Want to Impact Your Community? Start by Building Social Capital.

The term social capital might summon thoughts of Facebook and Twitter, but it existed long before social media. Social capital refers to the connections among individuals that arise from social interactions. The National Conference on Citizenship defines social capital as “the networks of social relationships characterized by norms of trust and reciprocity.” It’s about developing connections with others and using those connections to provide people with access to opportunities or resources.

So why should building social capital be important to you?

Social capital creates ties across communities. At its core is trust – when neighbors trust one another, when people from different backgrounds trust one another, they are more likely to help one another.

Increasing human connectedness through social capital also leads to better health. So it’s not surprising that building social capital will increase your level of happiness while strengthening community relationships.

Building social capital in your community can start small. Meeting with your neighbors, eating dinner with your family – both actions may seem simple, but they play an important part in creating reciprocity between people and communities. In fact, these small actions impact a city as a whole – great social connectedness within a region is shown to positively affect its civic health, education, economics, philanthropy and wellness.

When considering the health of our St. Louis region, the frequency that you take part in interactions that build social capital, matters. So what are some ways you can participate in your community and bring people together through social capital? Here’s twenty ideas to get you started:

1. Have a dinner party and ask everyone to bring a guest.

2. Gather a group of friends and go volunteer (check out stlvolunteer.org for opportunities!).

3. Learn the names of St. Louis’ elected officials.

4. Help rake a neighbor’s yard or shovel his or her snow.

5. Start a health or exercise group.

6. Organize or participate in a street block party.

7. Start a book club at your workplace.

8. Find and join civic or social groups that will lead to meeting people outside of your friend circle.

9. Join a nonprofit board of directors.

10. Start a mentor or mentee relationship with a professional in your field.

11. Take a break from TV and be intentional about calling long-distance friends.

12. Organize a potluck lunch at your workplace.

13. Pay for the person behind you at a drive-thru or counter.

14. Research and share the history of your neighborhood.

15. Offer to return the shopping cart of a stranger who is loading his or her car.

16. Plant a garden and share the extra bounty.

17. Attend city council meetings.

18. Be generous with small favors.

19. Attend low-key networking events.

20. Tell friends and family about social capital and explain why it is important.

Building social capital to develop trust in our community starts with you. What are you doing in your neighborhood, church, school, workplace or civic association to build social capital?

Interested in learning more about building social capital? Check out Bowling Alone, a book by Robert Putnam that explores how American community has become increasingly disconnected and how individuals can take small steps to revive community connectedness.

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.