Banner image: "We Are Closer Than We Think" by Ed Dingli.

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Belonging is a vast and ever evolving concept. We at the Othering and Belonging Institute (OBI) work everyday to expand its understanding in theory and in practice. For us, belonging describes values and practices where no person is left out of our circle of concern. Belonging means more than having just access, it means having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures. Belonging includes the right to both contribute and make demands upon society and political institutions.

To learn more about belonging, watch our director john a. powell explain the concept at our 2019 conference.

In Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, “Belongingness” sits just above basic physiological requirements like nourishment and safety, perhaps the clearest acknowledgment that belonging is a fundamental need for all of us. At OBI, our interest in belonging is guided by the question of how we can embed belonging within the systems and structures that shape our lives. Our focus on structures reflects the reality that interpersonal work alone cannot fix systemic and structural othering, as illustrated by the wide disparities we see in public health, housing, and educational outcomes across a variety of identity groups. At its core, structural belonging requires mutual power, access, and opportunity among all groups and individuals within a shared container (such as a society, organization, club, etc). 

A related practice that we invite groups to consider when working towards implementing structural changes rooted in belonging is targeted universalism (TU). Targeted universalism is an operations and communications strategy that john a. powell has developed through research and 40 years of experience. Access to the TU primer is here.

A second related practice, bridging, is aimed at crossing identity-based lines and is an essential tool for building belonging. To bridge involves two or more individuals or groups coming together across acknowledged lines of difference in a way that both affirms their distinct identities, and allows for a new, more expansive identity. Read more about our Bridging to Belonging Case Series here.

Building for belonging requires engagement at all levels of society, OBI works with many groups to increase the possibilities for expanding belonging in the US and globally.

To stay informed of new resources and findings related to belonging and much more, follow The Othering and Belonging Institute on social media and sign up for our newsletter by filling out the request for information on this page.