The North-South Institute

Français

Opinion

Poverty Ranked 5th among Canadians’ International Concerns

June 9, 2012

by SHANNON KINDORNAY

The North-South Institute

On May 22, the Inter-Council Network (ICN), a network of provincial and regional member-based Councils for International Cooperation, released the results of its public opinion polllooking at Canadian engagement on global poverty issues. The opinion poll was conducted by Vision Critical in March 2012, surveying a representative sample of 1211 Canadian adults. For comparison, 1000 people in the US and 2000 in the UK were also surveyed. As part of their launch activities, the ICN held a workshop in Ottawa to engage members of the international development community on the results.

And the results are in … (cue drum roll please)

The ICN survey found that Canadians rank global poverty (hunger in the world) fifth among the most concerning issues to them globally. Global poverty followed the economy, which was ranked first, wars/conflict, human rights and environmental issues (all of which are related to development and global poverty). Seventy-five percent believe that reducing global poverty will help the world fulfill our human rights obligations. Yet, while Canadians care about global poverty and tend to be motivated by a strong sense of social responsibility, they are not necessarily informed on the issues. For example, over half of the respondents (59%) believe that global poverty is increasing while 23% believe it is staying the same. This is not the case. At the global level extreme poverty has decreased over the last decade. While a majority of respondents (65%) know that poverty disproportionately affects women, (50%) also think 1 in every 3 people live in extreme poverty (the correct answer is 1 in 5). This suggests that there is a need for greater public engagement and education on development issues. The majority of Canadians learn about global development through websites (45%), campaigns (40%) and social media (39%), which, given the misperceptions they have, raises questions about what and how the development community communicates to the broader public.

Nevertheless, Canadians are engaging on global poverty in a number of ways, such as donating funds (49%), volunteering time (26%) and professional services (16%), buying ethically produced goods (29%), attending information sessions (22%) and getting informed about a cause (20%) and talking to others about a cause (25%).  Respondents whom had never or seldom engaged in the past indicated a high level of interest for engaging in new ways. They are interested in volunteering professional services (50%) and time (43%), working in development (51%), volunteering overseas (43%) and attending information sessions about a cause (51%). The majority of Canadians (72%) feel that the government should support public engagement on global poverty issues.

Who do Canadians feel is responsible for addressing global poverty? More than half of respondents (52%) said the federal government, while some 47% cited non-governmental organizations and corporations. At the same time, 72% of Canadians said that they do not support public funding to multinational corporations for global poverty reduction. This finding is particularly important given the ongoing heated debates in Ottawa regarding the use of official development assistance to support partnerships between private sector actors and Canadian civil society organizations.

Implications from the survey and workshop

1) Articulate a better development narrative – people care and they should be informed. The international development community, including the Canadian government, civil society organizations, think tanks, and practitioners, need to get better at communicating the reality of development and its importance to the Canadian public.

2) Twitter, facebook, bebo, blog, YouTube – time to get with the times. Articulating a better development narrative will, to a certain extent, be determined by the ability of Canada’s development community to make use of their web presence and social media. For many organizations, this will mean becoming more tech savvy and finding ways to exploit new forms of communication and retire the old.

3) Multiple entry points for public engagement exist – use them. The survey revealed a wide variety of ways in which Canadians are engaging on international development, and perhaps more importantly, a considerable amount of interest in engaging more and in new ways. The Canadian development community needs to take advantage of this reality.

4) The Canadian government has a role to play in public engagement on development.There are a variety of ways for the government to do this, such as supporting development-oriented curricula in secondary schools, public engagement activities of civil society organizations, and dissemination of research and analysis on development to the broader public. To a certain extent, the Canadian government already engages in these activities, however with the recent aid budget cuts, funding for civil society organizations, which plays a key role in this regard, will likely continue to decline.

5) Where should the money go? On one hand, the decline in funding for Canadian civil society organizations is at odds with the role Canadians see for civil society in development. On the other hand, the government’s new approach to working with the private sector does not sit well with a citizenry that feels that public money should not go to corporations to support global poverty reduction.

The poll demonstrates that Canadians DO care about development.  The challenge is getting better at communicating a development narrative to the Canadian public, and giving them the right opportunities to engage.