THE BLOG

What We Need To Care About in 2015

01/08/2015 07:55 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT

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While out shopping the other day, I came across a t-shirt that gave me pause. A long, hard pause. Hanging a few feet from the store's entrance, the shirt had the following words emblazoned in big, bold, black letters: What Do I Care.

Perhaps if I was feeling more good-humoured, the smart-ass wording would've engendered a snicker before I walked on. But today wasn't that day. That morning 12 innocent victims were killed at Charlie Hebdo, for the crime of speaking their mind, of trying to bring some levity to those who lost perspective, some humour to the humourless. As a journalist, as a human being, I was shocked and saddened and felt my own personal freedom of expression attacked in that one despicable and cowardly act.

That it came on the heels of a difficult year for those with a sense of shared humanity, only added fuel to my fire. From the Ebola crisis to the terrorizing efforts of ISIS to continued human struggles around the world and right here at home, the dismissive tone of those words, reeking of contempt -- or worse, apathy -- didn't seem very funny.

I guess you could say I was feeling reflective. Or annoyed. Or frightened. Or angry. Probably all of the above. Either way, that t-shirt made me wonder about the deeper implications of its message and those who may subscribe to it. We've all seen them. They're the shoulder-shruggers, life's side-steppers, the ones who push their way onto the subway with no regard or patience for those exiting, for whom being first is primary and being helpful or compassionate falls down their list of priorities.

Here's the thing: I'm fortunate to work in a field where people of all ages share one thing in common: the capacity to care. I've had the opportunity to witness activists, social entrepreneurs, leaders of organizations work tirelessly to achieve social change. I watch and write about them in awe and admiration.

But more needs to be done. And we need more folks to care for that to happen. In place of apathy, dismissiveness and contempt, I give you three reasons we should care right here at home in 2015 -- and care a heckuva lot.

1. Food Insecurity -- According to last year's Household Food Insecurity in Canada report, the number of Canadians having difficulty putting food on the table remains as bad if not worse than the year before. Four million Canadians, including 1.6 million children, representing around 13 per cent of households, struggle with some level of food insecurity.

A number of folks are working hard at finding solutions. Food Secure Canada, for example, is advocating for a national food policy that can help tackle the interrelated issues of food insecurity -- hunger, obesity, declining numbers of farmers -- while promoting local food and ecological production in urban and rural settings. In full disclosure, I will be moderating a panel on this topic on February 3 in Toronto, with social entrepreneurs sharing their efforts and challenges in establishing sustainable food systems, educating farmers, influencing policy and promoting healthier and safer foods for those who lack food security.

2. Homelessness -- In the State of Homelessness in Canada report, released last year, it was found that 235,000 Canadians deal with homelessness each year, at a cost to the economy of $7 billion, with 35,000 Canadians living without a home on any given night. What's more, 50 per cent of homeless individuals have some form of mental illness, compared to 20 per cent of Canadians. The study attributes declining wages, benefit levels and supply of affordable housing to the continued risk of homelessness for Canadians.

With current government programs seemingly limited in their ability to address the issue, changemakers are stepping up and new initiatives are taking root. The social impact bond (SIB), for example, has been hailed as possible social change contender in this area. The SIB allows a social program -- typically reliant on government grants and donations -- to be funded by private investors. If specific outcomes of the program are achieved within the time allotted, the government repays the investors (if it doesn't, investors receive nothing). Last May, Saskatoon became the first city in Canada to implement an SIB, bringing government, investors and a nonprofit organization together to establish a home for at-risk single mothers.

The home offers them an affordable place to live, keeps their children out of foster care, and provides hope for the future. Whether SIBs can address homelessness on a larger scale remains to be seen but it's one tool of many that will be examined further.

3. Violence Against Aboriginal Women -- A recent RCMP report found 1,181 cases of murdered or missing indigenous women in Canada since 1980, with more than 100 others remaining missing under suspicious circumstances or for unknown reasons. To put that in perspective, those numbers represent 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of all missing women cases in Canada. The disproportionate number of Aboriginal women who have been the victim of violence should be a concern to everyone.

And while the issue has been on the radar for decades now, a 16-year-old student may have finally given it the national attention it deserves. In fact, after Rinelle Harper, who was brutally attacked last month near the Assiniboine River, made a personal plea for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, the moment to care has never felt so timely.

Just three reasons to care as we begin 2015. As the year progresses, I will examine other issues worthy of pause and profile the tools and social entrepreneurs working to address them. Toward a brighter future for Canada and the world, my hope is we change the conversation from "What do I Care" to "How Can I Not".