Using Your Social Capital To Benefit Others
Adapted from Chalmers’ Are You a Good Neighbor? online course.
Though it has sometimes been interpreted that way, the message of our book When Helping Hurts was certainly NOT “don’t give money to help people who are poor.” There are many, many situations where money, given carefully and in the right context, is an important part of poverty alleviation.
One of the key messages of the book and the rest of our trainings and resources at the Chalmers Center is that how we give matters most. This means that we often need to give more, but not just money. Long-term, transformative ministry is highly relational, and that means giving of our time, energy, and networks—in short, our social capital.
What Is Social Capital?
So much of effective poverty alleviation is applying the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” A big part of being a good neighbor is the idea of inviting people into your world, of opening doors for your low-income neighbors that might not otherwise be accessible to them. This access is what sociologists have come to call social capital—the networks of trust and relationship that enable a community to flourish, the people and institutions that we know and who know us.
For the low-income individuals and families we walk with, the lack of social capital can be as interwoven with their material poverty as a lack of money or other resources. When we connect them to our networks, this provides two very real types of benefits.
- Emotional Support—Much of the best poverty alleviation work is simply being in someone’s corner. It’s showing up faithfully to say “I’m encouraging you. I’m your cheerleader.” It’s mourning with those who mourn when something tough has happened or they experience a setback. It’s rejoicing with those who rejoice when they get good news or make progress in their goals. All of us need a “cloud of witnesses” to help us carry on in the journey of life, and we should not underestimate the power of just being there for one another.
- Instrumental Support—The fact of the matter is that people who’ve lived most of their lives in middle- or upper-income communities have a lot of connections with resources and power. We don’t recognize how much of the church in the United States is dense with this kind of social capital. Because of this, not only are American Christians able to provide emotional support, we can leverage our connections to help out if someone is having trouble getting signed up for a government program, getting their kids’ accommodations set up at school, securing a bank account, or finding a sustainable job.
Sharing generously of our social capital is a practical application of long-term, relational development work. Just like with financial resources, our social capital should be stewarded well with God’s glory as the ultimate goal, not merely our own gain. Using what we’ve been blessed with to help open doors of opportunity for others can have a tremendous impact on someone’s life.
If you’d like to learn more about getting trained and equipped to lead a poverty alleviation ministry that fosters real change, click HERE to check out our spring programs.