The concept of social capital has become prevalent in recent times as experts in business, psychology and sociology seek to study and measure its value to individuals and groups in various situations. While no one universally accepted definition exists, social capital generally refers to a person’s individual and group connections based on factors such as proximity, nationality, shared ideals, similar career fields, familial bonds, understandings etc. In the business context, persons refer to these connections as their network. If you were to ask a Bahamian, that person would simply say ‘…it’s who you know’.
TYPES OF SOCIAL CAPITAL
There are 3 generally identified forms of social capital – bonding, bridging and linking. Bonding social capital refers to connections between people with close familial relationships or close proximity such as family, friends and neighbors. Bridging social capital refers to more casual connections such as co-workers, acquaintances and members of special groups. Linking social capital refers to relationships formed with person who are dissimilar, but through whom a wider range of resources and opportunities become available.
THE VALUE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
In terms of mental and emotional well-being, your relationships matter. For example, Helliwell and Putnam in their paper, ‘The Social Context of Well-Being’ concluded that individuals with active social relationships tend to be happier with their lives.
Many studies have also shown social capital to have great economic value. Postelnicu and Hermes in their 2017 paper ‘The Economic Value of Social Capital’ concluded that two persons with comparable individual financial situations may fair differently in a sudden economic emergency due to them having different levels of economic support from their respective circles. Those same two persons would also, in normal circumstances, have different access to capital due to the different levels of wealth contained in those circles. To put it simply, your network will determine your net worth.
Beyond economic value, social capital also provides value in the form of influence and opportunity. It has been widely proclaimed that you are the average of the people you surround yourself with inclusive of people they have been influenced by as well. As Ronal Burt stated in his paper ‘The Contingent Value of Social Capital’ while human capital refers to individual ability, social capital refers to opportunity and your ability to leverage these relationships for opportunities and ideas often leads to success. It is these people who you will call on for ideas, for solutions, for help, for opportunities. As can be seen through the news, these people even keep each other out of trouble.
PEOPLE SEEK VALUE FROM THEIR SOCIAL CAPITAL
Consider also that the connections by which social capital exist are not immediately obvious. Moreblessing T. Tinarwo’s article ‘Forging Ties: Social Capital Utilization by Zimbabwean Social Workers in Britain’ examines how immigrants socialize when seeking to migrate and settle in Britain. The article noted that the immigrants tended to establish linking social capital with employers and other persons of influence rather than fostering connections with their countrymen by default. Factors such as proximity or cultural similarities became less a factor as these factors did not assist greatly in persons attaining citizenship, employment and satisfactory lodging. Simply, valuable social capital will, in many situations, come from connections with helpful persons who are unfamiliar and/or dissimilar to yourself.
SOCIAL CAPITAL THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
In recent times social capital, for many, has been enhanced through the intentional use of social media. Persons, now more than ever, have access to others and can communicate instantly from anywhere in the world. People with similar interests can seek out others with similar interests and join online communities on platforms such as Reddit. Organisations utilize various social media platforms to communicate and engage instantaneously with their various stakeholders.
While social capital is not the only thing you need, be sure to recognize that your relationships matter. Guard them; and surround yourself with quality people. After all, even the research shows, ‘it’s who you know’.