Cultivating belonging in diverse contexts

Published Oct 8, 2023


IN a time of disconnection and isolation, one thing that we need the most is a sense of belonging.

With South Africans facing daily challenges such as poverty and unemployment, a book that seeks to bring hope is Kim Samuel’s book, On Belonging: Finding Connection in An Age of Isolation. Kim Samuel has dedicated her life’s work to transforming social isolation and building social, political, and economic systems that prioritise belonging.

The activist and educator has lectured at Oxford, Harvard, McGill and other universities, and founded the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, a “think-and-do tank” that develops high-quality research, programming, and advocacy to expand and empower a global movement for belonging.

Her debut non-fiction book, On Belonging: Finding Connection in An Age of Isolation, makes the case that belonging isn’t just a human need, but a right.

Drawing on powerful stories and more than 20 years of research, the book considers belonging across four dimensions: people, place, power, and purpose.

The book explores how we can find belonging through our relationships in community, our place in nature, our sense of shared ownership over social outcomes, and our capacity to find common purpose.

On Belonging draws on a bold vision to demonstrate practical solutions in a range of fields from education to the arts, urban planning to public policy.

As Publishers Weekly, a preeminent US book reviewer, summarised:

“This compassionate journalistic treatise on building more inclusive communities hits the mark.” Graça Machel wrote: “In this important book, Kim Samuel explores how we can find greater emotional, intellectual, ecological, and spiritual connectedness.”

“You can find roots of the global movement for belonging in South Africa,” said Samuel.

Twenty years ago, she had a conversation with Nelson Mandela in which he transformed her thinking on the topic of social isolation.

He explained how he was “never isolated” over the course of decades of imprisonment on Robben Island because he was always working with his compatriots toward a common purpose.

The conversation set Samuel on years of exploration of the meaning of isolation and how to cultivate belonging in diverse contexts. On Belonging features stories and commentary from several contemporary South African movement leaders.

Samuel visited South Africa’s major cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, to discuss issues of belonging in tandem with her book launch.

Her trip included a visit at Ikusasalethu in Johannesburg along with the Hillcrest AIDS Trust and a book launch in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

She will also be a guest speaker at the non-profit counselling service LifeLines AGM, where she will discuss the importance of social connectedness for mental health.

While Samuel will explore how challenges from climate change to inequality to pandemic are converging to exacerbate a global crisis of isolation, she will ultimately present a message of hope.

“Belonging is a thread with which we can weave together solutions to the diverse problems of time. Realising the Right to Belong means building systems - in healthcare, education, workplaces, arts, prisons, agriculture, and many other spheres that enshrine dignity, mutuality, and respect.”

“We only belong if we belong together,” said Samuel.