The Power of Promotion: Poverty Simulations

Earlier this year, actress Gwyneth Paltrow tried living on food assistance for a week. She could some flack for her experiment, including in this Washington Post blog. It’s easy to chide the famous and wealthy for something like this. After all, Paltrow also caught flack for offering $90 basic white t-shirts on her lifestyle web site. (But that was a couple years ago, and I see that her prices have come down some recently.)

I’ll give Gwyneth points for trying firsthand to understand the problems of poverty and using her vast promotional power to spread awareness. As the Washington Post blog points out, unless you’re actually living in poverty today, it’s very had to grasp how people survive.

The blog offers a great suggestion for trying, though: participating in a poverty simulation.

In this version of a role-playing game, you’re dealt a hand of resources such as an income, a working car, a savings account. You’re also dealt obligations such as rent and food and childcare and utility bills. Each round, you draw from a list of events, some good and some bad: avoid the flu, experience car trouble, get laid off. The point is to experience trade-offs that you otherwise may never encounter.

I took part in a simulation as part of a community-organizing event about 10 years ago. Even in the context of a simulation, it’s a blow to lose your car because you don’t have the savings to repair it. Without a car, you can’t get your kid to affordable daycare in time to also make it to work each day. What will you do?

Promotion in the public and social spheres encompasses education as well as solicitation. I would hope that all elected officials and leaders of non-profits and NGOs have a chance to participate in a poverty simulation. We can always use more empathy when approaching questions of distribution and fairness in our communities.

If you’re in the position to do so, maybe you could offer your own poverty simulation. The link above offers materials you need to conduct your workshop.

(Art obtained from Flickr through Creative Commons license.)

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