Global Symposium

Global Symposium 2019

The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, in partnership with the Samuel Family Foundation, hosted the 2019 Global Symposium at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto from October 28, 2019 to October 30, 2019.

Social isolation is both a cause and consequence of pressing global issues: climate change, forced displacement and political polarization to name a few. Although these challenges affect us in different ways, every one of us is implicated. The solutions to tackling them will rest on our individual and collective ability to overcome this isolation, to recognize community as our most valuable asset in fostering resilience, and to re-envision the possibilities for belonging in an increasingly divided world.

That is why the theme for this year’s Symposium was:
“Reimagining Community in the 21st Century”

Continue exploring the 2019 Symposium


The 2019 Global Symposium on Reimagining Community in the 21st Century convened our core partners, as well as a dynamic group of activists and changemakers from Canada, and across the globe. We were joined by over 150 policymakers, academics, funders, and community workers from over 15 countries including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, South Africa, Pakistan, and Australia.

Together, we explored how leading organizations and individuals can work to strengthen human connections and build the resilient communities of the future—ones in which we all belong. 

Learning from individuals with diverse backgrounds, we focused on the intersectionality of building belonging while addressing issues of Indigenous rights, disability rights, elderly rights, and migrants rights, among others. We were able to build on collective knowledge, learn from different “Models of Change” rooted in local communities, and bridge the gap between policy-making, collective action and individual advocacy. 

Three core concepts underpinned our discussions over the three days during keynotes, panels, storytelling, and breakout sessions:

  • The Right to Belong
  • The Bank of Resilience
  • The Charter for Belonging

Core Concepts

At the 2019 Global Symposium, participants were introduced to a new framework for building belonging through three core concepts. These concepts offer not only a philosophical framework for understanding belonging, but a pathway forward grounded in practical solutions. To learn how you can implement these concepts as an individual or an organization, read our “Taking the Movement Forward” section below.

Right to Belong

Belonging is a birthright. Every person, by virtue of being born, should have the opportunity to enjoy at least a basic connection to each of the four P’s. Every person needs rich connection to other people, to place and nature, to a sense of purpose, and to an experience of power and agency. Leaders around the world should treat the principle of belonging accordingly: Not only as a priority, but as a right.

Bank of Resilience

Whether in facing environmental degradation, dislocations from conflict, or the automation of jobs, we, as human beings, need to cultivate resilience. We need to grow our power to support each other, to adapt, to innovate, to persevere. Building connection, community, and belonging means building resilience. At the 2019 Global Symposium, we re-imagined what it could look like to build a new system of exchange that focuses on our collective resilience—our shared experience of belonging.

Charter for Belonging

We need to envision the world we want. We need a clear, realistic, yet ambitious roadmap to get us there. A Charter for Belonging is a living document that is an open repository of ideas, signed by anyone and everyone, the public commons of principles and practices of what we value with respect to human connectedness. It’s a statement of our aspirations and a compendium of the most effective tools and practices for achieving those aspirations.

Some principles could look like the following:

  • For a school principal, building belonging could mean hosting a “Dignity Day”—an opportunity for students and staff stop to recognize each other and to hold discussions on how to live with more harmony.
  • For a community organization that serves older persons, it could be a commitment to creating a spaces where people of all ages—regardless of status or condition—can meet as friends and support each other in a spirit of reciprocity.
  • For someone living in a community where there’s anger and division over politics, it could mean hosting a party or a dinner to bring together people with different opinions to build personal rapport.

Belonging as the 4 P’s

Belonging is a state of wholeness: the experience of being at home in the social, environmental, organizational, and cultural contexts of one’s life. Belonging is beloved community, rootedness in a place, a feeling of ownership in shared outcomes, and a sense of shared mission. It’s not just human contact—it’s care.
—Kim Samuel, Founder of the Samuel Center for Social Connectedness

Throughout the 2019 Global Symposium, we explored the notion of belonging as a connection to the 4 P’s: People, Place, Power, and Purpose.


Belonging means relationship and community—including face-to-face connection—grounded not only in mutual interest but also in care. Simple human interactions are necessary, but not sufficient. Building true community requires active recognition of the inherent worth of each and every human being, starting with one’s own self.


