In recent decades, people around the world have experienced soaring rates of social isolation, with profound impacts on health and well-being. These impacts are felt most acutely by people who are marginalized because of their race, income, location, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Isolation is also exacerbated by commonly-experienced disruptive events such as changes in a person’s family, home, or employment status. To amplify learning around social isolation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions team invested in six projects. These projects reached diverse places and people—vulnerable families in West Baltimore, MD; isolated rural youth in Matanuska Susitna Borough of AK; incarcerated people in CT, MA, and NJ; Latinx LGBTQ youth in OR; and people living in three American cities with harsh winter climates.
Healthy Places by Design leads a Learning Network to explore key challenges, trends, lessons, and themes from members’ work. This Learning Network recognizes the importance of cross-sector, cross-community, and cross-country learning for advancing solutions to social isolation as well as the need to frame these solutions with a community-level lens. Throughout multiple conversations, we co-created and tested guiding concepts and discussed the need for a different narrative about the root causes of social isolation.
Specific services that Healthy Places by Design has provided include:
The need to reframe the conversation around social isolation was a salient, overarching theme that emerged among Learning Network participants. Currently, isolation is being defined, discussed, and addressed primarily through an individual lens rather than a systemic one. However, the rise of social isolation is not a personal choice or individual problem, but one that is rooted in community design, social norms, and systemic injustices. This Learning Network and their report, Socially Connected Communities: Solutions to Social Isolation, brings a much needed perspective to the national conversation, and provides philanthropy and local leaders ideas for actions which could dramatically improve social well-being.
“Healthy Places by Design’s adaptability during COVID enabled us all to leverage timing and technology for greater learning. As a result, our investment in six projects on social isolation led to national conversations which are increasing knowledge and advancing solutions for sustainable change.”
Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
This report reframes social isolation as a systemic, rather than individual, problem and offers five recommendations for creating more socially connected communities.
Leaders who strive to create resilient, equitable, and healthy communities must intentionally strengthen social well-being. People living in socially connected communities are more likely to thrive because they feel safe, welcome, and trust each other and their government.