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Global Symposium Reveals New Possibility For Positive Change Through Social Connectedness

October 28, 2016

Last week, over a hundred leading thinkers, activists and community leaders from over 23 countries gathered in Montreal to develop a shared perspective on the importance of social connectedness in community-driven change and development. From remote regions of Nunavut, to the Masaai homelands of South Africa, participants came together as both teachers and learners to develop relationships and to share insights, experience and strategies to overcome social isolation and accelerate a global movement of unity and inclusiveness.


Based on the principles of respect, reciprocity and recognition, participants engaged in three days of collaborative dialogue which drew together lived experience, traditional Indigenous knowledge, academic research and practice. Perspectives synthesized from Indigenous youth and elders, McGill students, and people within government and civil society came together to connect and support the diverse range of projects and challenges from the communities represented at the Symposium.


Aiming to bridge academic research and community practice, we examined how stories are central to our understanding of the world, and how research needs to be made more compatible, accessible and valuable to the communities with whom it is generated. We learned that our relationships are the greatest overall predictor of our health and that the outcomes of research need to be communicated through art and stories in order to reach beyond the ivory tower often associated with the academy. The Symposium helped to reveal and strengthen the commonalities between Indigenous worldviews across Canada and around the world. It provided the opportunity to align and define a common vocabulary, to advance each other’s’ projects through collaboration and to celebrate the diversity and creativity across the network of participants. Challenging perspectives were presented to illustrate concepts we may not be familiar with and to inform our practice and work. These included:

  • That many ‘States’ are an imposed idea, responsible for advancing a dangerous and hurtful commodifying culture,
  • how legislation and policy have been used as a tool of the State to intentionally isolate, divide and remove the connection of peoples from their lands and resources
  • ‘Poverty’ as a foreign concept for peoples who see the Earth as a sacred provider of all the things we need in order to survive on this planet.

Through an appreciation and honoring of the inter-connectedness of all peoples and the natural world, we examined effective, sustainable and successful strategies to tackle our shared global goals such as those expressed through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Social isolation is a critical dimension which lies at the intersections of key challenges relating to poverty, health and community resilience, either causing or reinforcing some of the most pervasive aspects of development challenges.


Education is both an essential aspect to overcoming isolation but also one requiring particular focus, care and respect for cultural affirmation, community capacity and enabling self-determination. During the Symposium participants confirmed that strategies embedded in listening, awareness and solidarity are the most effective methods for building cohesion and connection in and across our communities. We must respond to challenges and build social connectedness on many levels and also work from a spirit of equity to ensure we rebuild and balance in a way that allows every individual to achieve their greatest potential.