Belonging means rootedness in a place. Having a home means having a sanctuary—a place where you can be understood by others, where it’s possible to be honest and present, where you don’t have to “wear masks.” Having a home can also mean knowing you’re “in the right place” by the scent of the air, the sight of the trees, the taste of the food. When we feel a sense of belonging in a physical place or a natural ecosystem, we feel intuitive commitment to preserve it.


Belonging means agency: our capacity to contribute, to help shape our circumstances, to give our gifts to the world. Belonging isn’t just a passive state. We can cultivate our sense of belonging by practicing day-to-day acts of empathy; we can grow our belonging in a society by having agency to steer its course and shape its culture, whether by creating art or sharing ideas or participating in the political process.


Belonging is purpose and meaning. For a person to have the rich experience of “being in the right place,” it’s naturally important to have a sense of our context—a perspective on why we’re here, where we should be headed, and what’s right and good. A person can find belonging by encountering a calling or an ethical orientation that underlies empathy and connection.

Models of Change to Build Belonging

As participants considered what it means to belong, they were asked to contemplate, “How do we build belonging in our world? How can we reimagine and reawaken community in this age of so much isolation and fragmentation?”

Several organizations actively engaged in building belonging shared their “Models of Change,” which showcases their theory of change and tangible strategies they have put in place to foster a greater sense of belonging.

The Friendship Bench

Organization: The Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench is an innovative psychological intervention conceived by Dr. Dixon Chibanda and supported by Grand Challenges Canada. Noting the acute shortage of psychiatrists and mental healthcare options in Zimbabwe, Dr. Chibanda developed a community-based solution: grandmothers providing therapy on park benches. As custodians of the local culture and wisdom, grandmothers were an invaluable, untapped resource. By training them in cognitive-behaviour therapy, this model was able to provide mental healthcare across Zimbabwe. It is now being incorporated in other countries across the world.

Misipawistik Pimatisiméskanaw

Organization: Misipawistik Cree Nation

This model brings together youth, Elders, and community members in Misipawistik to engage inland-based learning. Activities are conducted to facilitate intergenerational knowledge transfer and impart Cree culture and teaching. In this manner, the youth learn of their history and culture from the Elders and through lessons and trips , while the Elders have the opportunity to be actively engaged in the community as knowledge bearers as well as to connect with the youth.

Community Health Workers 

Organization: Partners in Health (PIH)

PIH has always relied on Community Health Workers (CHWs) to promote community engagement, support patients and families, and link patients to care. In Malawi, the CHW program began as a support and accompaniment model for Tuberculosis and HIV patients. Upon noting improved patient adherence to treatment as a result of this model, PIH expanded the scope of this program – transitioning from CHWs being assigned based on patient illnesses to a household model, under which every household in the district has a CHW. These monthly visits, provide regular patient monitoring, screening for common conditions, accompaniment to healthcare facilities, health education and social and emotional support to patients. This grassroots intervention seeks to realize universal healthcare coverage in the district and to build social connectedness through emotional, spiritual and physical accompaniment over the long term.

Youth Innovation Grants

Organization: Special Olympics International

Special Olympics International (SOI) uses Youth Innovation Grants to fund youth-led ideas focused on building inclusion and changing attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities (ID) at the community-level and in schools. Grantees lead a variety of programming initiatives such as art experiences, social media campaigns, and inclusive sports activities to make their communities more inclusive for those with ID. 

Psychosocial Support & Health

Organization: Nacosa, Yabonga, & Synergos

NACOSA’s programs target key vulnerable populations (young women and girls, children facing neglect, families with limited resources) by strengthening community capacity and promoting meaningful relationships between children and care workers in designing interventions.  

The Circles of Support programme also creates safe spaces where structured socio-educational support is offered to primary caregivers of vulnerable children/adolescents; childrens’ wellbeing is improved as a result of the caregivers’ wellbeing being improved. The role of caregiver participation in this program also serves to raise awareness within the community about the importance of positive parenting. The work being done by NACOSA creates a shared recognition of challenges, enhances collective agency and action, and links individuals and organizations to needed services.

Building Community Through Food

Organization: The Stop Community Food Centre

The Stop Community Food Centre uses food as a connector to build supportive, self-determined groups and ensure access to healthy meals in under-resourced neighbourhoods in Toronto. It provides free, healthy meals, community kitchens, urban gardening, and volunteer opportunities designed to build community and learn new skills. This multi-pronged approach helps create connections within the community, improves well-being and allows for a sense of individual agency.

