By Sauvé Fellow Rachel MacNeill

As the New Year begins, the Fellows have filtered back into Sauvé House full of energy and anticipation for the second half of our program year. The first program activity of 2016 proved a perfect way to begin the year: a vibrant leadership encounter and discussion with Kim Samuel, Professor of Practice at the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University and Policy Advisor at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

Professor Samuel’s work lies in uncovering the common thread of social isolation and social connectedness in diverse global struggles. She works with multiple partners across the globe, combining her academic career with direct community experience, focusing on social isolation as a critical component of inequality and human rights struggles. A pioneer in the field, Kim Samuel maintains that social isolation in fact is a collective challenge, and that communities and societies cannot fully thrive unless their members are connected to one another in meaningful ways.

This, naturally, deeply resonated with each of the Sauvé Fellows. As we live together at Sauvé House and forge connections across differences, we continually remark upon the similarities in the social challenges that each of us work on in our own home context. In many ways, we are all searching for pathways from isolation to connectedness.

In her Leadership Encounter, Professor Samuel discussed drawing on traditional knowledge and ancient stories to find wisdom that holds relevance for modern challenges. She told us the medieval story of Parzival’s quest for the Holy Grail, using it as a parable for the search for social connectedness and compassion.

Beginning in the deepest, darkest part of the forest with no clear path to follow, Parzival’s story is one of overcoming anger, pride and preconceptions to discover compassion for others and one’s role in something bigger than oneself. In reimagining Parzival’s quest for the Grail, Professor Samuel argues that each of us, individually and collectively, need to accept and nurture ourselves and others, realizing that everyone has a purpose and deserves to be held in high regard. Simply put, to forge social connectedness, each individual has to cultivate compassion within themselves and their community, realizing that “the other is us.”

While Parzival’s story is one of knights, moats and drawbridges, the lessons about social isolation and connectedness are intrinsic to the topic that is most top of mind at Sauvé House these days: the global refugee crisis and, more specifically, refugee integration here in Montreal.

Moments of collective compassion have recently catalyzed Canadians to action, which is part of a shifting paradigm from social isolation to social connectedness. As Canada welcomes 25,000 Syrian refugees, and likely more in the future, the lesson of social connectedness will be especially significant. Welcoming, Samuel argues, must be sustained so that belonging can be achieved, combating social isolation and supporting stronger, more connected communities. That lesson, to build solutions by building belonging and compassion, is the core of Samuel’s argument, and the key message that the Sauvé Fellows will be taking forward as we continue on our leadership journey.

Professor Samuel closed her Leadership Encounter with the following words of wisdom: “Act with compassion, energy and empathy. That is what leadership and nation-building need today.”

For Kim Samuel’s presentation (video), click here.

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