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Community Capital Helping to Achieve Sustainability

When we hear the word “capital”, it’s not uncommon for people’s thinking to default to money and economics.

But capital – particularly human, social, or community capital – is so much more than dollars and cents and physical property.

It is also key to achieving widespread social change for sustainability.

Whilst it can be difficult to clarify, social (or community) capital is generally understood as the “capacity of individuals to secure benefits by virtue of their membership in social structures” (Portes, 1998, p.6).

Founded in human activity, community capital is produced through social organization and the sense of cohesion this engenders. It is expressed through “networks, norms, and trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1993, p.36).

According to Ford (1990), social capital “signifies a web of relationships, norms of behaviour, values, obligations and information channels” and is more akin to a resource vehicle rather than a resource itself. And yet social capital is as valuable as any precious resource. This is not least because it exercises the power of relationships to achieve outcomes, one of which is social change for sustainability.

In the sustainability paradigm, social capital is expressed in healthy, skilled, talented, creative and engaged people collaborating toward a goal. In some communities, this kind of capital is more valued than financial capital. As Mille Bojer outlines in World-Changing: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century (2006), community capital reflects a human-centred approach to development and broader wealth creation.

Importantly – in an age when globalisation simultaneously liberates and challenges community development – there is increased focus on empowering local community capital. This expands a community’s access to, use and management of their own resources and reduces their reliance on outside assistance. “These resources include money…but they also include people’s skills, the community’s social bonds, even the local environment’s relative health” (Bojer, 2006).

As sustainability educators and communicators, we have a responsibility to invest in human capital. We must work to strengthen the bonds between people, to achieve community cohesion and social well-being.

Together, we must collaborate though powerful relationships – our social and community capital – to achieve a healthy and prosperous future for all.

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