Connected North & Youth Leadership Fund

Organization: TakingITGlobal

The Connected North & Youth Leadership Fund is designed to facilitate equitable access to resources for Indigenous youth in northern, remote communities. Virtual field trips using high definition, live video conferencing sessions are used to ensure culturally relevant pedagogy for Indigenous K-12 students in remote regions. This model allows for enhanced opportunities for Indigenous youth and emerging leaders, increasing well-being outcomes in classrooms and communities.

The Urban Environment and Social Inclusion Index (UESI)

Organization: Data-Driven Lab 

The UESI provides a new approach to evaluate the environmental performance of cities at the intersection of social inclusion & climate change. It uses primary and secondary data from large-scale remote-sensing datasets and open source geospatial data to map city performance, disaggregated by neighbourhood, in areas including but not limited to air quality, tree cover, and transportation. This index creates a robust knowledge base to provide standardized metrics for researchers, policymakers and citizens to address issues of distributional equity as a part of their environmental interventions.

Community Based Applied Interdisciplinary Course (CBAIR)

Organization: Vancouver Island University (VIU)

CBAIR is a course that encourages meaningful collaboration between VIU students and the local community. Within this course, students design and implement social research relevant to the community under the supervision of three faculty members from different disciplines. This program empowers students and builds their capacity to find concrete solutions to real world problems while strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones.

Welcome Sessions for Asylum Seekers

Organization: Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness

Each week, Montrealers of all ages, backgrounds and professions welcome newly arrived asylum seekers to the city through conversation circles at a local library. While the adults converse about the city and practical resources, several volunteers assist by reading books, colouring and playing with the children. Beyond introducing the asylum seekers to the city and to residents who know the city well, these sessions build shared understanding between Montrealers and newcomers. Montrealers have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and backgrounds and can begin to understand the realities of forced migration.

Reducing the Isolation of Orphans and Vulnerable Children

Organization: REPSSI & Synergos

REPSSI works to address the isolation faced by orphans and vulnerable children in their families and communities. This model promotes psychosocial wellbeing by identifying community structures to nurture social connections between these children and their caregivers, and by developing community action plans to respond to the causes and effects of social isolation.

REPSSI also uses picture codes to enhance community dialogues and conversations on these issues; picture codes are illustrations that help young children engage in conversations about topics that may be difficult for them to articulate. By highlighting the importance of social interactions in overcoming vulnerability and isolation, REPSSI helps children and families live with hope, dignity, and happiness.

Storytelling for Social Connection

Organization: Humankind Enterprises

Humankind Enterprises uses the power of stories to help communities strengthen their social connections and sense of belonging. This is achieved through a range of activities including supporting community members to record and share digital stories with their community for culture change and decision-making; building the capacity of individuals to be better connectors and share and collect meaningful stories with their own community; building the capacity of organisations and governments to use stories as ‘data with soul’ to ensure empathetic decision making; and advocating for policy and strategies to include better social connection structures.

Participant Reflections

Kim, your keynote speeches were incredibly inspirational and you moderated the panels with such passion and insight. A true highlight was the involvement from the Indigenous community with the drumming, singing and the final circle and hugging at the end. It was extremely moving and such a wonderful opportunity to say goodbye to the amazing people you invited. I have never seen a more diverse group at a Symposium. Another favourite moment of mine was listening to Loretta Caliborne – wow – so inspirational and she truly knocked it out of the park.

I am so proud that we are part of the Right to Belong movement and had the opportunity to learn so much from such a wide variety of guests in attendance.

—Jasmine Herlt, Human Rights Watch



…thanks for an innovative and thought-provoking Symposium, of expansive breadth and scope. I particularly enjoyed the seamless integration of creative arts, storytelling, poetry, performance and visual art into a rich program on the overarching theme of social connectedness.

—Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch



I found the Symposium’s methods of engagement to be very effective and meaningful in many ways. I took with me, some few techniques and tips that I will apply in my programme and personal encounters to promote social connectedness and reduce isolation of the most vulnerable groups in the Swazi society.

The Symposium offered a lifetime opportunity and platform for me to listen and learn from all those whom I interacted in groups and the individual settings.

