Social Capital: Bonds, Bridges and Linkages

The term ‘social capital’ is usually somewhat loosely defined as ‘the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively’.  This makes the term highly relevant to the work of associations, charities, and the not-for-profit sector generally.

human-capital_9789264029095-enAn extract about the concept from OECD Insights: Human Capital adds the notion of shared values and norms to their definition:

networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups”.

These shared values allow trust to be engendered, and so enable people to work together in common cause.  That cause addresses the ‘community of interest’ rather than the personal interests of any one member of the network or group, although conflicts of interest can arise in any group or organisation, and this must be guarded against through good governance.  (Regrettably, we must also acknowledge that outlaw motorcycle gangs and drug cartels sit right alongside professional associations and charity support networks as other forms of ‘social capital’ evident in the world).

The OECD publication suggests that social capital can be divided into three main categories or forms:

Bonds: Links to people based on a sense of common identity (“people like us”) – such as family, close friends and people who share our culture or ethnicity.  (Professions also promote these bonds.)

Bridges: Links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity, for example to distant friends, colleagues and associates.

Linkages: Links to people or groups further up or lower down the social ladder.

LinkedIn was launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004, and Twitter in 2006, so over the last 14 years we have heard much about the way social media has replaced traditional organisations and institutions.  We have also acknowledged however, that ‘clicktivism’ and ‘slacktivism’ do not equate to the depth, durability, and overall effectiveness of face to face engagement and enduring structures.

The more successful promotion of beneficial social capital occurs when leaders of not-for-profit organisations combine traditional and online engagement mechanisms.

I believe that third sector policy workers are a community of interest who share certain norms, values and understandings, but that this could be enhanced by increased dialogue and sharing of experience amongst practitioners.  Whether your policy role is working as an employee or an office bearer in an association, charity, or some other not-for-profit entity, we all share common problems and interests, and we also want to help improve the fabric of our wider society.

Contact me at if you would like to explore ways in which we can build the social capital of the not-for-profit policy network.


Leave a Reply