Components of social capital are called by many other names by the public. In business the term “hook-up” is used interchangeably with “favor”, as they are also in the military. This concept refers to someone who is socially connected with others, often called “networked” in modern terminology. This person is often able to circumvent conventional channels in a bureaucracy of red tape and procure the desired meeting or document or whatever the recipient is looking for, often faster than the proper process would allow. The recipient is then thought to “owe” the benefactor a favor, a favor that can be held for a future need.
However social capital is much more than just an individual who can make things happen in return for favors saved for a future need. Someone who is high in social capital is not just a social concierge. Social capital refers to the total value obtained by individuals and their social networks and the resulting levels of potentially available hook-ups that might be traded between groups or individuals.
The potential benefits of high social capital reported by Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone include increased income and longer life expectancy.
Conversely the loss of social capital to a community is directly related to lower educational performance and child suicide. Putnam also makes a case for lower social capital in a neighborhood being directly tied to crime rates as well as reflecting additional risks to an individuals health. Clearly the need for raising the communities social capital, through volunteering as well as where to volunteer are factors that those who want to help communities should factor into any future developments.
This means that people who are socially connected and therefore are able to reciprocate favors with others, through volunteer work or another means when they need or want something done or solved receive as a benefit from the effort to maintain this kind of network higher life expectancy, better health overall, an increased likelihood of maintaining a sharper mind as they age, and benefits to their families and associated intertwined groups.
This is one reason for people to say, why volunteer? Because you can benefit in so many ways, that’s why. Health, longer life, benefits to the mind, and stress release from helping others are just some of the benefits the studies show are realistic.
What is social capital? According to the Saguaro Seminar started by Robert Putnam, the central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Furthermore, social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"].
Reciprocity is a word closely associated with hook-ups and favors within a context of mutual needs between individuals or groups. This is what was once thought of as necessary if one needed to deal with a union or city hall, having someone who could guide the unknowing individual through the pitfalls of bureaucracy during a period where time may be of the essence was worth their weight in gold. After all, if the individual did not have a reason to hurry the process involved then they could afford to wait and it would not be necessary to call in a favor.
Social capital can be used for good or for ill. Criminals can have social capital between themselves as exemplified by gang loyalty, which clearly benefits the criminal members at the expense of society as a whole. This fits the definition of social capitol but the resulting loss to society is still reprehensible. A politician using his or her high social capital and networking skills to call in favors to influence a business contract awarded illegally also fits social capital as defined, but the impact on society is still negative.
To look at social capital another way, people are connected together by groups and subgroups. There is a theory that we are only a few connections away from anyone on earth. This has been demonstrated by several studies using an unknown individual who must network to hookup with a famous individual, usually a person who is hard to meet or contact, often in another country or some other difficulty involved in reaching the target individual. People with high social capital are much more likely to be able to provide a person who knows a person who can reach the target individual. People with low social capital, or are not as networked find locating such a difficult to reach person much harder to accomplish with out a large network.
The findings by the studies, the Saguaro Seminar in particular, and Harvard Professors Putnam and Skocpol along with others in this field reflect that it is desirable from many perspectives to have high social capital. You will be more likely to make more money than a person with lower social capital, as well live a healthier life, live a longer life, and have a more loving relationship with a partner and family members, better chances of retaining a sharper memory, and also reduce the potential for decreased aging related mental acuity.
If a person needs a favor, possessing high social capital gives them a much better chance of locating a person who is willing to help them with finding a person who is able to help them. The act of helping someone who needs it is also associated with benefits similar to those already listed.
Social capital is in action between individuals and groups involved in community projects, church related activities, ice cream socials, group meetings for political candidates, marches for protesting a position of a group, clubs observing and counting birds, or even a conservation group saving pheasants located on a local farmers unused land.
All groups, which have members meet face to face as a group, promote a cause that allows individuals to generate social ties and interconnectedness with others, and who demonstrate social responsibility by providing a positive impact outside their own members can be said to have a potential for high social capital.
Volunteering in a fraternal, civic, or veterans groups and actively participating in the goals of the group has the capacity to increase an individuals social capital. Using groups to increase your networking capacity and further your civic engagement certainly helps your social capital. You can’t know too many good people when you find you need to get things done which only your social connections can help you with. Connections are the way things get done in the volunteer world in many cases. How up to date and engaged are your connections?