Beyond the New Normal: Global Megatrends Shape a New Reality for Anti-Poverty Work

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July 25, 2011; Source: | The national Community Action Partnership has released a provocative new report called “Facing the New Reality: Preparing Poor America for Harder Times Ahead.” In contrast to now clichéd “new normal” scenarios, which focused primarily on impacts of reduced capital, the” new reality” reflects impacts of three global mega-trends driven by scarcity. In this context, the authors articulate powerful links between global sustainable development goals and local anti-poverty work.

The three mega-trends cited are natural resource depletion/scarcity, climate change, and economic turmoil resulting from physical limits to growth. The authors foresee sustained economic hardship for individuals, communities and regions, which can’t be solved by mere time, technology or economic growth. Traditional advocacy is also not the answer, they note, because in an era of scarcity, “the work of social service agencies in the years ahead will have to shift from seeking a fairer distribution of abundance to the much harder task of managing scarcity”. They argue that local work to build local self-reliance can alleviate poverty and increase community vitality despite long term economic contraction.

With Community Action Agencies as a key audience, proposed actions focus on working directly with low income people and communities. Many recommendations, however, also promote sustainability, community building, and local self-reliance to benefit all income levels. Thus, the findings and ideas may inspire a wide range of nonprofits to refine or even transform their long term strategic focus.

What does anti-poverty work look like in this “new reality”? Here are some of the ideas:

  • Help low income families become less dependent on money and traditional jobs by meeting basic needs through other means such as tool and skill exchanges, libraries, etc.
  • Support backyard gardening, farmers markets, and other local food system development
  • Organize or broker basic health and wellness services,
  • Organize or broker new low-tech, energy efficient transportation options, including car-sharing and bicycling
  • Adaptive reuse of existing structures for new, green, affordable housing
  • Connect schools with community-wide learning, skills and information exchange
  • Facilitate new ways of communicating locally that are not internet-dependent

The report is not wholly pessimistic about the future. As co-author Peter Kilde notes in the introduction, these mega-challenges provide opportunity to “reclaim something wonderful that diminished during the age of abundance and that will be essential in the age of scarcity; authentic community.” –Kathi Jaworski