Network Seeks to Change Calgarians’ Relationship with Their Money

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Strategist Salimah Kassam shares what she sees as possible

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

When it comes to changing people’s relationship with their money, Salimah Kassam loves things that create simplicity and allow for planning that isn’t painful — such as an automated savings set-up.

With these tools, people can be automatically improving their financial health even while they’re working through the deeper psychological aspects of their relationship with money.

Salimah is convinced that if more people were using these kinds of automated tools, it would be tremendously beneficial to the financial well-being of citizens across the city.

And thanks to a network she’s joined, she’s feeling more hopeful than ever that that can happen.

Salimah Kassam Salimah is a strategist with Financial Futures Calgary, a network of more than 40 organizations ranging from non-profit social service agencies to government departments and financial institutions.

This group is committed to strengthening the capacity of the entire community, including people living in poverty, to both build their own assets and create a new and improved relationship with money.

Salimah describes one part of her dream for the work this way: “I would really love to see every social worker at every agency in Calgary have the ability to understand what it takes to help someone manage their money, build assets and move out of poverty.”

Changing one’s relationship with one’s money. Building assets. It all sounds somewhat mysterious and complex.

But Salimah’s stories and examples begin to reveal a much clearer picture. What she and all her cohorts of the Financial Futures Calgary network are trying to encourage, support and equip people to do is essentially be wise when it comes to finances. Save money. Set up a system to automatically pay off debts over time. Consider not buying those high-cost luxury items on credit during one of Calgary’s boom periods.

Salimah recalls her years working with a non-profit agency in Calgary that supported people to gain or regain their financial health. She was repeatedly amazed at who came in — people about to be evicted, had ruined their credit, or lost everything they’d built — and the year before they’d been bringing in very nice-sized salaries.

“I see it all the time in Alberta and it’s just like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t think maybe to put $10,000 away? No? That wasn’t interesting?” Salimah says.

She’s speaking half in jest. All of this is easier said than done — as plain wisdom too often seems to be.

Hence the need for mentorship, counselling and support, not to mention automated tools. Hence the creation of a network with a bold goal of fortifying the entire community’s capacity to build assets and form a new and improved relationship with money.

Salimah is especially hopeful about the network’s effort given the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI) as it brings poverty reduction to a central and visible stage in the city.

But there’s still lots of room for people to come out and play.

For instance, Salimah sees opportunities for Calgary’s corporate and financial sectors joining in to share their wisdom and strengths on financial literacy.

“There is actually this huge asset of people who know very well how to do that kind of stuff, who want to have meaningful volunteer opportunities,” Salimah says.

Or what if the banking sector got involved in creating safe credit products for those in poverty? This could combat predatory lending options that are on the rise in Alberta, provide a healthier option for people in poverty needing money and act as a win-win for the bank, which generates a more positive community profile.

“I’m hoping that with the CPRI and just more of an overall effort being put towards this stuff that we will get some more senior level engagement from the traditional banking sector on this, which would be a huge asset,” Salimah says.

As for how any change from financial empowerment might be measured, Salimah is less keen on the proposal to look at credit-risk scores and their improvement.

The better measure of financial health, she suggests, is to look at changes in the net worth of Calgarians.

This is a measure that should soon be much more possible thanks to a new financial vulnerability index about to be released by Prosper Canada and the Canadian Council on Social Development.

“I think especially with the financial vulnerability index we will be able to actually see if we can change the net worth of Calgarians . . . Is someone in poverty, for example, going from a negative net worth to a positive net worth where you are saving for the future, where you do have an asset or two under your name?”

To learn more about Financial Futures Calgary and get involved, click here.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 5 February 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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