How to Become an Ambassador of Connection in Your Community

6 min read
Hasbi Saniskoro / Pexels

We can all pitch in to create a stronger community.

Hasbi Saniskoro / Pexels

In an increasingly interconnected world, it may seem paradoxical that loneliness is so prevalent. And though the COVID-19 pandemic brought the issue into the spotlight, loneliness had been a concern for decades before the pandemic began. My research, and that of my colleagues, has shown that nearly a quarter of the global population experience a profound sense of isolation, impacting not only their mental and physical health but also shortening their lifespan.

To address this issue, the UK and Japan have appointed a Minister of Loneliness to combat loneliness and promote social connection. Other countries have also made efforts to promote more connectedness in communities. I had the privilege of serving as the lead scientist on the recent U.S. Surgeon General Advisory on the healing effects of social connection, which has shed light on the problem and solutions. One of the recommendations within the Surgeon General’s Advisory is to become a community leader. This week, New York State announced its first Ambassador of Loneliness, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and the World Health Organization launched a WHO Commission on Social Connection to help address this issue.

You may not be appointed as an official Commissioner, Minister, or Ambassador in your country, region, or state, but you can act informally as an ambassador for connection for your neighborhood or community by following some key steps. Never underestimate your ability to make a difference in your community.

1. Connect With Your Neighbors.

The KIND Challenge, a multi-country study I co-led and sponsored by Nextdoor, revealed that knowing as few as six neighbors can reduce the likelihood of feeling lonely and is associated with lower depression, social anxiety, and financial concerns. As an informal ambassador of connection, take the initiative to introduce yourself to your neighbors, organize community gatherings, or create online platforms where neighbors can connect and communicate. Building strong neighborly bonds can be a simple yet powerful way to combat loneliness at the grassroots level. Never underestimate the power of a loaf of bread or a plate of cookies hand-delivered to your neighbors, a conversation to check in on how they are doing, or even simply smiling and saying hello.

2. Share the Action Guide for Building Socially Connected Communities.

Identifying specific and effective strategies to combat loneliness in your community may seem daunting, but luckily, much of the work has been done for you. Familiarize yourself with the Action Guide for Building Socially Connected Communities and share it with your local leaders. This comprehensive resource was informed by the research with the Foundation for Social Connection. Further, it was informed by gathering information and needs from leaders of major cities across the U.S. to determine the most critical factors for building a community and keeping it strong. It offers evidence-based strategies for fostering social connections at the community level. By advocating for implementing these strategies in your neighborhood, you can create an environment where people feel more connected and less isolated.

3. Volunteer for Local Organizations.

Becoming actively involved in local organizations and volunteering your time can significantly impact the well-being of your community members and of you directly. Many non-profits and community groups work tirelessly to support the community’s needs. By lending your support to these organizations, you contribute to the betterment of your community, provide much-needed social interaction to those who may be feeling isolated, and reduce or prevent your own loneliness.

Volunteering offers an opportunity to meet others with similar interests and can unite people from diverse backgrounds. Whether organizing events, assisting with community projects, or offering your skills and expertise, your involvement can help create a more connected community.

4. Raise Awareness and Advocate.

As an informal ambassador of connection, you can also play a vital role in raising awareness about the issue of loneliness and the importance of connection in your community. You can advocate for policies and initiatives that promote social connectedness and reduce isolation. Write letters to your state or local representatives, engage with local media, and participate in community discussions on the importance of social connection. Hold a local event during global loneliness awareness week. By being a vocal advocate, you can encourage your community leaders to prioritize initiatives that address or prevent isolation and loneliness and their adverse effects on well-being, health, and safety.

5. Host Events That Encourage Active Participation.

Recent research I did for Eventbrite’s Social Connection Project found that attending in-person events that encourage active participation increases a feeling of social connection and decreases loneliness. Events are generally about shared passions, which are a great way to establish connections, but individuals often need a leader to bring everyone together around that passion. Be a leader in gathering others together around shared passions.

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Event organization can be time-consuming and expensive, but don’t let that discourage you from being a leader! Ask your local leaders if there are funds or resources to help you with the community event. You could even partner with a local business that can sponsor the event and give you a budget to work with and possibly even a venue for the event. You may even consider reserving public spaces for a gathering, such as public parks. Whether you are the event organizer or attendee, active participation is key to increasing the likelihood of meaningful connection.

Conclusion

Though we all feel lonely from time to time, isolation and loneliness have become so severe and widespread that they are considered a public health crisis. To truly address this requires collective effort and action at all levels of society. We can all act as informal ambassadors of connection in our community.

You have the ability to bring about change. By sharing resources, connecting with neighbors, volunteering, creating events, and advocating for policies, you can make a profound difference in reducing isolation and loneliness and enhancing the well-being of yourself and your community members. Remember, even small actions can lead to significant positive changes. Together, we can create more connected and supportive communities for all.

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