Why Is Belonging So Important? 

During the challenging time of adolescence, there was a constant struggle to “fit in” or just be comfortable with our true selves. During this period, we tried looking for those we can relate to. Friends who share the same interests, values, and beliefs. People who would create a safe space for us to rely on – an inclusive space for all.

At that age, we don’t realize that we are witnessing a well-known social phenomenon commonly referred to as the sense of belonging. The constant attempt to be part of  “something” shapes our society.

You feel attached, close and thoroughly accepted by your people. But belonging is more than just being part of a group. To truly feel a sense of belonging, you must feel unity and a common sense of character with and among members of your group. (Forbes).

The sense of belonging is, alongside other factors (such as health and well-being), fundamental in the pursuit of happiness.

Tied to this, is the contemporary concept of inclusion which can be both a process and a feeling.  Inclusion happens when everyone feels valued and respected. if we look closely at what being valued means, we’ll understand that it can be built upon a sense of belonging and uniqueness.

Getting out of our comfort zone is one of the most defiant experiences we can have. For instance, when people move abroad to a different country or community, they can face some constraints that may inhibit their sense of belonging. I’ll name 4 of them briefly.

1 – Risk of Social Exclusion

In the EU-28, almost half of migrants who were non-EU citizens (48.6%) were at risk of social exclusion.

2 – Discrimination

One in four respondents feel discriminated against because of their cultural background.

3 – Anti-migrant Rhetoric

An increase in anti-migrant feelings in the EU, with a ‘hardening’ in political discourse around minorities.

4 – Language

Migrants and refugees face many barriers and limitations to inclusion, mainly language.  And, here, is where SPEAK can actually help.

Is SPEAK The Solution In Making Your City More Inclusive?

SPEAK’s mission is to accept, value, and empower cultural diversity, promote equality and social integration. SPEAK integrates and connects migrants and locals living in the same city through language groups and cultural events. We believe that language is the essential key to unlock a sense of belonging and help newcomers overcome some of the difficulties they face.

Why is SPEAK different and innovative?

1 – The Experience Is Community-Based

Participants don’t feel they are being helped. They are the ones helping others – they are the solution. Participants end up helping each other in difficult situations, such as finding a job, having access to the national health system, or even suggesting the best supermarkets.

Participants are not students in the same way that buddies are not referred to as teachers. At SPEAK, we promote an experience without any kind of hierarchy to create a safe environment for everyone.

2 – Learning Is Not an End on Its Own

SPEAK uses the need or motivation to learn a language as a means to connect newcomers and locals with different backgrounds. Individuals stand as equals. They build meaningful relationships while learning or helping others learn.

3 – Participants Are The Changemakers for an Inclusive City

During a language group, participants meet offline and/or online, and get to know each other. 

SPEAK’s methodology consists of exploring themes through games, activities, social dynamics and ice-breakers. As a consequence, participants become more aware of the “other” and their culture, share their stories and, in this way, they break prejudice, barriers, stigmas and make new friendships.

4 – Using Technology for Impact

The experience is delivered and organized through our web platform and mobile app. Technology allows for efficiency since managing all back-office processes reduces manual work giving margin for scalability. For example, our buddies receive online training and all the available materials to guide them through the sessions.

Upon 12 sessions we have seen that, 72% of participants made new friends, while 82% improved their knowledge of a new language and increased their sense of belonging in their current city.

Through our social franchising model, we are able to tackle this challenge in an attempt to help cities become more inclusive. At the moment, SPEAK is available in 26 cities and we have gathered a global community of over 47,000 SPEAKers.

We believe in societies that integrate, value and promote cultural diversity. We believe that the challenges of our time don’t respect boundaries and that solving them requires the engagement of all humanity in its full diversity.

Interested in making your city more inclusive? Take the first step by becoming a SPEAK founder! This way you will be able to have a direct impact on the lives of many migrants and locals.

Still in doubt whether to start your own SPEAK Chapter? Check out our previous article on 3 Reasons Why You Should Take SPEAK To Your City

Author: Rita Carvalho

Rita is the Project Manager at SPEAK. She was born and raised in invicta (Porto) city of Portugal. Sports are her passion, but she also loves enriching political discussions. She has a dog named Caju and is a massive FCP fan

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