Ogawa, Marlene Wendy (2017). 'Social Connectedness: Collective Resourcefulness towards resilience and poverty alleviation.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The purpose of this roundtable is to invite child and youth practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders to engage in a discussion of practical models for addressing social isolation among young people and their caregivers in the context of poverty. To this end the presenters offer two case studies from the Social Connectedness programme in South Africa.

Social isolation, also known as relational deprivation, is a key dimension for looking at poverty and a hindrance to human wellbeing and capability. This especially so when chronic and ongoing isolation occurs. Although there is growing literature on the mediating role that social support and social connectedness can play between income and low subjective wellbeing, little policy exists to develop and strengthen support networks, especially in developing countries (Mills, Zavaleta and Samuel, 2014).

Being socially connected enables the young to participate in activities that strengthen their relations with their peers and communities, build resilience and give them a sense of belonging. Socially connected people have meaningful relationships and bonds with those around them, including their peers, families and communities. Social connectedness is instrumentally important because it facilitates people’s access to opportunities and nurtures their participatory abilities (Samuel, 2016; Zavaleta, Samuel and Mills, 2016). There is extensive literature on social capital that points to the instrumental value of social connectivity within family, groups, and community, and to the importance of the rules governing this connectivity (Bourdieu, 1986; Putnam, 2000; 2001).

The Social Connectedness Programme by Synergos Institute, in partnership with Samuel Family Foundation, is designed to address social isolation in the context of poverty in South Africa and neighbouring countries. Using selected case studies from the Social Connectedness Programme in South Africa, this roundtable discussion will look at examples that showcase programmes that work towards building meaningful connections through careworkers working collaboratively to challenge systemic issues in impoverished communities and how they identify mechanisms for overcoming exclusionary relations affecting children and youth.

Through integration of social connectedness into child and youth partner programmes, the presenters will share selected case studies from that focuses on an urban setting in Johannesburg, through City Year and rural and urban communities across South Africa, through The National Community for HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The presentation will identify and describe the local support models and practices that reinforce social relationships and show how these relationships are linked to social economic empowerment, for example by enabling resource mobilisation and enhancing the employability of young people. Through the case studies, and with reference to research conducted on southern African indigenous approaches to care and support, the discussions will explore mechanisms that promote social connectedness as a driver of poverty eradication in the youth sector.

The case studies focus on two organisations, the Networking HIV/AIDS Community of South Africa (NACOSA), a national civil society network of more than 1,200 organisations and individuals from six out of nine provinces of South Africa and City Year, Johannesburg based Non-profit Organization, engaging a diverse group of South African youth for a year to give service in primary schools while also going through a development process, through leadership training and service-learning. Youth in NACOSA provide care and support services to children through employment and in City Year the service learning is on a volunteer basis.

Through Social Connectedness training and support, that was integrated into the NACOSA and City Year training programme, the careworkers and Service Leaders were trained on understanding isolation and social connectedness. The key focus of the training is on the disabling nature of social isolation and the positive impact and tools that build and enhance social connectedness.

Both cases were assessed with a baseline and an endline evaluation at the end of the interventions. The cases highlighted that peer and community collaboration and cohesiveness has improved. A key finding from the NACOSA case is that an understanding of social connectedness has result in improved systems of support for vulnerable children and youth. Some of the careworkers noted that social connectedness has promoted better relationships and connections amongst them and prevented feelings of isolation and facing challenges alone. They are better able to share experiences and resolve challenges collectively.

The discussion will also reflect on the integration of social connectedness, highlighting community research on indigenous knowledge and care systems; education and training for those who most impact children and youth (families, communities, schools, and child care professionals); community-based models to identify, mitigate, prevent and address isolation; and informing and influencing public policy impacting this problem.

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