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Social Capital: An Important Power Resource For National Progress
Jul 1, 2003

Each nation or community has the desire and potential to establish a civilization on its own land, one that suits its worldview and displays this to humanity. The realization of this desire depends upon holding sufficient power. When we look at the last 200 years of world history, power of capital and knowledge have become increasingly more important elements than manpower. Capital and knowledge power, also defined as economic capital and intellectual capital, are now serious areas of research.

In order to maintain the effective use of power resources to reach a target, researchers divide them into various subgroups according to different criteria. For instance, capital is categorized into such groups as material, emotional, morality and virtue, intellectual, knowledge (know-how), and consciousness of opportunity and favor. Each one is highlighted by being given a separate name. In addition, various scientific concepts are used as metaphors to imprint on people's minds the importance of those factors that help a community or nation develop. This is done because the human brain can think more easily through metaphors and understand a fresh and novel point of view.

The definition of social capital draws attention to an important - but often ignored or underemphasized - source of wealth for national development. This concept expounds why developing countries cannot achieve Western standards of development. While financial power and knowledge (intellectual capital) constitute the fuel and mechanical parts of the car of progress, social capital functions as its lubricant and oil. An old car that lacks lubrication cannot take you very far, just as a nation whose social capital has been exhausted or broken cannot progress.

So just what is social capital? Which national riches can be seen more clearly through the lens of social capital?

Defining social capital

Social capital is defined as the individual's capacity and ability to benefit from and take advantage of public and private institutions through membership. Social capital forms bonds between neighbors, families, individuals, and communities. The society's civil organizations need social capital to coordinate their existing resources more effectively. The sense of belonging to a society and a nation, and the people's ability to make use of their various capacities, are involved in social capital. At each society's base of interpersonal relationships and institutions, all of a person's opportunities and duties comprise social capital.

Being a member of a social group brings both responsibilities and advantages. Social capital is formed by social structures and institutional characteristics (e.g., reliability, norms, networks of relationships, and systems of facilitating coordinated actions). It facilitates some actions within the structure and makes some benefits available, such as the material gains that accrue with group membership opportunities and chances, as well as the support brought about by relationships within the organization.

If the essence of a relationship is mutual trust and reliance, a system containing expectations and responsibilities arises. This mutual trust and reliance between the members of a civil organization oils the wheels of socioeconomic interactions, reduces costs, maintains the circulation of confidential information among group members, and enhances the availability of chances offered by the group. All of the values and norms needed to erect and maintain a healthy society can be defined as social capital.

Social capital also can be defined as the existence of institutional and inter-institutional participation and cooperation that keeps the individuals grouped around a common purpose and which acts as an adhesive that makes it possible to construct a society or a team. Given that religion and moral education form such values as charity, self-sacrifice, trust, and reliability, it follows that religious and moral teachings play primary roles in constructing social capital. Social capital has yet another meaning: those norms that influence a society's productivity and health and social networks, as well as interpersonal relationships, respect, trust and credibility. Social bonds can boost efficiency by reducing the cost of work and production and facilitating the coordination and cooperation needed for production and marketing.

Social capital, an indispensable component of society and progress on both the micro- and macrolevels, includes all of the norms that shape the quality and intensity of a society's social interactions. In this respect, a large amount of social capital allows more resources and opportunities to be mobilized in the pursuit of common goals. Social capital, however, has both positive and negative sides. For example, social clubs exclude non-members from their services by forming an internal social capital. Thus, poor and rich social sectors have different social capitals. The social capital of poor people is built around trust and the exchange of goods or property. The critical point of social progress is making public opportunities and chances available to the poor by reducing the exclusivity of the social capital available to the rich. The Islamic institutions of zakat (the prescribed alms) and interest-free credit practices are quite significant here.

The social capital of socially harmful groups (e.g., drug cartels and corrupt people) prevent socioeconomic progress. In this respect, the social capital value of a society's subgroups and civil organizations determines whether the net value of its social capital is positive or negative. The value of an institution's social capital is determined by the levels and degrees of the following: the development of an institutional identity among staff members; the sense of belonging; the extent of common thoughts, visions, and goals; being informed of the chances and opportunities inside or outside the institution; staff members' respectability in the institution and the institution's respectability in society; its ability to offer equal opportunities without getting entangled in religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences. In addition, participation in managing a society's institutions and establishments also strengthens social capital. Thus, we can say that social capital can be defined in many ways and represents the group of differences called capital.

We should distinguish the resources of social capital from its outcome. We can list the following among its outcomes: social control, preservation of family and kinship ties, preservation of the society's unity and solidarity (both material and spiritual), and the capacity to put forward common ideas and targets due to the unity and harmony of society. All of these are vitally important for economic progress and sustained growth and development.

