The Power of Who You Know

Open letter to the World Bank

It all started when Israel Bayer who I knew as Street Roots’ creative director asked if I’d like to speak at the Crisis Innovation’s Fair 2004 in London in the UK which he’d learned of through Michael Stoops who he knows at the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC.

Upon conferring with Dignity’s Treasurer and outreach co-coordinator Tim McCarthy who some know as tight-fisted and "a bit of a Luddite" according to Amy Haimerl’s feature article Pitching Tents in Denver’s Westword magazine and attorney Marc Jolin who many know as Dignity’s defender and Jo O’Rourke of the British charity Crisis UK who I knew from the contact information Israel provided about the hows and whys, I accepted the invitation to speak as a keynote speaker.

The juxtaposition of keynote speakers at the conference was as startling as the venue at the ABN AMRO Bank in the heart of London’s financial district was stunning. Who would have thought a poorly-educated Rasta and former doorway dweller would ever share a podium with a Harvard and Brown educated PHD senior social scientist of the World Bank? I know JAH who is my light and my salvation and who lifteth I up from the dust of the Earth and causeth I to sit at a table with Princes of Men is ever-living and all-powerful. And God alone guides our steps and protects His children.

Not all of what Dr Woolcock said during his presentation of the "social capital" theory at the conference which guides WB policy I agree with, particularly the vertical linking up and down between those at the bottom and those at the top of the social order. Using the vertical metaphor of a ladder it seems many rungs for the poor to climb from our present location in social space to the top rung where Michael Woolcock is perched. My reasoning was to write Michael the accompanying letter and go straight to the top as we now know each other from the conference.


Letter to the World Bank

Dear Michael,

My name’s Jack Tafari and you might remember that we shared a podium at last October’s CRISIS Innovations Fair on Homelessness and Social Exclusion in London, that we met and chatted over glasses of wine at Crisis’ Skylight Café the night before the conference.

The little village named Dignity where I come from and we talked about is poor at least in terms of monetary capital. We raise funding mostly by writing grants, a skill our grant-writing committee is just learning, and by passing the hat in various ways. We need funding to better serve our community and build the green, sustainable urban village of Our Proposal.

Your presentation of the theory of social capital at the conference, Michael, was strong and compelling, an eye-opener to one such as myself. I see Dignity’s formation now with different eyes and recognize our early bonding among next doorway neighbours for what it was in the terminology of the construct, also the networking across the wider community of our early campaign to gain support to extricate ourselves from those doorways and win sanction from the City. It really is in the power of who you know.

My presentation went less well, I’m afraid, as I hadn’t slept that well the night before. I’d spent the night on the streets of Brixton in S. W. London shivering under a market tarp on some cardboard I’d found due to a miscommunication with our hosts, something CRISIS UK rectified right away upon learning of it. Sleep deprivation is common enough among us homeless people who lack roofs over our beds. But be that as it may.

I’m glad we had the opportunity to meet at the Skylight, Michael, as it establishes a link between our organizations and thought we might network a little as per your theory. I’m wondering if the World Bank would consider extending Dignity Village a capitalization loan of US $1,000,000 to purchase the land on which to build the magnificent eco-village we envision and have sought for so long. I should think you’d be proud to see your "social capital" model in action.

You concluded your presentation by saying "The logic we believe we work to is that we start with an idea, debate the idea, try to measure it, and turn it into practice. A key part of moving forward is recognizing that it also flows the other way. At the World Bank, our directors sometimes spend a week in a village. After a week of going to collect water from a hole in the ground, some come back with the equivalent of a religious conversion and want to start basing policy on practice."

On behalf of our directors whose council I chair, I’d like to invite you and your directors to spend a week in our village. We’ve had many distinguished visitors and guests including a US Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate and don’t worry, Michael, you won’t have to collect your water from a hole in the ground. Our village is built largely with the recycled scraps of what many people throw away and although the asphalt we live on blisters in the summer and floods in the winter, Dignity has the basic amenities.

We could talk about the possibility of such a loan with your visit, its terms, work out repayment schedules and so forth. I wouldn’t expect the equivalent of a religious conversion among your directors after spending a week in Dignity, but we could share great discussions about basing policy on practice.

Warm regards,

Jack Tafari


Dignity Village, Inc