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The World Alliance of Cities against Poverty (WACAP) conference is reasonably self-explanatory in nature. Held in the RDS in Dublin on the 20th and the 21st of February, representatives from various activist organisations, councils, committees and governments came from all over the world to attend this event.

Having no previous expertise in combating poverty, I was genuinely interested in finding out the role that I, as a typical Irish citizen, was able to have in this struggle against one of the most intimidating burdens of our time. Is it possible to create a global strategy against poverty that is applicable in every community? If one size does fit all, is this problem one which we need to tackle as a country through our government and NGOs or does it rest with us as individuals? These were my initial thoughts as I arrived to the conference on Thursday morning.

From listening to various speakers throughout the day, it seems to me that the WACAP plan of action can be summarised into three universal guidelines:

  1. Accessibility of Education
  2. Elimination of Violence
  3. Innovation and Realisation of Potential
  1. Accessibility of Education

 Speaking as part of the panel on widening participation in higher education, Fiona Sweeney, a representative from the UCD Access Programme, explained how a gradual increase can be seen in the number of students attending third level institutions due to providing them with an open platform for communication with university mentors. This increase in education shows an active interest amongst young people in safeguarding their futures against a life of poverty. The youth of today are beginning to understand that in order to protect themselves; they must increase their skills and employability to suit a modern economic climate. This is undoubtedly progress, but is there more that society could do to help both young and old alike help themselves?

Adam Bargroff, a PHD student participating in the UCD –TCD Innovation Academy Doctorate Project Team, spoke strongly about the importance of digital literacy as a tool in making education accessible for all. What appeared to be a complex problem was solved with a surprisingly simplistic solution – ReadWrite. This concept, developed by the team, was for an app that allowed the user to take photos of text which the software would then convert into a readable format.  Taking this idea, Mr Bargroff showed us how technological and educational advancements that might otherwise seem daunting can be broken down so that everyone, regardless of intellect, age or background can facilitate change.

Granted we might not all have access to smart phones, a glitch in an otherwise flawless concept, but the point being made here was that education is not merely a process for the youth of today. We can’t just rely on change coming from the next generation – there will never be a reduction in global poverty unless we find a way to break down the existing barriers to education as they now stand.  It is the most simplistic of ideas that can prove to be the most effective in helping people find ways to help themselves.

  1. Elimination of Violence

Moving on from education, a second theme which emerged from the WACAP conference was that of the elimination of violence. Although a very serious breach of human rights, few realise that domestic violence is also a reoccurring factor in cases of poverty. Dr Nata Duvvury, NUI Galway, spoke of how spouses who are abused are forced to take time off work because of violence within the home and this leads to a significant reduction in their income.

She explained that for sustainable global development in eliminating poverty, we must first start with the protection of those who are most vulnerable in our societies. Little cracks can begin to appear in economic progression when people aren’t allowed reach their full potential in the workplace. It can only make complete sense that a woman or man who is suffering at home will not be empowered against poverty when bettering their standard of living is not an economic nor an educational question but instead one entirely of the basic need to protection.

  1. Innovation and Realisation of Potential

When it comes to the ultimate barrier in forming an alliance against poverty, education and elimination of violence is not enough. Citizens and organisations alike must begin to understand that we all have the potential to evoke change in the world we live in. Projects and innovative ideas that may seem relatively insignificant on a broader scale, can still impact a person’s ability to tackle poverty and in doing so, this impacts the community as a whole.

Stephen Mandel, Mayor of Edmonton, Canada, spoke of a project that had started in his town that began as a small solution to a waste disposal problem. The community, through searching for a practical remedy to their rubbish build-up, discovered that their newfound expertise on environmentally-friendly waste-disposal schemes was an excellent business idea and so a profitable business was created. This brilliant display of initiative is but one example of economic change stemming from an idea.

Leaving the WACAP conference, I’m not entirely sure about the immediate plan of action I can take as an individual with an interest in doing my bit to protect our world against poverty. Although it is comforting to know that cities the world over have formed an alliance in tacking this issue, there is still a fear that the goals and tools from the conference will not be realised and that instead these will slowly become more idealistic aspirations towards unrealistic targets, left for the rainy day excuse of “if we had more time and money”.

 All the speakers from the event spoke of a need for activism here and now. The Millennium Development Goals were discussed with a tone of urgency – we do only have two years left to achieve targets that at this stage seem almost unattainable.  The guidelines placed before us are long term goals – a step by step process. The best thing we can do is change one small aspect of our routines which in turn will help in the WACAP plan of action.

Not knowing how to take that first step, I’ve taken the matter into my own hands and signed up for the student mentor programme. If I can’t personally eliminate global poverty, I might as well help someone else get to university. Education, elimination and innovation… and I just had to fill out a form.


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