Social capital also makes an important contribution to forming a sociopolitical environment that allows certain norms and standards that shape society in order to improve it. Unlike economic capital, social capital cannot be bought from another community or nation; every society has to build it up with its own faith, tradition, and education system. Civil organizations play a major role in the rapid construction of positive social capital. The value of social capital directly affects the government's functioning, as well as that of the justice system and the use of rights and freedoms. And, socioeconomic development is directly related to the common goals and principles determined by the social capital accumulations of subgroups

and institutions. As networks of relationships that are limited to a person's family and neighbors have a small amount of social capital, they are deprived of chances and opportunities to improve themselves. Those with a larger network of relationships, due to their membership in civil organizations, as well as professional and social clubs, have more social capital and a better chance of enriching and making individual progress.

Social and other types of capital

Social capital is a means of investing in your future. People with a high social capital value are honest, trustworthy, possess professional honor, function as a member of a team, and are sought after in all sections of life. Individuals and institutions that maintain their social capital above a certain value can acquire knowledge, power, and opportunities of critical importance. A collective group identity that increases the capacity of collective action can be enhanced only by building up social capital. As material capital can be used for reaching various objectives, social capital can be used to access critical information or to receive sound advice. Certainly, the advantages of a person's position within society or a group can be transformed into economic gain. Material capital, the most fluid and that with the highest value of convertibility among all types of capital, can be used to improve men and women, culture, and social capital. However, the convertibility of social capital to economic capital is lower, for social capital, which keeps the common values that make up the society together, is less transferable.

When necessary, social capital can function as other types of capital or can compensate for their absence. For instance, the lack of financial or human capital can be eliminated by introducing strong social relationships and connections. Furthermore, the efficiency of social capital can be raised by reducing operation costs. Research reveals that people with a lower social capital value are less reliable and less receptive to institutionalizing and organizing.

Social capital needs protection and continuity, just like physical (e.g., clean air, water, and environment) and human capital do. In other words, existing social ties among people need to be refreshed and confirmed periodically to maintain their efficiency. The value of social capital increases, instead of decreases, as we use it. For example, the social capital of people who rely on each other and inspire mutual trust increases daily. Thus, dialogues and interactions between different civil organizations and cultures, as well as interfaith dialogues, are important infrastructural activities that enable the construction of social capital.

Social capital, like physical capital, is advantageous for the public and requires that all people work to save and improve it. Such an understanding allows us to comprehend the wisdom of the Divine Order, which wills that every society contains a group that calls for good and prohibits evil. Fresh air and water decrease in proportion with their usage; social capital increases in proportion to its usage. Individuals equally run the risk of not making use of social capital's potential in an equal manner. Social capital is usually constructed by its relationship to a club or a community. Thus, people who are not members cannot benefit from the opportunities.

Social capital is not held by a person or an institution, but emerges within the network of interpersonal or inter-institutional relationships, and continues to grow as long as the relationship lasts. In other words, the construction of social capital depends upon mutual trust, dialogue, and cooperation. Since social capital emerges within the network of social relationships, it cannot be transferred. Each society has its own methods of operating and achieving success.

All of the cultural elements that motivate a person, generate opportunities, or facilitate the utility of talents and capacities play a role in the construction of social capital.

Measuring social capital

Several criteria are used to measure the value of social capital: the degree of trust and respect for the state and its institutions, the level of people's participation in making those decisions in which they have a role to play, the extent of their presence in civil organizations, and the average of monthly voluntary service hours, as well as the level of help, support, and self-sacrifice between individuals and neighbors. For example, social capital strengthened by the active support of local citizens and families enhances the quality of education, for students are more successful when teachers improve themselves, take their jobs seriously, and establish a good relationship with the students. Doctors and nurses who work in citizen-monitored and supported health institutions are sure to be more attentive in their jobs. Building a healthy society depends on social capital being rooted in interpersonal trust and assistance.

Social capital and social progress

Researchers have discovered that a nation's ability to achieve healthy progress does not depend only on financial, structural and legal regulations. For example, the failure of the financial aid offered by the World Bank, as well as its advised structural reforms, to the developing countries raises the following question: What did we miss or undervalue? The resulting analyses and research so far have revealed that the interaction between labor and capital for progress is far more complicated than originally expected. Various types of capital were acknowledged (e.g., physical, geographical, human, cultural, moral, emotional, and social) and held to be significant for progress. Social capital was recognized as the primary prompter and sustainer of development and progress.

Recently, researchers have begun to focus on the need for developing countries to have social, rather than financial and labor, capital. They underline that existing corruption, bribery, and monopolies can be dealt with only by enhancing social capital. We hope that this article helps administrators, who are at the steering wheel of national ships, realize the contribution of our religious, moral, and cultural inheritance to establishing a high-quality social capital, and encourages them to consider social capital in their projects.


- Hwe P., and A. Shiell. "Social Capital and Health Promotion: Review." Social Science and Medicine, no. 51 (2000): 855-871.