The GFC might be over but the poverty crisis remains
According to the Australian Treasury the global financial crisis is now officially ‘over’, with business booming and the unemployment rate once again beginning to shrink.
From an economic perspective, we might breathe a tentative sigh of relief, bearing in mind the fact that these boom and bust cycles are a cyclical feature of the global economy.
However, a broader social crisis still remains in the form of the persistent and intergenerational disadvantage that is preventing a significant proportion of Australians from contributing to the three national challenges of ‘Productivity’, ‘Participation’ and ‘Population’ identified in this year’s Intergenerational Report.
Earlier this week, a group of around 20 individuals from a range of backgrounds (including neuroscientists, financial planners, school principals and educationalists) came together at a workshop convened by The Smith Family and one of our corporate partners, AXA Asia Pacific.
The goal of this roundtable was to generate insights to inform our ‘Money for Wellbeing’ applied research project, which looks at the emotional attitudes and behaviours disadvantaged children and adults bring to their financial management.
The value of this research is considerable, helping Australia to understand the particular skills and relationships that will contribute to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and ensuring these individuals and their families are better able to weather the impacts of economic storms such as the GFC.
One of the prevalent themes to emerge from the discussion was the critical importance of emotional wellbeing as a foundation for all other skills development - particularly financial literacy, which is dependent (for example) on the ability to identify personal goals and the self-discipline to achieve them. Resilience in being able to overcome the inevitable ‘bumps in the road’ along this journey was also felt to be an essential element.
The challenge around these emotional skills is that they do not lend themselves to being explicitly ‘taught’ within the classroom environment, but rather learned through the role-modelling of others, particularly parents in the home setting.
Many of us take these relationships for granted. In fact, we might not even be aware how our own emotional capacities today reflect those of significant others with whom we have connected in life. In disadvantaged communities which frequently have a high concentration of lone parent families, these opportunities are far fewer, which is why The Smith Family acts as the connector to enable these relationships to form.
The outcomes of this approach are clear. Last night in Sydney, The Smith Family celebrated the success of the students who last year graduated from either Year 12 or tertiary studies, one of a series of Award Ceremonies we have held in every capital city over the last few weeks.
As reflected in the experiences shared by our guest speaker, celebrated chef Matt Moran, the students in attendance have worked their way up from difficult starting points, including a lack of educational resources, community support network and positive role models to emulate.
Many are the first in their families to achieve this level of education and the only reason it’s now been made possible is the fact they have been equipped with the right life skills to rise above their disadvantaged circumstances.
One student participating in our Tertiary Awards in Adelaide last week (and who was aptly named ‘Lucky’) shared the story of her arrival in Australia in 2001 as a refugee with her parents and eight siblings. Lucky had spent many years in a refugee camp where she had received little opportunity to pursue an education, but her family was determined to rectify this on their arrival in Australia.
Lack of English language skills and a support network were the tip of the iceberg for a family that also lacked financial stability and within two years experienced the passing of the main breadwinner, Lucky’s father. With a little support from the ‘significant others’ we were able to connect her to, Lucky was able to complete a Health Science Degree and is this year tackling a law degree, specialising in Public Health.
In October last year, Lucky won the biannual Ruth Gibson Memorial award (an award that is focused on the educational development of young women). With the $4,000 funding she received, Lucky won a position to attend the World Conference on Health Promotion in Geneva to be held in July 2010.
The Smith Family has also enabled her sister Ramla, who is a Learning for Life tertiary student herself and a dedicated volunteer within the African refugee community in Port Adelaide Enfield, to accompany her on this special trip with the financial support of one of our corporate partners, Adelaide Airport.
Both Lucky and Ramla are passionate and motivated individuals with a great future ahead of them, and we wish them well as they embark on the next stage of their life.
It is all too easy to make assumptions about disadvantaged families in Australia, including that they lack the self-motivation to forge a better life for themselves. The aspiration and determination etched in the faces of the hundreds of students attending our Award Ceremonies around the country this month are proof that this is simply not the case.
They more than anyone reflect the power of relationships in helping them become, in the words of the poet William Ernest Henley, ‘masters of their own fate’ and ‘captains of their soul’.
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