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  • Eugene McGarrell

It's time to use our privilege for social good.


Here in Australia we live in a rich country. The weather is glorious, the country is beautiful, and the economy continues to grow despite global influences such as the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the current trade war between the 2 biggest economies in the USA and China.


So why is there an epidemic in depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, domestic violence and homelessness? Neo-liberal policy promised a trickle down of wealth from the strong economy to support those of us who may be experiencing social, economic or health disadvantage. We are all supposed to be enjoying the benefits of a strong economy.


But more people are becoming marginalised. More people are losing out and the gap between those of us struggling to make ends meet and those of us enjoying the fruits of our economy is widening.


We can continue to ignore the growing number of people living on the streets as we grab our $4 coffees on the way to work until we find ourselves needing to leave an abusive relationship with only a car as shelter.


We can continue to ignore the rising suicide rates until we find ourselves in the depths of depression with no one willing to really listen to our despair. We can continue to create the story that poverty only happens to people who are too lazy to work until we find ourselves on the verge of divorce, out of work and a huge mortgage to finance.


As more people become more marginalised, the risk to any one of us finding ourselves in poverty, addicted, surviving abuse, homeless and experiencing a mental illness increases. This is not just an issue for “them” it’s an issue for all of us.


I live in the lucky country and I have the privilege of being white, Anglo, male, straight with a Christian background. Life is good for us, doors opened, and we are lucky enough to live the dream. But many of us don’t realise the benefits of being privileged. We think it was our hard work, our qualifications and our smarts that got us to where we are now.


Being a white, Anglo, male, straight, Christians (with the luxury of becoming an atheist) has served me well. I have only recently opened my eyes to this lottery because I too thought it was my work ethics, my qualifications and my smarts that helped my career.


So, we the privileged have a choice. We can deny the benefits of privilege and continue as before allowing the margins to widen. We can feel guilty about our privilege and continuously apologise for the accident of birth that attracted wealth to our lives. Or we can own our privilege to make a difference.


Privilege has got us into senior roles in business, government and community organisations. We are in roles of influence and power. We can come together to make sure the benefits of a strong economy are enjoyed by all and without stigma. We have the chance to make a difference. We have the potential to eradicate homelessness, to save lives by reducing suicide rates, to reverse the trend in depression and anxiety in our children and young people, to reduce addiction and stop violence in the home.


How?


We do this by using the resources, networks, influences and power for good. We do this by engaging authentically with our communities. We do this be aligning business, government and not for profit sectors to deliver social impact. We do this by changing our attitudes.


There are many of us in this space that know what needs to be done. We need to get organised and we need leaders (privileged or otherwise) to genuinely come together and act.


Unfortunately, sleeping out once a year to raise awareness of homelessness is not enough. Buying a white ribbon lapel badge wont top violence in the home. Holding an RUOK day event at work won't reduce suicide. These are all positive signs of a commitment to doing good, but they make us feel good but they don't lead to sustainable change.


I believe it's possible that a few people in key roles can use their privilege to leverage changes in government policy, funding, philanthropy, collective action and community innovation.


Are you one of them?