid-1970s, both inequality and poverty rates have increased rapidly in the past decade and crossed the OECD average.
Maytree, as part of its stated mission to fight poverty, works with many partners to achieve its goal. Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement is one of its most established partners in this fight. Founded in 2001, the institute develops and supports communities to collaborate and generate knowledge that solves complex challenges that affect their well-being.
“Tamarack’s genesis can be traced back to Paul Born and his involvement with the Opportunities 2000 project in the Waterloo region,” says Alan Broadbent, Maytree Chairman, who co-founded Tamarack along with Paul. “Paul had bold plans to working with communities to see if there was a systematic way of helping them develop collaborative processes and protocols.”
The Kitchener-Waterloo region was a laboratory of sorts for Tamarack as it proved to be a microcosm of Canada. Alongside economic prosperity, a surprisingly large section of its residents lived in poverty and that number was growing. In the transition to the new knowledge-based economy, many people had been displaced and were unable to regain their footing. Social policies developed during the early postwar period were ineffective at helping people face new challenges. While they provided an invaluable financial safety net, these policies did nothing to help people rejoin the mainstream of economic life.
The growing number of people reliant on government income assistance programs testified to the limits of existing programs and services. While this situation was apparent across Canada, it was particularly well illustrated in this region.
Tamarack tests ideas about community building, poverty reduction, collaboration and engagement, and generates knowledge based on what works best in practice. The Institute sponsors projects and provides learning resources, training, coaching and strategic consulting that enable people to collaborate and learn with and from each other.
“[Our] deepest hope is to build a movement for change that ultimately ends poverty in Canada. We believe that when people are engaged, working and learning together on just about any issue that strengthens their communities, they are contributing to the building of a society without poverty,” Paul wrote in the Institute’s 2013 annual report.
Vibrant Communities Canada – Cities Reducing Poverty, in collaboration with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, is Tamarack’s signature work. It is a collective impact movement that aims to link together a learning community of 100 Canadian cities – each with local poverty reduction strategies championed by multi-sector leaders. The goal is to collectively reduce poverty for one million Canadians.
Members of the network play a significant leadership role by participating actively in all aspects of the learning community’s design and implementation. They also share engagement in the learning community through an annual membership contribution. In 2014, the network plans to grow the number of endorsements for the Cities Reducing Poverty Charter, launch the Business Case for Cities Reducing Poverty and announce registration for its May 2015 summit in Ottawa titled Reducing Poverty Together: Every City, Every Province, Every Territory.