Professor plots to alleviate poverty in Surrey

June 29, 2006, volume 36, no. 5
By Terry Lavender

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Sean Markey, a geographer based at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus, doesn't just teach about poverty and other community issues; he's actively trying to change things for the better.

Markey, an assistant professor with the explorations in arts and social sciences program and an associate with SFU's centre for sustainable community development, has been volunteering with Vibrant Surrey, a community action group, for more than two years now.

Markey says he volunteers his time with the group both because of a desire to work with the community and because of the connection with his academic activities. “It has strong linkages to my research. It's important to do research in your own backyard.”

Vibrant Surrey is comprised of several organizations, including SFU, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, the Surrey Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, and the Surrey Women's Centre. Its goal is to encourage efforts to reduce poverty in Surrey.

The members of Vibrant Surrey believe that since poverty has a variety of causes, a variety of strategies are needed to alleviate it.

“If we're all sitting at the same table,” Markey says, “we can do more. We can try gender-based approaches, or health strategies, employment, education and training, or housing.”

Markey notes that nearly 20 percent of the city's population is below the poverty line and that the need for social services in Surrey has outstripped the city's provision of those services.

As examples of their work, Markey and the Vibrant Surrey group have initiated two particular projects, Seeing is Believing and the Surrey Social Purchasing Portal.

Seeing is Believing is a program for corporate executives and other community leaders to study local community conditions and identify ways their organizations can engage with the community. Earlier this year, Surrey business and community leaders, including SFU President Michael Stevenson and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, toured Surrey's Whalley area as part of the program.

The Internet-based Social Purchasing Portal encourages businesses to commit to purchasing from local suppliers who hire within the community.

With the explorations program, Markey teaches the first-year course, Organizing Society, which examines topics such as family, citizenship, community, corporations, nationhood, and the natural environment.

He says he plans to integrate his Vibrant Surrey activities with the class, but cautions that “you don't want to just unleash 100 first-year students on the community. You have to plan carefully. You have to be respectful when engaging with the community.”

For more information about the Vibrant Surrey initiative, see

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