Social Capital: Making ends meet

The world is full capital. Some of it, like financial capital, lives on Wall Street. Another kind, political capital, finds home in Washington D.C. A third version, environmental capital, is stored in forests, oceans and mineral reserves the world over. These are what people typically think of when they think of capital, but here at ITN we work in a fourth dimension: Social Capital.

Social capital isn’t like money or oil or the sway of politics. It’s local, organic, homegrown, with cultural roots. Transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation, pinned to social networks. Social Capital isn’t about beating the competition. It is community-produced goods and services working for a common good, tied together by shared norms, values and understandings. Social capital is born through cooperation, fertilized by community, compassion and generosity.

And it operates everywhere. It’s in cities and small towns, on Wall Street, in Washington D.C., everywhere. It’s in a Boy Scout who assists the old woman across the street, in the house where multiple families share childcare services, at the workplace when someone helps a friend get a job. It’s created by the person posting a positive business review online, by the friend who lets out their neighbor’s dog at lunchtime and by the retired teacher who gives her elderly neighbor a ride to the market. It’s members of a community with a willingness to contribute, each seeing a benefit to shared participation. The community may be geographic, or it may be relational: one town, or one family. Both are capable of generating social capital, its own ephemeral economy, complete with exchanges and accountability. It’s collective, community capital, unselfish and often unaccounted for. And it’s extremely powerful.

ITNs are built on social capital. It’s in every ride, in the volunteer drivers who turns their desire to give back to their communities into an important service for seniors. These thoughtful, generous, community-minded people enable mobility. They might earn transportation credits and mileage reimbursement too, but what they really get is that warm feeling of having served their community. They get the satisfaction of having made a difference. They know they are part of something, an intertwined group, and there is value in having done their good deed for the day.

At ITN, we rely on that impulse to meet the mobility needs of our older community members. We tap into social capital reserves across America, and we use that capital to ensure older people everywhere have access to the rides they need. Our volunteer drivers are our forests, our ocean, our mineral reserves: they are social capital creators, deep wells of tremendous value. ITNs tap into that hidden capital and build on it, refine it, pair it with technology to expand the possibility of return on investment. We rely on the strength of community, the string of connections that link neighbor to neighbor, and then amplifying them, linking one community to another.

This is the power of social capital. It can move people, literally thousands of them, and give them the mobility they need to live full, complete lives. Tapping into a desire to engage in a meaningful way with our neighbors is enough to make a huge difference.

Older people get rides, and drivers refill their social capital coffers. Everyone wins. That’s ITN.

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