OPINION | The gaps in our community, both economic and social, are widening and more people are slipping by the wayside.

Those of us who work in the financial services industry might in many ways be far removed from this problem, but we don’t have to look too far to see there are many people struggling. A growing number in our society are socially marginalised, a trap that is hard to escape.

At Wayside Chapel, a charity based in Kings Cross, Sydney, we operate at the raw edge of social marginalisation. Wayside’s staff members see vividly what happens to individuals, families and the community at large when marginalisation increases.

Our work also offers unique insights into what we as individuals, and as a society, can do to contribute to positive change.

Intergenerational gap

Wayside doesn’t aim to fix anyone, solve their problems or classify people as well or unwell. Our mission is to create a community without ‘us and them’, under the creed of ‘love over hate’. Big drivers of marginalisation, aside from the obvious financial factors, include poor access to education and health services, and mental health issues. These challenges can lead to intergenerational marginalisation, creating a poverty trap for the socially isolated for generations to come, a trap that just gets harder to escape from.

Clearly, the reasons underlying this are complex and cannot be trivialised. Nor is there one easy, quick fix. Perhaps above all, what is needed is a greater appreciation of the real extent of the problem and a genuine debate about possible solutions.

One cannot help but think what we also need is a good injection of common sense, tolerance and understanding, rather than populist one-minute sound grabs that lack substance.

New hope

In this spirit, Wayside Chapel is delighted to launch a new event called Side by Side, designed to be a meeting of minds to discuss and debate how we can start to move the needle on social inequality.

Side by Side presents an opportunity for the financial sector to show leadership and innovation in dealing with social marginalisation. We all know the finance sector plays a crucial role in our overall economic wellbeing. We know the sector includes many individuals who are caring, compassionate and philanthropic, and understand the value of a fair and equitable society.

However, fairly or not, our sector is constantly being judged. The harsh reality is that many people view the financial sector with an element of mistrust and see those operating within it as motivated simply by narrow self-interest and greed. There is much to be done in order to rebuild the industry’s image and regain trust within the broader community.

Side by Side will bring all of these issues into focus and, most importantly, stimulate a conversation about how we can better build a more inclusive society. It will bring people from diverse backgrounds together; those who have much and those who don’t, those from different sectors and those of different ages, those who are housed and those who are not – all meeting to achieve one goal.

The financial sector has an abundance of knowledge, skills and levers that can be applied to some of our most pressing social challenges and, working together, we can play a crucial role in helping create a fairer,  more equitable and more tolerant society.

Side by Side is being made possible by our partners Conexus Financial, the Financial Services Council, PortfolioConstruction Forum and Hattonneale.

If you would like more information about Side by Side, please contact events@thewaysidechapel.com and put Side by Side in the subject line.

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