Global Newsroom

Trustbuilding through a lens of belonging

Tuesday, 12. May 2020


Jessie Sutherland, TEDx speaker, author and the Trustbuilding Program’s Evaluation Manager, participated in our series of speakers who present different perspectives on building trust in times of crisis. Her expert experience in community relations, leadership development and conflict resolution dialogue made for an engaging conversation. Here we share with you her words on building trust in times of crisis through a lens of belonging.


Building trust in times of crisis through a lens of belonging.

‘I'd like to talk a little bit about how we see problems. What are the lenses we use? How we see problems and how we see the world impacts what we see, how we think and where we put our efforts.

The primary lens that I use to look at the world is the belonging lens. It's led to quantum leaps in how I think and where I put my efforts.

What do I mean by belonging? At the heart of any social problem around the world, you’ll always find a group of people who feel pushed out. In this model, the people who are pushed out, the people impacted, are the experts. They know how they were pushed out and what values were eroded in the process. To build a culture of belonging so that we can truly work together, we need to change our attitudes and behaviors as well as our systems and policies. Personal change alone or systemic change alone won't do enough. Together is where the transformation happens.’


In order to transform together, we need the experts.

‘What does this look like?

The people most impacted, as the experts, have a journey to build a culture of belonging. Their journey is to assert their dignity, voice and leadership. Their voice has often been pushed out and pushed down, their dignity has been eroded and they have not been valued for the true leaders that they are. Their work is to assert their voice again, their dignity and their leadership and this requires radical courage. When you've been pushed out and down, the last thing you'd want to do is poke your head up above the radar. It requires radical courage.

It also means developing your unique voice. Every single human being is a gift to this planet, and we need your strength. We need your voice. We need your insight because you hold the key for the world, you know what needs to happen.

For many it also means experiencing agency – the ability to make choices and decisions, to know that you'll be supported and that you do matter, and also to start experiencing being a valued member of the community.’


The experts need the rest of the community, and vice-versa.

‘Then there's the rest of the community, because it's a two-way relationship. The rest of the community also has their work to do to build this culture of belonging. Our role is to listen to the people most impacted – the experts – and act on what we hear. It's not listening and having tears drip down our face and continuing on as usual. It's listening and leveraging all of our strengths and resources to support the dignity, voice and leadership of the people most impacted. And it also means really understanding the radical courage it takes for them to assert their voice, dignity and leadership.’

‘If we listen and cry and continue as usual, that will not build trust.
Are our institutions trustworthy? Are we trustworthy?’


For this collaboration to work on a higher level, we need systems change.

‘This involves a system change in all of our spheres of influence. We need to create new space so that we have shared decision-making and that we truly collaborate and find ways to recognize the contributions of the people most impacted. Once we do this work, we realize that these people can give us the most incredible gift because they know how they were pushed out, and the values and systems and relationships that made it happen. They give us the gift of knowing what has been eroded for all of us. When we build dignity and space for the people most impacted, we build dignity within ourselves and the whole community because it's all interconnected.’

Curious to learn more about building trust through a sense of belonging?
Watch the webinar on our YouTube channel.


Next in our series of ‘Building trust in times of crisis’ is Suresh Vazirani, founder and Managing Director of TransAsia, India’s largest multinational medical diagnostics company, in addition to being the current President of IofC International. He will be speaking on the importance of trustbuilding as it relates to business leadership, as well how to maintain this trust through crisis situations. Sign up here.

About Jessie Sutherland

Jessie is the author of ‘Worldview Skills: transforming conflict from the inside out’, and the founding director of the Belonging Matters – an award-winning community led change model that has reached over 2.5 million people in over 8 languages. She has worked across Canada, including with northern indigenous communities, as well as in Europe, the Middle East, West Africa and South America. She joins the Trustbuilding Program as the Evaluation Manager.


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The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.