The importance of bonding and bridging social capital for social enterprises.
Dr Cathy Sharp
Interest in the concept of social capital reflects the wider UK-wide policy discourse around social exclusion and related issues of empowerment and participation (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998). The recent Scottish Community Regeneration Statement identified the development of social capital as key to improving the quality of life in deprived communities: it defined social capital as ‘where a local community has the skills, resources, networks, opportunities and motivation to work together effectively to promote it’s own wellbeing’ (Scottish Executive, 2002).
Definitions are highly contested in the literature and space does not allow for a full analysis of all the key concepts being deployed here. However, social capital may best be understood as a (perhaps dormant) resource that exists through informal social networks. In essence it is a positive form of ‘social glue’ that provides resources to individuals and communities; the term can be seen as ‘a shorthand for the positive consequences of sociability’ (Portes, A. 1998).
A distinction has emerged in the literature between ‘support or bonding capital’ and ‘leverage or bridging capital’. Bonding capital helps people ‘get by’. It is often provided by horizontal networks of family and socially similar others at a local level. Bridging capital helps people ‘get ahead’ by changing their life chances or by creating opportunities. This calls for having diverse ties, or vertical networks of dissimilar others (Smith, 1998; Sharp, C 1999; Forrest, R and Kearns, A 1999). Granovetter coined the term ‘the strength of weak ties’ to refer to the power of non-kin indirect influences to serve as informal referral systems, particularly for finding work (Portes, A. 1998). This idea has been discussed in a British context by the author Perri 6, who argues that adults need weak ties to those who can act as brokers in networks:
‘…a single message emerges relentlessly. As an adult in the labour force, having a network that is rich in weak ties which span holes in social networks to reach acquaintances and friends of friends across many walks of life proves to be much more effective – at least in the long run – than having a narrow network of strong ties to kin, immediate neighbours and people much like oneself’ (Perri 6, 1997).
He develops the idea of ‘network poverty’, experienced by individuals who do not have the social network configuration of family, friendship or community relationships that they need to thrive (Perri 6, 1997). Whilst good networks are useful in the labour market, they are also linked to mental and physical health as supportive ties and densely-knit networks foster good health, provide useful resources for dealing with stress, and give network members useful feedback about their behaviour (Wellman, 1982).
Notes: The argument above is about developing social capital to regenerate communities, but I think pretty much the same argument would apply to social enterprise. The Perri 6 material is particularly relevant. In case of interest, the references from that section are:
Forrest, R and Kearns, A (1999) Joined-up Places? Social cohesion and neighbourhood regeneration, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Scottish Executive (2002) Better Communities in Scotland: Closing the Gap, Scottish Executive
Sharp, C (1999) Getting by or getting ahead? Social Networks and the Regeneration of Finsbury Park, in Rising East Vol 3, Number 2
Social Exclusion Unit (1998) Bringing Britain Together: a National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, Cmnd 4045, HMSO
Smith, Greg (1998) A Very Social Capital: Measuring the vital signs of community life in Newham. in Rising East Vol 2, Number 1
Portes, A (1998) Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology
Perri 6 (1997) Escaping Poverty: from safety nets to networks of opportunity, Arguments 13, Demos
Wellman, B (1982) Studying Personal Communities in Marsden, P and Lin, N (eds) Social Structure and Network Analysis, Sage.