brought to you by Mark Holmgren Consulting

September 2015


I am pretty sure most of us do. In fact haven't we wanted to end poverty for a very long time?

I am convinced that most Canadians are good people; we care for one another; we want our communities to be strong and vibrant and great places to raise our families. Whose heart doesn't go out to the hungry child, the homeless young man picking through the garbage bin, the battered woman fleeing for her life?

Over 3,000,000 Canadians live in poverty and even more than that are living pay day to pay day, living on the edge of disaster. We have thousands and thousands of homeless people, the majority of whom are suffering from mental illness and/or addictions. And sadly, as well, the majority of whom are Aboriginal people. 

If we truly want to end
poverty, we have to get
real and get honest
about power.

Our school classrooms are overcrowded and teachers are left to struggle not only with high numbers of students but also children who don't speak English, who have learning disabilities, as well as a range of physical disabilities. We are not investing in our children to the extent we should.

We could if we chose to. We could house the homeless and support the mentally ill and treat addictions if we chose to. We could help the beaten woman and the abused child heal and build new lives. If we chose to.

You see. It's not that we don't want to.

It's just that we don't choose to.

Or if we do, we choose to do not enough.

There are myriad reasons why we choose "this" over "that." Some of us think we can't afford to fix the range of depth of problems in our communities; so we end up fixing what we can and make suffering a bit less uncomfortable for people. Others think that people who barely get by are lazy and are quite content to scrape by on "my dime." 

I do think most of us know that just creating more and more services will not end poverty. We know the solutions we need are far bigger, more complex, and more interconnected than enlarging a system of services or even making our systems even more collaborative and outcomes focused. 

If we truly want to end poverty, we have to get real and get honest about power. Why is it that oil executives have more access to government leaders than a group of single moms trying to break out of their collective situations. They need more than collective kitchens; they need to figure out how power works, how to get some, and how to use it to ensure they are heard and helped.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance I see here and there on occasion and after a beer (okay maybe two or three) we got to talking politics. I shared my thoughts about politics and power. I suggested that so many problems are sourced from where power resides and who holds it and keeps it from others. Poor people, I said, need to become more powerful and be more of a voice for change throughout our communities.

Power, not budgets,
keep social policies
from truly liberating
us from poverty
and suffering.

My beer buddy didn't like that much. He said it was "a left wing sentiment." I really don't know what a left wing sentiment looks like, but I surmised he received my comments as something on the radical side of life. Apparently it is a good thing when lobbyists, fueled by funds from the wealthy and well-positioned, are able to procure more power and influence over others, but not really so good if those seeking power are the poor and disenfranchised. Why is one approach by a small group of lucky ones more palatable to us than the other approach by a much larger and more diverse group of citizens.

Power, not budgets, keep social policies from truly liberating us from poverty and suffering. It is those with power who decide the fates of those without. I am not saying the former are bad people. I am also not saying they make the right choices for the majority of people.

As much as I agree that we need healthy businesses of all sizes and that economic growth is vital to community development, I suggest there is something askew when the economy we all participate in benefits a small minority far more than the rest. And I suggest the reason why the economy only works well for the minority is because that minority holds far more power than the growing crowd of those just getting by.


I am always doing
that which I cannot do,
in order that I may
learn how to do it.

-Pablo Picasso


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Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.

They suspend religion (rules) whenever possible and focus on faith (deeper purpose)

Seth Godin

Upside Down Thinking

I am doing a key note address at the annual conference of the Alberta Museum Association. Their interview with me (in two parts) is on their blog HERE 

Also doing a session on Upside Down Thinking at the Tamarack Community Impact Summit in Vancouver at the end of September.

And recently did an Upside Down Thinking strategy session for Aspen Family Services in Calgary.

If you are interested in a session for your organization, please CONTACT me.

Creative Work

Did you know I am a digital artist, a poet and fiction writer, and musician? Frequently I serve as an artist in residence at Tamarack gatherings and will be doing so again at Tamarack's Community Impact Summit at the end of September. 

If you are interested in spoken word inspirations and original music/songs at your event, check THIS out.

My art work is also for sale.

About Mark Holmgren

I have consulted to non-profits and governments for more than 20 years. Since 2011 I have served as the CEO of Bissell Centre.

Past clients include: the City of Edmonton, United Way, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 1000 Voices Collaborative, Alberta Rural Development Network, McEwan University, St. Stephen's College, the United Church, Muttart Foundation, and the Edmonton Food Bank.

Given my posting at Bissell Centre, my consulting work is limited to workshops on Upside Down Thinking, PCTURRES (a large scale change tool), Generative Conversations and Governance, and strategy development. I am also available to speak at conferences on topics like poverty elimination, organizational transformation, and Upside Down Thinking.

Find out more HERE