I would ask you to consider the following quotes about human interactions and networking, called civic engagement and social capital by educators. We will then evaluate these concepts and how they apply to volunteering and the health of those who participate.
Joining and participating in one group cuts your odds of dying over the next year in half. Joining two groups cuts it by three quarters.
We’re not experiencing a Springtime of volunteering, but an Indian Summer, propped up by our nation’s seniors — who have been more civic throughout their lives.
Each 10 minutes of additional commuting time cuts all forms of social capital by 10 percent–10 percent less church-going, 10 percent fewer club meetings, 10 percent fewer evenings with friends, etc.
Civic engagement and volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century that’s free to join and miraculously improves both your health and the community’s through the work performed and the social ties built.
These factoids are quoted from The Saguaro Seminar, Civic Engagement in America, Harvard/Kennedy School.
Social Capital is what is gained when people exercise their human network or as we used to call it, use “hook ups” to get either others to help with a project or locate something of value needed for an objective. Many military individuals were sent out to locate a “hook up” to get a much needed part, promising to return the favor in the future if he could, thus allowing a machine repair when the needed part was located through the network when the proper military channels were either inadequate or money was not available. Social capital is not confined to reciprocation of mutual aid or favors, but this is certainly one area where it thrives.
For historical perspective, this situation mentioned above happened way too often when we were building a 600 ship Navy during the cold war. Mechanics and electricians were frequently forced into “out of the box” part recovery efforts when money and parts were unavailable, yet the command structure wanted to get underway, no matter what. Without hook ups, many Navy ships would not have set sail on time in the 1980′s. Barter was common, with the most valuable trade good being a 5 pound can of coffee for many parts or services which were otherwise unsupported by the regular supply system.
Elaborate systems and networks were formed which often spanned entire careers as enlisted sailors were promoted and transferred. The term social capital was not universal back then, but it was in use all the same. Connections with people who could provide services or parts were a necessary part of being a senior enlisted worker on both surface ships and submarines in my experience. Social connections could produce effects which the regular system could not or would not.
The person who could get the hook up through his network would now be considered to have high social capital and a raised status among his peers and his superiors. Their status raised as they were able to help their group function in an often defective world where money was not available and hook ups were the only commodity in use.
To be clear, social capital has been around for eons but the term social capital as it apples to civic engagement studies is relatively new. It took more than just showing up with coffee to get things in many cases, you had to know someone. You needed a network. Social capital is easier to evaluate in the civilian community today but it has had many uses in all of aspects of society, where ever their was a need.
Social Capital as it applied to civic engagement and volunteer groups was a central premise of the book, “Bowling Alone”, by Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard Professor. He showed through data analysis that many volunteer groups which had thrived after the WWII years were in sharp decline in members, which resulted in declines for the help and aid given to the charities that relied on the volunteer groups for so much support. Groups like the Freemasons, Elks, Moose, Lions, and many others were part of his over all studies in declining memberships.
The secondary value of this concept of networking and social capital with regard to volunteering on an individual basis is not only the ability to get things done but also the health benefits to those involved. The bottom line is that many studies have verified that their is strong evidence for the positive health benefits for those individuals who exercise passion in their networks and their volunteering. Even expanding your social network has beneficial health benefits some studies have shown.
Another positive aspect of social capital is the ability of social scientists to measure it. The Saguaro Seminar has bench marked survey results from 2000 and again from 2006 on the same communities, with demonstrated changes and trends shown in the final evaluation. This kind of data analysis demonstrates the impact that social capital and civic engagement can have on individuals and communities.
Volunteering produces many health benefits for the individual but also produces, when practiced by a passionate volunteer a much larger effect than most people would believe. This win-win benefit between the individual and the group seeing the volunteering can’t be ignored.
This is the ideal of the empowered volunteer. When an empowered volunteer embraces the passion for the group and shares the news with the world, many from that previously uninformed world will want to participate. Thus all involved benefit and everybody wins.