Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Manitoba Leads by Example in Global Poverty Alleviation

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, October 23 / 17

Zack Gross

We've always been leaders.  As a university student, too many years ago in the 1970s, Canada sent a youth delegation to the World Food Congress in The Hague, Netherlands.  Most of the young Canadian participants, like myself, were from Manitoba.  And just last week, a major conference of Canadians who work to engage the public on global issues took place, of course, in Manitoba (Winnipeg in this case).  Over these many years, our province has been well known for this kind of work.

Anyone who watches the news, whether on TV, online or, of course, in The Brandon Sun, knows that the world is something of a mess.  Despite the new commercial that tells us “It's a Beautiful World
,” there is something nagging at the back of my mind that tells me we have many challenges confronting us, such as poverty, conflict and natural disaster, and that only a small percentage of our world's population is actually feeling fed, safe and comfortable.

Surveys of Canadians done by international groups and polling companies show that we, as citizens, really do care about the world, but that we don't necessarily know the details of how our country and our organizations contribute to poverty alleviation around the globe.  Canada actually contributes only about 0.28% of its GNP to international development (that's about one-quarter of one percent).  The recommended target for aid-giving has been 0.7% of GNP since 1970.  Only four countries actually match or exceed the target amount, all European nations.

Polls show that many Canadians think we contribute at least twenty times or more than we actually do.  Generally speaking, Canada finds itself in the middle ranks of aid donors.  But there are other ways to bring about change for the 15% of humanity that lives in abject poverty and the millions of producers and workers whose livelihoods are harsh and unrewarding.

The Manitoba Government, since the mid 1970s, has been one of few provincial governments to contribute to both long-term development programs and to relief efforts after major disaster situations.  It has been understood by our provincial government of all political stripes that, hand in hand with private donations to non-governmental organizations, there is a role to play in making the world a better place. 

Along with that altruistic feeling comes also the recognition that we will also be negatively impacted by disease, by conflict, by climate change and more if we aren't part of the global team working to improve these conditions.  If you aren't part of the solution, the problem will catch up to you!

A specific area where Manitoba is recognized across the country as a leader – and where Brandon has made a name for itself – is in the area of fair trade, which works to offer agricultural producers and factory workers a better financial return for their efforts, as well as better working conditions and better access to markets.  Brandon has won Fairtrade Canada's Town of the Year award so often that it has been asked to apply in a different category for the annual awards this year!

Of twenty-five Fair Trade Towns in Canada, Manitoba boasts of four – Brandon, Gimli, Selkirk and most recently Winnipeg, which at the end of September became the country's twenty-fifth and the world's 2000th!  Most are in Europe with Britain and Germany each have hundreds.  Manitoba also leads in the number of Fair Trade Workplaces nationally.

These fair trade designated jurisdictions indicate that businesses, institutions, campuses, schools, faith groups and municipalities seek the Fair Trade label in their procurement in order to offer staff, students, consumers and patrons good quality, ethically-sourced, third-party certified products from coffee, tea and sugar to clothing, accessories and even sports equipment.

As Duane Nicol, Chief Administrative Officer for Selkirk, MB stated when they became a Fair Trade Town in May:  “What we offer for our own citizens – programs and services that improve their lives – we recognize in our global village are the needs and the right of people around the world

There was a time when issues such as environment, global issues and foreign relations didn't make the list of concerns identified by Canadians. Election polls now have these themes high up on the watch list.  When a sneeze takes place in one corner of the world, other places start to sniffle.  Whether it is conflict leading to mass migration, environmental degradation leading to destructive weather events or an illness in West Africa taking a plane to Texas, our world is definitely smaller and more vulnerable.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project and now co-ordinates outreach for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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