Social Capital

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Social capital is “the glue that holds society together” according to the World Bank, it is the connections made in social groups that can range from local governments through to massive networks such as the Commonwealth. Social capital has been around since the 1960s but it has only recently (1990s) come to fame through its use by New Labour and the World Bank. According to Robert Putnam, a political scientist, the three words that sum it up are trust, norms and networks.

The Commonwealth is the perfect ground for social capital to expand in. It has the norms like common legal systems, use of English and democracy to name a few. It already has close relationships between countries and trust is widespread through the Commonwealth. Smaller countries can especially gain in this, as; they can use their close relationships with countries like the UK and India to get them to act like a voice for them in major political meetings.

An example of this is the Maldives, which is a small country with the lowest average sea level in the world (1.5m) using the UK to discuss the matter of global warming and rising sea levels that are threatening to engulf the Maldives with the US. As the two countries have a “special” relationship the US would obviously take more notice of the UK than the Maldives, which is a small country and has no great value to the US. This is just one example of how smaller countries can gain by using the larger ones, that they already have firm relationships with, as speakers for them at important meetings and to almost introduce them to other countries. 

There are two types of social capital, bonding and bridging. Countries in the Commonwealth already have a lot of bonding type of relationships, which are the relationship in the actual group. But smaller countries need to start building there bridging relationships up with countries outside of the Commonwealth. This is where the UK and India can help. An example of the UK building up bridging relationships is David Cameron’s visit to China, which is in neither the EU nor the Commonwealth.

The build-up of these relationships between countries helps not only the two countries build stronger bonds together but helps others, e.g. an informal meeting between Bob Geldof and Nelson Mandela to discuss what they should aim to tackle would help others massively. This is just one example of how beneficial social capital can be.

Recently social capital has been taken to a new level. Facebook has been a massive success because of the want of people to have connections and relationships. This proves how much humans need these relationships as a fundamental value.

There was recent study showing that communities that have good social capital also have benefits that range from lower crime rates to better economic growth rates not just having a stronger more tight knit community. That is social capital!

More about this author: Oliver Gray

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