Drawing on our social capital

"Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together," stated The World Bank in 1999. Social capital highlights the social assets that people or groups have available - the sum of all their connections with others, to benefit from in ordinary times or draw on in a crisis. Whether this capital is low or high depends on the reach, diversity and strength of the social connections.

Although the concept has been used sporadically over the last century, it was introduced to a wider audience by the American political scientist Robert Putnam in his 2000 bestseller Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

An organisation can explore its strength by looking at its social capital. Drawing connector lines to all other resources it has an affiliation with will reveal the reach of its network, and whether the organisation has the right connections to meet its goals.

On the other hand, a defining feature of being poor is the exclusion from social networks and institutions – valuable connections that otherwise could be used to secure good jobs and decent housing.

The idea of 'social capital' has been criticised for being poorly defined and hard to measure. However, the concept has become increasingly used - not only by groups and organisations exploring their social assets, but also for policymakers exploring ways to prevent people and communities from becoming marginalised in society.