Kim Samuel was in Barbados this past week to give the keynote address at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) where she discussed her life’s work promoting social inclusion and belonging. Her speech, From Agreement to Action: Fostering Social Connectedness as Key to Sustainable Development, was met with excitement by the CDB, as they continue to strengthen social development and community in the Caribbean.
Ms. Samuel is a Professor of Practice at the University of McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development. Kim’s work focusing on social isolation as a critical experiential and measurable component of multi-dimensional poverty underscores the importance of social connectedness to human dignity and human rights struggles globally. This work is especially critical to the Caribbean, where chronic, complex poverty remains a serious issue.
Being connected to one another is a basic human need – the feeling of exclusion undermines a person’s identity and dignity, and “deprives them of their agency and voice.” In her speech, Ms. Samuel explains that the consequences of social isolation can even be seen at the molecular level. Isolation and loneliness can lead to the inflammation of our cells, the creation of stress hormones, and the weakening of our immune systems.
The problem of social isolation can be considered as part of a causality dilemma. Ms. Samuel maintains that isolation “tends to be seen as a consequence of problems—when in fact, as I have come to see, it can also be very much the cause of them.”
Ms. Samuel’s work around the world highlights this causation and affirms that isolation is indeed “holding people back” from reaching their potential in the community. Her meetings with individuals from Mozambique and South Africa call attention to the unfortunate situation in which individuals neglect public health and community services because of feelings of embarrassment and loneliness. She also underlines the problem in Canada — her home — to explore the impact of social isolation on a community. “I’ve seen how the legacy of forced assimilation has cut indigenous peoples off from their own heritage, culture, and traditions, and set the stage for isolation and dysfunction within communities that had thrived for thousands of years.”
The timing of this advocacy is opportune, as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) came into full force as of January 1, 2016. The SDGs were put in place in order to “stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.” In her speech, Ms. Samuel urges the importance of the SDGs as they “represent a vote for global connectedness.” She holds the belief that the CDB can be a leader in developing and pursuing initiatives that address the problems of social isolation from the outset.
The CDB has been proactive in fostering social connectedness. In her speech, Ms. Samuel commends their work with the Basic Needs Trust Fund, which involves communities in determining what pressing issue needs to be tackled. She praises the CDB’s Youth “VYBZING” Outreach Programme – a project involving “youth empowerment and participation in the development process.”
The CDB, according to Ms. Samuel, can establish a “continuum of connectedness,” moving from the local to the global, and instilling the importance of social inclusion in its development missions. Addressing the CDB policy-makers, Ms. Samuel maintains: “You can show that sustainable development works best when it goes hand in hand with social connectedness… lifting your countries, lifting your region, and ultimately helping to lift the whole world.”
*This piece is a summary based entirely on the Kim Samuel keynote address at the Caribbean Development Bank meeting on May 3, 2016.