Online Anti-Poverty Community

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Penny Goldsmith

Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need in order to take control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled, or to advocate effectively for themselves. Lack of access to communication severely limits the opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and where advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community can be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.


The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labour organizations, public libraries, women


Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly, and society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the internet and other communications technology.

Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear that the two worlds have to connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for people who can afford access to the technology. Public access sites are rarely adequate to feed public need; users need people to help them do online research, and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need money to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.

PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources. PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include: * Canada Without Poverty (, a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada * The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (, a left-wing think tank doing research for change in social policy * Canadian Social Research Links (, an all-inclusive resource for social policy information about poverty in Canada.

PovNet is an online home base for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes. Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the web site when they need the information on it that is relevant to their lives.

For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years to be an invaluable resource for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada. As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues." Another PovNetter says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement workers working with immigrants and refugees, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."

Other PovNet tools include online education and training courses on PovNet U for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy", "Disability Appeals", "Tenants' Rights", "Employment Insurance", "Seniors Residential Care Advocacy", "Dealing with Debt"). 

PovNet is a flexible tool in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a  campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists travelled to tyhe United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of poor people in Canada on social and economic rights.

Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities include, first and foremost, the people who are involved in the movement. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities including urban and ural, First Nations, aboriginal, diverse cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers. Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and web based interactive resources.

Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates saw the use of it as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher end equipment, advocates in rural communities with dialup get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time, for example. The anti-poverty work gets harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology can't help that. But in spite of the difficulties, the network continues to grow, make links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for making social change.


The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as they come up. Electronic resources can provide additional tools but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.

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