Isabella McDonnell: Belonging in Nature as a Radical Act

Isabella on a red sofa with blue and yellow graphic brush strokes in the background

“It was only in being in the outdoors, in natural spaces, that I was able to feel safe and at home in my body.”

Access to the outdoors is often on the national agenda, with too many people unfairly excluded from the natural world either by systemic barriers of prejudice and discrimination or the very physical barriers erected by wealthy landowners.

Isabella founded Roots of Belonging as a response to this, building a community for mixed, dual heritage and multicultural people of colour to deepen their connection to nature and sense of belonging, feeling safer and more confident exploring the outdoors. 

“It was through understanding more about the mental health benefits of nature connection that I realised how valuable this experience is and how so often, being in the outdoors is something that’s only accessible for a privileged few.”

How it works

Roots of Belonging is all about taking people out into the natural world and facilitating activities that bring them closer to nature through a variety of lenses from food, to literature, adventure and more.

The set up is radically inclusive, looking to combat the exclusion that so many groups face in the outdoors as well as reconfiguring participants’ worldviews to consider how we can steward the natural world while being inclusive of the other species we share it with.

With the climate crisis looming this is a crucial time to be considering our relationship to the environment, and ensuring that everyone has a stake in the natural world and its future.

“If people feel safer in the outdoors and more connected to nature, they’re going to be more willing to safeguard and protect it.”

Isabella has taken inspiration from organisations operating in this sector that encourage people of colour to feel at home in nature, and seeks to draw on her own nuanced experiences as a mixed woman to cater for dual heritage and multicultural people of colour in this space.

The first retreat organised through Roots of Belonging will be held in Dartmoor National Park on rewilded lands in June and Isabella and her team already have exciting plans to create a range of different experiences and workshops following on from this tying into the themes of belonging and nature connection.

roots of belonging logo with soft pink background

“A way to describe these events is that every gathering looks to deepen our connection to nature and make us feel like we belong on this land as people of colour.”

Belonging as an entrepreneur

Belonging is at the centre of Isabella’s mission as a founder, and it was in joining the OUTO Changemaker programme through Hatch that she was able to experience this belonging for herself in an entrepreneurial setting.

Starting a business can be a lonely and sometimes alienating experience. In her Hatch cohort Isabella found a vibrant network of like-minded people who became a sounding board for her ideas, cheerleaders for her successes, as well as collaborators for her future events and projects. 

“One of the highlights for me is being a part of this community now, I have a rich network of people who are committed to the same goals and visions and that’s such a gift as a founder.”

Isabella stood up in a room full of plants

The societal image of business leadership often comes attached to ideas of profit maximisation, so existing outside of that mould can come with feelings of otherness and imposter syndrome. 

As an eco-social enterprise, Roots of Belonging is unashamedly values-led, centring its mission on the question: “How can we live in these times in more nourishing ways for each other but also survive as a business?”

In joining the Hatch community Isabella had access to entrepreneurs going through the same experience, but also the expertise of the Hatch team. “The thing that I loved about the Hatch team was how friendly and supportive they were. You genuinely felt that they want to see you succeed and make your business idea become real.”

“It allowed me to stay on track and get all the basic nitty-gritty things that I needed to get done, all of these essential ingredients to running a successful organisation.”

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

Isabella encourages people to be more creative in finding the role models that they aspire to, and the values they associate with entrepreneurship. Imposter syndrome is a real struggle for many women of colour operating in this space, and perpetuating male-centred, profit-centred narratives of the entrepreneurial space only feeds into this.

Celebrating entrepreneurship that is led by values, relationships, and seeks inspiration from non-traditional sources can help to create a more balanced and healthy ecosystem that is welcoming to all. 

Rejecting the traditional path of a business leader can be a radical action in itself, and Isabella encourages all aspiring entrepreneurs to stay true to their values, and to have fun with the journey of building something that matters to them.

Roots of Belonging

Learn more and discover upcoming events and workshops.

Listen to the Xeno Podcast

Isabella's podcast exploring home, identity and belonging.

Opening up the Outdoors

The OUTO collective is building a more accessible outdoors.

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