2016 Global Symposium on Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Social Connectedness
“Hand in hand you can accomplish many things. As individuals, you get nowhere.“ Alex Diabo, Kahnawake Mohawk elder
Social isolation is the inadequate quality and quantity of social relations with other people. Social isolation lies at the intersection of key challenges related to poverty, health and community resilience. Social connectedness is important to people because it gives them a sense of belonging, but also because it facilitates their access to opportunities, services, and resources that can help them overcome poverty and other challenges.
Synergos’ work on social connectedness focuses on the wellbeing of children and caregivers in Southern Africa. Our program is conducted in partnership with Kim Samuel and supported by the Samuel Family Foundation, which in October 2016 hosted the second Global Symposium on Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness. Synergos, Special Olympics International, TakingIT Global, and McGill University were partners in the event, held at McGill in Montreal, Canada. The event brought together over 100 thinkers, activists and community leaders from over 20 countries, including 12 people engaged in Synergos’ program in Southern Africa and eight Synergos Senior Fellows from around the world.
Discussion at the event highlighted the commonality of experience with isolation and approaches to overcoming it among diverse communities: people affected by poverty, disability, violent conflict, colonization, and ethnic and racial discrimination.. Accordingly, participants found great commonality of interventions to deepen social connectedness.
More generally, practices for supporting social connectedness such as focusing on inclusion, listening to people affected by the problem, and building upon community strengths and interests are are closely aligned with best practices in development in general. Addressing persistent isolation also requires systemic approaches and systems thinking.
During the event, Synergos and Partners in Health co-hosted a collaboration jam designed to elicit ideas on how work to overcome isolation can help improve community wellbeing and end poverty. Strengthening social connectedness is a component of Partners in Health’s public health work in Chiapas, Mexico.
Insights from the Synergos/Partners in Health session included:
- Rather than competing with or working separately from government, external actors such as NGOs should complement government programs, model the potential of government action, and develop new approahces that might be adopted by government at larger scale
- Strengthening social connectedness and inclusion efforts can help to build trust in services provided by governments; social connectedness interventions can therefore be an important accompaniment to improvements in infrastructure such as schools and health facilities
- Creating systemic change requires addressing not just physical but also psycho-social and relationship needs
- Self-knowledge and self-reflection can strengthen the skills necessary for empathy and collaboration; opportunities for such inner work can be beneficial for all development workers at all levels.