How we solve a problem depends largely on understanding why we have the problem in the first place. When we take the time to inform ourselves why the world works the way it does, we begin to see how it could work differently. We begin to take power away from the existing narrative and find the courage to change the rules by changing the questions. In order to create a clearer picture of the root causes of inequality and injustice, we need a new framework to address the problems that arise from this system.
Poverty is one such component of the current narrative of wealth – it is a sacred cow in our culture, something we are encouraged to understand as just a natural part of the system, something we can help through charity. One afternoon, after spending several years in various work groups discussing food banks, my awareness of this issue expanded with a simple question: Why do we need food banks? When we have grocery stores that have food, and the transportation to supply them with food, what keeps people from shopping there, rather than food banks? I had been listening to the financial and logistical challenges of new freezers and trucks to transport fresh produce. I heard how some food banks were starting to use shopping carts so people could select their own food, just like a real grocery store, rather than being handed a standard bag of staples. I saw a massive undertaking to create an identical system to grocery stores, except providing free food, supported by charity. I asked the question, why do we need food banks, not out of naiveté but because it seemed somewhere in our history of ensuring all people in our community had food, we’d gotten off track. There was enough food, and there were efficient systems in place to deliver and store that food. What was the real problem? How could we reflect on the history of food banks and food stamps in order to think differently about what was needed today? And further, how was my involvement in creating opportunities for charity supporting the system I was attempting to fix?
This short video from The Rules provides an overview of how poverty is built into our accepted systems of money and power, and encourages us to ask big questions when trying to create positive social change. Poverty is not a problem to be solved, but a symptom of a systemic issue. Philanthropists interested in shifting power and creating a new global narrative of wealth can start by asking the real questions, the kind that go beyond traditional methods of inquiry. It takes courage to sit with these questions – to wonder how our participation in the system continues to shape it and support it. Ask yourself, How is Poverty Created? Why is Growth the Only Answer? Who’s Developing Who? and you might find that you begin to ask bigger, better questions about everything else too.