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$5m target for fund to level the island’s playing field

Michael Schrum,chairman of the board, and Myra Virgil, managing director, both Bermuda Foundation (Photograph supplied)

A $5 million target was yesterday set for a new social fund designed to give a hand-up to the most underprivileged sectors of society.

The Bermuda Foundation launched the scheme to support schemes that would offer “mobility and advancement for the most disadvantaged”.

Myra Virgil, the organisation’s managing director, said yesterday: “It’s obviously a massive task but we believe that we need to take some substantive steps towards tackling social inequity in our community.

“It is essential for Bermuda’s future wellbeing and sustainability.”

She was speaking as the foundation released a “call to action” paper – Social Equity: is philanthropy up for the challenge?

The group said that the report gave “a context for social and race equity in Bermuda” that offered “guidance on programme investment opportunities for people who want to give”.

A statement added: “The fund itself is a permanent charitable fund with a goal of reaching $5 million to support annual disbursements in perpetuity.”

Dr Virgil said: “Building an endowment fund addresses the enduring and pervasive nature of this issue, which is deeply rooted in our community.

“Successfully addressing lack of equity, access, mobility and inclusion will be a long haul.

“It is entirely in keeping with the work of the community foundation – social issue research, fund and grants management for the long term.”

Dr Virgil added: “When the pandemic hit our shores, shelter-in-place and other protective requirements to help make us safe were put into effect.

“But the pandemic revealed more than health risks, it revealed deep gaps in the social safety net.”

The charity, known as the BCF because it formerly operated as the Bermuda Community Foundation, emphasised it did not want to politicise the problem.

Dr Virgil said: “As a small community with limited resources, there is no benefit in making educational success, literacy or good citizenship political footballs.”

The Social Equity report warned: “The Covid-19 pandemic has left a trail of economic devastation in its wake: diminished / lost industries, jobs and livelihoods.

“It has created a deepening chasm into which the most vulnerable will inevitably fall and the climb back out will be almost impossible for even the brightest and most determined.”

The report said: “To effectively address the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, short-term and longer term, will require innovation, adaptability and energy.

“Our man-made socio-economic pandemic attacks people’s dignity and feeling of self-worth and creates barriers to genuine equity that only full-scale education, economic and immigration reform can resolve.

“Structural inequities restrict opportunities for poor people to get a good education blocking their access to well-paying jobs and self-sustaining employment, a healthy life and access to capital.

“We need to get serious about addressing the consequences of an education system, as a whole, that is not making the grade, because every year of stagnation contributes to more inequality and multigenerational poverty, creating communities within our society that are physically and emotionally unhealthy.”

It added: “The Covid-19 pandemic reinforced what we already knew: access to education, mobility and the commensurate income level is not equal, and the lines clearly follow racial demographics.

The report said that work to break the cycle of poverty will be “hard, uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking”.

It explained that results may depend on “skills and money we don’t currently have” or a “wholesale rejigging of our education systems”.

The report said: “Finding solutions requires the expertise of people who build institutions where maybe structural inequities continue to exist.

“Their commitment is needed because they have the skills.

“In some cases, this may require changes to a system that they helped to create and sustain, one that has worked for them.”

The report added: “Individuals who have experienced inequity can provide insight into ways they continue to be marginalised and disadvantaged, but changing structures, access, mobility and compensation requires input and effort from the people running the business sector.

“This is where philanthropy has some influence.”

The report said: “Bermuda is governed by leaders who reflect the majority population, but the owners, managers and decision-makers of many of the larger businesses do not reflect Bermuda’s racial composition.”

The report highlighted inequalities in income, school achievement and in the criminal justice system.

A list of ways to help included improvement in technology skills and access to “more and better training and development programmes”.

Others suggestions included “the dismantling of structural barriers to mobility and opportunity”.

The report said: “Thousands of residents, a large proportion of whom are people of colour, struggled to make ends meet even before the Covid outbreak.

“The creation of a genuine social safety net requires our ongoing attention – an economic response as well as a socio-economic response.

“In addition, and just as important, is the need to shore up the non-profits in the sector that are achieving impact or demonstrating the potential to tackle these social problems in innovative ways.”

*To read the report in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”. For more information or to donate visit www.bcf.bm.

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Published October 22, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated October 21, 2020 at 6:58 pm)

$5m target for fund to level the island’s playing field

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