August 2, 2016 Andy Green

Social Capital in action – 2 men strolling for peace and understanding

A wonderful real world social experiment shows the power of Social Capital in action.

Two men are filmed walking through different neighbourhoods. Nothing unusual about that – except one is clearly an Arab Muslim, the other patently a Jew.

Their journey creates different responses. From the majority there’s initial astonishment and bemusement – a psychological response perhaps to their making themselves comfortable about observing an uncomfortable reality.

A minority make the point of engaging and sharing their endorsement and support of what the two men symbolise, of people of different faiths and communities coming together.

One reaction however verges on violent repudiation, with the Arab being aggressively accused by one passer-by of being a ‘terrorist’: a consequence, no doubt, of the abuser only ever seeing people in Arab dress in the media, tagged as ‘terrorists’.

The film was made by Nigerian Born Los Angeles based Filmmaker Patrick Anenu Jnr as part of a crowdfunding effort for his new film project ‘Who We Are’ a thought provoking drama telling the story of two men  from different backgrounds , religious beliefs and race. (Check it out.)

The crisis in Social Capital

The experiment demonstrates how communicators need to recognise Social Capital as a crucial element in any behaviour change programme.

Charles Darwin observed that the species that succeed are the ones that collaborate better,

Our society has a hidden crisis. It affects the very heartbeat of our communities, and strikes at the heart of our ability to collaborate.

Fewer people devote themselves to the communal good. Less of us are getting involved in doing things, running things or just hanging around with each other – how we help each other to help each other – our capacity to connect, co-operate and collaborate.

It is not just a nice thing to have. It’s critical to how well we live and work together. It’s called Social Capital – and we need to do something about its decline.

As a result, things we took for granted in our communities start to happen less and less, or not happen at all, and people are increasingly operating within distinct silos of like-minded people – and we are all poorer as a result.

There are less opportunities for dialogue between people. Chances to create alternative views outside your own tribe’s bubble of a worldview.

The recent EU Referendum was a vivid demonstration of the two tribes

There are less opportunities to become a trusted source, someone who could be listened to, whose advice and information is respected.

With less opportunities to be front-of-mind, being able to influence just by the recency of your contact.

There are fewer chances to be at least liked by another person, so that you avoid simplistic labels and stereotypes of other people, even if you hold a contrary view.

Social Capital is a PR responsibility

Public relations people are in the driving seat to do something about the decline of Social Capital.

PR people need to start recognising the existence of Social Capital – the space to connect, that can range from building on-line and off-line communities, to simple opportunities to be in the same space together.

Building Social Capital is one of the five core pillars of public relations activity, alongside listening, counselling on the authenticity of your Brand’s actions, managing your story, and earning trust.

PR people need to include in our work recognition that communications and creating change requires managing the gaps within stakeholders as much as the messages to them.

Public relations work is about investing in the Bonding Capital that holds a group together, its Bridging Capital of how it connects with other like-minded people outside of its home group, and its Linking Capital for connecting with others – even if they are not like you, or may even be opposed to you.

I define Social Capital as ‘How we help each other, to help each other’- the capacity within our communities to connect, co-operate and collaborate.

Vibrant communities have strong Bonding Social Capital – the glue to hold a group together

Thriving communities have strong Bridging Social Capital to connect people better with like-minded others

Tolerant communities have strong Linking Social Capital bringing dissimilar people together.

The ‘Who We Are’ experiment was a vivid demonstration of the significant decline in Linking Capital in our communities.

Are you going to start recognising Social Capital as a key element of public relations practice?

Are you going to do what you can do to tackle the Social Capital crisis in your society?

Who is the Jew or Arab in your world you need to be connecting more with?

Why wait for a social experiment to shock or shake you out of your complacency.