As some of you might know, I am a co-founder and advisor to a soccer club in Winnipeg, my hometown. One of our missions is to be more than a club, to be a force for good in the community.
So why is this post about poverty. (Well if you’re patient enough, I’ll get to that). Though we do well compared to most countries, poverty still very much exists in Canada. It’s a problem we could do a much better job of addressing.
I think one of the problems we’ve had tackling poverty is that we’ve done a poor job of actually understanding the problem. This begins with our definition of ‘the poor’. We like to lump all those experience poverty in this one group, but the truth is there are many. Here are a few that come to mind:
- The working poor
- Those who are mentally ill
- Those have substance abuse problems
- Those poor in education
- Those raised and trapped in poverty
An individual could fit into multiple groups. Now I’m not going to pretend I am an expert or even very knowledgeable on the subject. However, I think it is silly to think of ‘the poor’ as one group and prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions. For instance, providing affordable housing may help the working poor, but probably won’t help those who have drug addiction problems. Many solutions will be needed to tackle this multi-faceted problem.
Which leads me to the program that my soccer club is developing, one that is meant to help those raised into poverty. How do we help this group? Education is certainly important. College has been a path for many youth to escape generational poverty.
However, studies have found the biggest benefit from a college education for students from poor areas is not that they make the students smarter (in fact, their grades do not improve significantly). It is the new social networks that they create while in college that is so vital. It helps to have friends in high places.
So how is our soccer club going to help those born into poverty? We are going to expand our soccer academy programs into the inner city, touching impoverished communities. We will certainly do our best to educate these kids on how to not only be great players, but great men and women who serve the community. However, I believe the bigger opportunity is giving these kids a chance to build social networks outside of their community, connections that will help them later on in life when they are looking for jobs and other opportunities. There are many stories of kids who successfully escaped poverty because they had friends outside of their crime-ridden, drug-infested neighbourhoods.
Having programs like this that integrate the poor with those who are better off is absolutely necessary, especially if university takes on a less prominent role (which I expect it will). I believe by connecting the worlds of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ we can go a long way towards remedying this kind of poverty.