When you hear the word ‘capital’, what comes into your mind right away? Money, right? Of course! Monetary capital is an important form of capital every one easily relates to, but far beyond it is another facet of capital many people seem to be either negligent or ignorant about.
In a fast growing world where one’s growth and development relies on his or her social networks to an appreciable extent, social capital isn’t something you would be apathetic about if you really understood its worth.
Social capital, otherwise known as soft currency has a high norm of a culture being reciprocity, which encourages bargaining, compromise, and pluralistic politics. It comprises those resources inherent in social relations which facilitate collective action. These resources include information, ideas, leads, financial capital, business opportunities, power and influence, emotional support, trust, cooperation, and even goodwill. It is similar to the now well-established economic concept of human capital.
In casual terms, social capital is casually termed as ‘links’, ‘connections’, ‘protocol’ or ‘friends for benefit’. These slang terms give a fair idea of the concept of social capital although they tend to imply an antagonistic meaning.
Social capital has been used to explain the improved performance of diverse groups, the growth of entrepreneurial firms, superior managerial performance, enhanced supply chain relations, the value derived from strategic alliances, and the evolution of communities. Such mutual support also is associated with self-reliant economic development.
When I was a freshman at the university, a friend of mine gave me a very sound advice which has been of great help to me. This friend who was a fourth year student, made me conscious about building my social capital as he advised: As a fresher, I know your number one goal is to attain a first class degree. It’s good but see, a first class degree without established links may amount to joblessness. Even if you want to be an entrepreneur after school, you need to build connections the more…“
This advice first sounded funny especially when the one he was advising was a shy and less sociable person. Years down the lane, keeping to his advice and becoming quite sociable, I have come to realize the wisdom in that advise. I have enjoyed several privileges I wouldn’t have without relations to certain class of people.
If you have been given ‘special treatment’ at the bank, restaurant or hospital because of your connections to an authority at those places you can relate better to what I am saying.
I have come to realize that the lack of financial capital is not even an obstacle to the project of an individual or company with great social capital. All it takes is writing a proposal for funding from a reliable partner.
In some cases, you do not even have to ask for support, you get it freely from those in your sphere of contact who are grateful to you for certain aids you once extended to them. Aside credibility or competence, many companies have won multi-million dollars contracts due to the wealthy social capital of the CEO, supply chain managers, public relations officers or customer care representatives.
Contrary to the positive view of social capital, some people have employed the concept to demonstrate a mechanism for the generational reproduction of inequality. Some people point out that the wealthy and powerful use their “old boys network” or other social capital to maintain advantages for themselves, their social class, and their children. They are right (at least, to an extent) but it is only natural and logical that aid is given to a person who is socially related to an authority over a stranger, devoid of ethnicity or other form of bias.
At a certain stage in life, when you are burdened with a whole lot of problems and can barely count the people in your sphere of contact who can be of help, then you should know how important it is to build your social capital.
You need to work on your social relations skills and attitude in order to build your social capital. Someone who is a rude and intolerable egomaniac is unlikely to have a stable social network with people.
In your relation with people, treat them nicely, gain their trust and let them feel secure around you. Create a good working environment between you and your colleagues at work, extend intellectual aid and emotional support to your course mates if possible. This way, you win their confidence and reliability for them to readily reciprocate your kind gestures whether in cash or kind when the need arises.
In building your social capital, one must establish social relations strategically. Sometimes, it must be a deliberate attempt to add a particular person to your social networks but the process but be done spontaneously without necessarily forcing a relationship with the person or showing a false identity to please such him or her.
I have observed that most people’s treatment of the concept isn’t helpful as they lose their social networks in short periods. This is because such people tend to focus on the advantages to possessors of social capital and the deliberate construction of sociability for the purpose of creating this resource.
To grow and achieve a stable social network, one must look beyond the personal benefits in order to establish a spontaneous and sincere relationship.
Faking relationship with people in order to obtain certain benefits builds an unstable social capital as you will lose your relations when they later find out your ulterior motives. Remember that the concept of social capital is built on the fundamental principle of reciprocity in mutualistic relationship rather than parasitic.
A well-built social capital is very crucial for your psychological, social, financial and even physical well-being hence you disregard it at your own peril. Knowing how to effectively evaluate and utilize it is as important as knowing how to build it.
Written by Francis Aheto