BY: Donna Messer
DATE: April 21, 2003
The motto from the TV program Cheers was “where everybody knows your name”- it is this phrase that captures one of the most important aspects of social capital.

When a group of community minded people joined together to ask their townspeople a series of questions they were looking to determine their social capital. In their survey, they looked at how connected the community was to family, friends, neighbors and community institutions. These connections – our Social Capital – is the glue that holds us together and enables us to build bridges to others in our community and outside of it. This project assisted residents in a local area to build stronger communities ties and to strengthen community bonds. Where was that community and what did they learn from the exercise? It was a small town in Ontario, called Campbellford and the people were part of an organization called Community Living.

I first met Chris Grayson and his incredible team of dedicated employees about 5 years ago. The purpose of our meeting was for me to develop a training program that would maximize the talents of the team and to find additional ways to raise awareness for Community Living and for the people they support.

From my own personal perspective, I found that most of us know a little about the local Community Living organization in our area, but we really never take the time to find out how we can maximize who they are, what they do and how we, as strong community supporters, can work together, to help each other.

During my first workshop with the team from Community Living in Campbellford, I recognized that this group had something special – they not only knew their community, they knew where the people they supported might fit in!

As a team, it was decided that the town residents needed to know more about Community Living as a whole and the people they supported in Campbellford, in particular. Together, we organized a one-day event and invited all the local merchants and business people to attend. My role was to facilitate – to find ways to “match” people from Community Living, with local business owners. The entire day was to be filmed by local cable and the footage was to be edited into an hour-long television program.

The day was an incredible success, not only did the people of Campbellford find matches with the people supported by Community Living – they learned how much they were missing by not taking the time to recognize their social capital.

Campbellford is a community where Social Capital has become part of their daily life, they not only know the people who are supported by Community Living, they hire them, they work with them and they refer them. Self-advocacy for some has been a successful result of the initiatives begun with that meeting 5 years ago.

We know that Social Capital refers to the norms and networks that enable collective action. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion — social capital — is critical for integration, poverty alleviation and sustainable human and economic development. What was accomplished in Campbellford, is but a small sample of what can be accomplished world wide. Working with external partners, researchers, institutions, governments and others interested in understanding and applying social capital for sustainable, social and economic development can help a community become safer, more productive and economically viable.

Social capital often refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Using Campbellford Community Living as a template allows any community, regardless of size to maximize their network and develop a methodology to recognize and harness their Social Capital. Social Capital is not just the sum of the institutions and organizations that underpin our society – it is the very glue that holds them together.

In Campbellford, Social capital added value in many ways:

  • Information flow – learning about jobs, meeting candidates running for office, exchanging ideas
  • Norms of reciprocity or mutual aid, asking for help and receiving it, being dependent on our social networks.
  • Bonding networks that connected folks who are similar to sustain in-group reciprocity.
  • Bridging networks that connected individuals who are diverse, sustained generalized reciprocity.
  • Collective action depends upon social networks, the self-advocacy program is an example of the role that the Community Living played in this movement.
  • Collective action can also foster new networks.
  • Broader identities along with solidarity is encouraged by social networks – and this helps translate an “I” mentality into a “we” mentality.

What Chris Grayson and his team have learned from their success in Campbellford is that people like people who are like themselves, they buy from them, sell to them, and hire them. It’s taking the time to find the common denominators between people in any community, that makes Social Capital work!

Education, interaction and networking – has made Campbellford Community Living a shining example of the importance of recognizing the need for increased Social Capital in every community.

  • How connected are we to each other?
  • How many of your neighbours’ first names do you know?
  • How often do you attend parades or festivals?
  • Do you volunteer at your kids’ school? Or help out senior citizens?
  • Do you trust your local police?
  • Do you know who your government representatives?
  • Do you attend religious services? Or go to the theater?
  • Do you sign petitions? Or attend neighbourhood meetings?
  • Do you think the people running your community care about you?
  • Can you make a difference?
  • How often do you visit with friends or family?

At a recent Conference held in Toronto, the keynote speaker, Rob Brouwer, a Senior Auditor from KPMG, talked about Rebuilding Confidence. He said, “We are facing a crisis of confidence in our capital markets. It’s come about, in part, as a result of some spectacular breaches of trust by a number of business leaders. As a result we are now looking at a new era.”

We are indeed facing a new era and what we believe and encourage is that increased awareness of our Social Capital will foster this new era………to quote Rob Brouwer, we are breeding a new culture ……….”A Culture of Integrity”.

Diversity and culture have been an increasingly important part of Canada’s growth – in fact it has impacted on our national identity. Canada’s population is a melting pot of men, women and children from countries around the world. We are a variety of colors and creeds. We have our special foods, our ways of celebrating and our history. Canada is learning a great deal from our new Canadians, the immigrants, who have chosen Canada as a place to live, work and raise their families. From these new Canadians we are learning about war, and hunger. We are learning about fear and lack of trust. We are no longer able to say, it doesn’t happen in Canada or North America, today we are living in a new era, in a world where diversity is no longer our first concern. Today we must be concerned with a new culture……….. “A culture of integrity”.

Over the past few years we have seen governments, big business and large corporations falter, the leadership questioned and the authenticity of their claims challenged.

All of North America has become aware of the fact that trust is no longer part of the corporate package. We must earn it – and today, the playing field has been leveled. Chris Grayson and his team have taken a leadership role in making sure that a culture of integrity is part of their makeup.

The word transparency has been coined by government – what it means is that from now on, individuals in leadership roles must be willing to divulge information on any area of their life that might have an impact on the business or government they lead. It’s true Social Capital when we can learn about those who lead, as well as those who follow. It has been determined that we are safer, more economically viable when our Social Capital is high – this new era of integrity, with increased visibility for everyone, will make the world a better, safer place.

As North Americans, we now have the chance to let our voices be heard. We can object and we can question authority, if it appears to be tainted. Our new culture of integrity offers respect to those who earn it. We encourage you to increase your Social Capital, and become part of this new era of trust, honor and ethics.

Donna Messer is the founder of ConnectUs Communications Canada. She is the author of the best seller, “Effective Networking Strategies”. A winner of the Woman of the Year award and nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year, Donna travels across Canada and throughout the world teaching effective networking skills.