—Mandla Mazibuko, REPSSI Country Representative – Eswatini



I thought the Symposium was amazing with every detail so well thought through: great speakers, panels, sub-topics, animation of after sessions through art, design, etc. The diversity of people in the room was amazing and I learned so much about people’s heroic journeys trying to make the world a better place. These insights are helping me think about how I am approaching my work at the Centre for Social Innovation and personally too, as these topics are of course, not just about work.

—Seana Irvine, Centre for Social Innovation



I was so moved by many of the speakers and performances, and am leaving the symposium with a new appreciation for all the common connections we share across such diverse industries and cultures.

I’m also feeling a renewed sense of pride in the work and mission of Special Olympics and the unique role we play in fostering our own community and sense of belonging for our athletes – so thank you for that, too!

—Joe Hergert, Special Olympics


Participant Blog Posts

Crystal Williams

Crystal Williams is a disability advocate and blogger with Kabuki syndrome. We were delighted to have Crystal and her husband, Matthew Williams, a Special Olympics Athlete and former board member of Special Olympics International, join us at our 2019 Global Symposium on Reimagining Community in the 21st Century. She shared her experience at the Symposium in this blog post.

Lorraine Coulter

Lorraine Coulter—a U.S.-based journalist, poet, and public policy consultant—shared reflections on the gathering in Toronto and hopes for the future of the movement.

Taking the Movement Forward

Be the belonging you wish to see in the world.
—Marlene Ogawa, Acting Country Director, Synergos Institute – South Africa

Taking the Three Core Concepts Forward

The momentum and excitement generated at the Symposium have led to collaborative dialogues and new insights on how to implement the core concepts of the Right to Belong, Bank of Resilience, and Charter for Belonging.

Right to Belong

In discussing the Right to Belong, emphasis was placed on upholding the rights of older persons, stateless people and refugees, and the planet itself. Harvard Professor William Alford highlighted the tension that exists between the fact that rights emerge from our core humanity, and yet the articulation of rights and the certainty of their realization are often a product of struggle. 

Ask yourself:

  • How can a rights-based discourse strengthen our advocacy efforts to foster more inclusive societies?
  • How can we shift the onus from individuals to institutions to uphold our inherent human rights?

Bank of Resilience

The Bank of Resilience panel put forward the importance of moving towards participatory and cooperative systems of governance and away from top-down interventions. Community-based initiatives flourish as a result of the rich local and cultural knowledge of its members. 

Ask yourself:

  • Am I making the most use of community-based resources and knowledge to inform my work? 
  • How are we caring for each other in our networks (your family, team, community)? “Who cares for the caregiver?”

Charter for Belonging

Finally, the Charter for Belonging emerged from this gathering as a tangible way for individuals, organizations, and communities to commit to a statement of principles and practices of inclusion that they aspire to. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does my organization have a clear statement that commits to principles and practices that build belonging? If not, how can I help my organization get there?

More Ways to Take Action

There are other diverse ways we can all grow this movement towards social inclusion and belonging. 

  • Examine how the various Models of Change can be a guide for your own work in building belonging. What aspects of the models resonate with your own theory of change? 
  • In a discussion during the What Do We Value? panel, Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, quoted the mother of a child who was born with a disability, who stated, “I wouldn’t change my son for the world, but I would change the world for my son.” How can we all put this into practice?
  • Focus on face-to-face interactions. Instead of maintaining social norms that reinforce keeping one’s eyes down and not speaking to anyone, we can initiate little interactions with our neighbours that may well develop into friendships. 
  • Use storytelling to shift narratives. As Founder and Managing Director of Humankind Enterprises, Sophie Weldon, explained, the mere act of storytelling can be used to change narratives that shift entrenched attitudes and behaviours. When confronted with harmful and divisive narratives, we can react not only by insisting that this perspective is flawed, but by deploying the transformative potential of storytelling to demonstrate that an alternate reality exists.

Finally, in doing this work, let us be inclusive and create a sense of belonging for our fellow movement-builders. As Rehmah Kasule, President of CEDA International, so eloquently expanded on Verna Myer’s quote, “If diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. But, belonging is letting you choose the music.”

We Want to Hear from You!

If the insights from the Symposium sparked any ideas for you, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at

SCSC is always open to co-creation and collaboration to continue building the movement for social connectedness and belonging, one action at a time.

Symposium Partners