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  • Social Interactions, Identity & Well Being

Catalyzing ideas for social change

by CIFAR Apr 1 / 15
CIFAR is helping through a new dialogue series that aims to contribute to the social innovation movement. Change Makers: Catalyzing Innovative Ideas for Social Change connects CIFAR researchers directly with those driving change.

“Many of CIFAR’s research programs are generating insights and transformative knowledge that will lead to stronger societies,” says Rebecca Finlay, CIFAR Vice-President of Communications & Knowledge Outreach.

“We see a real opportunity to partner with leaders in the social innovation community, to connect our experts with those who are in a position to use research insights directly in the work they do.”

The Change Makers series launched in Edmonton in February with a half-day symposium called Social Identity: The Creative Power of Groups to Improve Community Well-Being. It was held in partnership with the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research. Three fellows from CIFAR’s Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program shared recent research and heard from local leaders about what they are doing to improve their communities.

CIFAR Senior Fellow Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) explained how group identity creates a virtuous circle: connections lead to better coping, and that leads to a greater sense of control, meaning, purpose and, ultimately, overall positive mental health.

Haslam cited one study that showed individuals with depression were almost three times less likely to have a relapse if they participated in three or more social groups.

CIFAR Associate Fellow Catherine Haslam (University of Queensland) discussed her program Groups 4 Health, in which individuals living with isolation and depression are taught how to use social groups to improve their wellbeing.

People in the program who made gains in their social connections showed reduced levels of anxiety, isolation, stress and depression.

“We need to move away from thinking

about health as a problem that resides in individuals,” Catherine Haslam said. “We are better off thinking about solutions for managing the health of neighbourhoods and communities.”

CIFAR Senior Fellow Robert Oxoby (University of Calgary) explained that, conversely, group identity can be a barrier for disadvantaged groups. “We can provide all kinds of resources, but [targeted individuals] won’t take advantage of them. They need a means to internalize the norms and behaviours associated with the program.” He believes, for example, that it is not enough to provide financial assistance programs without first considering how to influence the ways people identify with those programs.

A panel of community leaders responded, connecting research insights to their work on the ground. On the panel were Martin Garber- Conrad (CEO of the Edmonton Community Foundation), Allan Undheim (Vice President of Community Building and Investment for the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region) and Franco Savoia (Co-Chair of the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness and Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary).

“It is not just the purview of the social service sector … or various departments or ministries within government,” said Undheim. “It’s not just that part of our society that needs to care. It’s the private sector; it’s individuals all over. We do not change anything unless everyone is rowing in the same direction.”

Second in the series, From Evidence to Action: Inspiring Ideas for Happier Communities, will take place in partnership with the Museum of Vancouver, the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, and the B.C. Partners for Social Impact. The symposium explores evidence and ideas about how to build happier communities, and it coincides with the release of the third annual World Happiness Report and the exhibition Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show, which opens April 23, 2015, at the museum.