Think Philanthropically

It isn’t a secret that Canada is facing a multitude of society-level crises. There is a housing crisis, an opioid crisis, a mental health crisis, a climate crisis, and a crisis of affordability of basic things like food and clothing. More critically, there is a civility crisis developing. This shows up when we fail to think or act in a manner that is considerate of others.

“Shelter, food security and the need for community
are the foundational building blocks of human health.”

Recent polling by Abacus Research has unearthed a couple of disturbing trends in our country. One finding, based on a broad sample of 3,500 adult Canadians, is that we are adopting a scarcity mentality that is leading us towards a dangerous form of zero sum thinking. This is a psychological construct that assumes that one person’s gain results in another person’s loss.  In turn, this leads to assumptions that promote self-interested behaviours.  It raises questions around our values as a society.  What is our self-image as Canadians? Do we care enough to help those who are vulnerable or will we decide to focus exclusively on protecting our own perceived interests?

One of the most interesting things that evolved in North America in the post-WWII era was the emergence of a robust middle class. The “rising tide lifted all boats” and visible poverty declined. Today there are signs that this phenomenon is giving way to increased economic polarization. Some people have a degree of financial security and others are living precariously from paycheck to paycheck, or gig to gig. This is driving broader acceptance of populist ideologies that blame problems on specific people groups and propose simplistic responses.

What does this have to do with philanthropy? The answer is…quite a bit. Organizations that serve the disadvantaged, support newcomers, or provide food security services are dealing with a humanitarian crisis. Shelter, food security and the need for community are the foundational building blocks of human health. Without them an individual will have suboptimal health outcomes.  Canada provides universal healthcare therefore if we don’t invest in permanent housing and food security we will face exponentially increasing health related costs in the future.  As someone once said; “the issue isn’t what it will cost now, the issue is how much it will cost later if we do nothing now?” Are we prepared to take courageous action or will we allow ourselves to drift in a direction that threatens Canada’s social cohesion?

“The issue isn’t what it will cost now, the issue is how much
it will cost later if we do nothing now?”

I was recently asked by someone if I truly believe that homelessness can be ended.  I responded that I didn’t just believe it – I knew it. Why? Simply because every single day in Montreal we help at least one individual exit homelessness and get back into permanent housing. We know that we can end homelessness for one person at a time. We’ve helped hundreds get back into a place to call home this year.  With the right conditions, homelessness can be ended for everyone.

“Humility, kindness and generosity are hallmarks of our humanity.
The only way forward is giving back.”

We are in the middle of the festive season. A huge percentage of charitable donations occur in the 45-day period prior to the end of the calendar year. Yes, we are bombarded by negativity and by tragedy.  It is easy to become jaded or discouraged. We can succumb to feelings of helplessness.  How can we stay positive in the face of an avalanche of negativity?  Can we really make a difference? The answer, in my view, is to remind ourselves that humility, kindness and generosity are hallmarks of our humanity.  The only way forward is giving back. Even if you can’t give very much money you can be kind to others. Kindness matters. I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone happy holidays, and to thank all of you for reading this column.

Sam Watts serves as the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He serves on several non-profit boards and is an appointed member of the National Housing Council of Canada.  He is the author of Good Work…Done Better

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