Roundtable Discussion in NYC

Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness
Special session hosted by Kim Samuel and The Samuel Family Foundation
New York City – May 6, 2015

On May 6th, 2015, thought leaders gathered from international organizations including Special Olympics International, Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, Human Rights Watch, Synergos Institute, TakingITGlobal, Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, The Value Web, Caritas International – The Vatican Aid Agency, Institute for Studies in International Development (ISID) – McGill University, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Jubilee Sailing Trust, Prince’s Charities Canada, Yukon’s First Nation Emerging Leaders, and others‎.

As explained by Kim Samuel in her opening remarks, this convening focused on “Pathways to Connectedness”, under three themes: Dignity, Creativity and Reciprocity”. This enabled us to go beyond the core points of focus at the Symposium in October, 2014. Kim introduced the themes with important reflections drawing on artistic, historical and contemporary references, as summarized here:

DIGNITY invokes feelings of self-pride and refers to the state of being worthy of honour and respect. Dignity provides an inspirational point of focus for always striving to support the dignity of every person, no matter their circumstance or condition.

CREATIVITY speaks to imagination and original ideas, usually linked to the production of art but increasingly seen as a key aspect of innovation. Creativity is an essential yet often overlooked tool to build connectedness and an effective anchor that can protect and nurture.

RECIPROCITY can be a complex concept yet its essence is that of mutual exchange based on the clear recognition of the equality of both parties. Reciprocity involves carefully and thoughtfully thinking through every situation and every action from the value of mutuality and shared interest, thereby generating new ideas and understanding both of problems and solutions.

In referencing specific follow-up from the Symposium as well as new voices joining the movement, Kim recognized Ovide Mercredi of Misipawistik Cree Nation and HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and invited them to share a few words.

Ovide shared his vision of pathways that are needed – not singular solutions but rather a range of pathways that address long historical injustices that now require new ideas and new processes to succeed. In particular, he highlighted respect and recognition as being essential components to connectedness of people to family, to community and to territory and to culture for wellbeing and success in the fullest meaning of the word.

As a tangible example of initiatives that have followed directly from the Symposium, information was shared regarding an innovative education project aimed at addressing critical issues of youth graduation and unemployment within Canadian northern Indigenous communities. A partnership between Misipawistik Cree Nation and the Samuel Family Foundation has begun to build a model of community-driven change, empowerment and self-determination. This initiative has fostered new linkages between generations within the community, linking youth with cultural understanding, traditional skills and confidence to succeed in their chosen pathway.

Prince Haakon shared his experience and perspectives as Co-Founder of Global Dignity Day. He explained that Global Dignity Day started at the World Economic Forum (WEF) following dialogue with other members of the WEF’s community of Young Global Leaders to consider what is at the very core of positive change. This discussion concluded that at the core is dignity and that what we must consider is how do we operationalize dignity. Global Dignity Day is now active in 60 countries where positive stories and experiences are shared, highlighted each year on Global Dignity Day, where school children across the world are led through a curriculum designed to create their own awareness of dignity in the classroom and in their lives outside school too . Technology is used to facilitate connectedness between peoples and across generations.

We see a very strong linkage between respect, recognition and dignity in relation to the journey from isolation to social connectedness and look forward to ongoing collaboration with Ovide and other leaders from Canada’s Indigenous communities, as well as Prince Haakon and other Young Global Leaders involved with Dignity Day, such as one of our partners, Jennifer Corriero of TakingITGlobal in Canada.

Following a short presentation providing an overview of the Symposium and next steps, there was an opportunity for facilitated group dialogue among all of the guests.

The dialogue concluded with many insightful comments including those captured below:

  • Reciprocity requires us to recognize the needs and transform from an individual to a collective mentality and perspective.
  • While we can’t change human nature, we can change the frame of the conversation.
  • Reciprocity becomes a vehicle for seeking mutual happiness.
  • Creativity allows us to step outset of ourselves as individuals and can be a freeing and connecting mechanism to reinforce the positive.
  • Co-existence and mutual accommodations between different peoples must be encouraged and this yields new learning as we begin to recognize one another.
  • With caregivers we witness the experience of people’s own dignity being strengthened by sharing and bringing dignity to others.
  • The built environment can foster dignity or work against it.
  • Co-existence is what we must strive for – young, old, rich, poor – co-existence needs to be fashioned and created – must be deliberate.

In conclusion, guests expressed appreciation for the opportunity to gather and to share important reflections to take forward their own work as well as part of the growing movement aimed at calling out, de-stigmatizing and finding pathways out of isolation and into social connectedness.

In the Fall of 2015, another convening is being planned to further the discussion and to advance planning for the second global symposium in the Fall of 2016. Dates and information will be announced soon.