David B. Crowley's blog

Seven Top Social Capital Stories of the Week

Wow, there was a lot happening in the social capital world this week! Granted, our mission has us interested in a wide range of subject areas; but this week seemed particularly chock-full of relevant stories and studies.  So I'm going to start early on my resolution to blog more regularly, and recap the top stories I came across this week.

Walkable Cities & Social Capital  A recent University of New Hampshire study found that more walkable cities have higher social capital--this article recaps the study nicely.  I suppose it's no big surprise that walking around one's neighborhood would build social capital--greeting familiar faces and maybe even stopping to chat. However, it's always nice to have our guesses confirmed with data! Those of us in the Boston area can thus take heart that placing high on the list of most walkable cities--it's good for our social capital and our health!  Read more

Geek Corps: Answering the call (and changing the name!)

Far too many reports are issued only to collect dust on a shelf.  Fortunately, this is not the case with the Knight Commission report, "Informing Communities:  Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age", which was issued a year ago and has been the source of ongoing converation about the role of media and information flows in 21st century democractic life.  Just this week I tuned into a symposium the Knight Commission held to mark the one year anniversary of the report, prompting me to share some thoughts on the report.Read more

New Course on Community Engagement in Higher Ed

 We are pleased  to have the support of faculty from UMass Boston for our AmeriCorps member training program.  Dwight Giles, one of the professors we are working with, is offering a new course on "Community Engagement in Higher Education."  The graduate level course is open to anyone interested that has a Bachelors degree--i.e. you don't need to be enrolled at UMass Boston.  So I thought I'd share here as it might be of interest to some in our network.  The course summary is pasted in below, with the full flier attached which includes Prof. Giles' contact info.


Course Description  Wed. 5-7:30 p.m.Read more

Connected, even if we’re Bowling Alone

Though Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone isn't mentioned until p. 188 in Connected:  The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks, I read Connected as an important follow-up to Bowling Alone.  Putnam's work describes the importance of social capital, and the precipitous decline of that social capital was a primary reason I started Social Capital Inc. in 2002.  While Putnam’s work tells us that social capital matters, Connected provides more insight into why our social networks are so important.
When out promoting SCI’s mission, I’m often sharing social capital "factoids”, and find that these nuggets have a certain "gee whiz" quality to them.
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Facts & Democracy Don't Mix?

The Sunday Boston Globe article "How Facts Backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains" is worth a read for those of us interested in our democratic life, though it certainly isn't encouraging news.  With today's technology offering an overwhelming amount of information (and misinformation), Joe Keohane who wrote the piece suggests that "It's never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they're right."  I'm posting here mainly to call attention to the piece in case you missed it, but I did want to add a few quick observations.Read more

People Power, Not a Portal

At the "State of Service" event put on by MassINC & AmeriCorps Alums earlier this month, creating a new "Match.com for service" portal was the idea that seemed to generate the most enthusiasm.  In these "there's an app for that" times, thinking there's a technical solution to a challenge comes naturally.  And there is certainly some evidence that doing a better job connecting people with opportunities to participate could increase civic engagement.  Back when I was starting Social Capital Inc. (SCI), I came across a League of Women Voters study which said that roughly half of the Americans they surveyed indicated that they'd like to be more civically active, and that "lack of information" was the single biggest barrier preventing them from doing so.  We have since seen similar findings in our own local survey, pointing to the need to connect people with information.Read more

How NOT to cultivate your social network

We often talk about how to cultivate your network--what about how not to cultivate your network?  What things negatively impact your social capital?  Some obvious ones would be not returning calls, not following through on something you said you would do.  Continuously being on the receiving side of a relationship would be another.

I'm also thinking of a few situations lately that bring this question to mind...making referrals, and then seeing my contact handle the situation in a way that made me feel uncomfortable that I had made that referral.  The take-away on this is that when someone makes an introduction for me, I need to keep in mind that the person is extending him or herself by making that connection.  I need to be aware that how I proceed with that contact is going to impact my relationship with the introducer.  Being insensitive to this dynamic is another way not to cultivate your network.

These are just a few additional ideas that come to mind--I would welcome thoughts from others on how not to cultivate your network!  Sometimes negative examples can be valuable for our learning.

How do you say leadership? Notes from Multi-Cultural Leadership Session 1

How do you say leadership in your first language?  This question kicked off an interesting discussion in our first Multi-Cultural Leadership Project yesterday.  Through this collaboration with the YMCA International Learning Center (ILC) in Woburn, I'll be training a dozen adult English language learners on leadership skills.  The students will be using the training to coordinate a WorldFest multi-cultural event in the community next spring.  They are very excited about the project, and the prospects of learning useful job skills while contributing to their new community.

Yesterday's group was representative of the diversity of the ILC, which serves students from 20 countries who speak 14 different languages. This brought a lot of different cultural perspectives to bear on our conversation about leadership!Read more

7 Tips & Counting for Leveraging Your Social Network

Much of our training for AmeriCorps members and other community leaders this year has focused on the theme of "Leveraging Social Networks for Social Impact".  For instance, I recently led a brown bag session on this subject at the Boston Center for Community & Justice. 
Getting ready for our session on this subject matter for our Leadership Woburn adult community leader training tomorrow night, and thought I'd share the list of 7 Tips for Leveraging Your Social Network that we've used previously, and see what other additions people would add to this list.  Add your comments below: 
  1. Have clear goals in mind when trying to leverage your social network.
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Tapping the Abundance

David SpeakingI thought I'd share my opening remarks from last week's Social Capitalist Luncheon: 

In these times of scarcity, we see abundance.

On a chilly Monday night in Dorchester, Jaquan mentioned to the other SCI Dorchester Youth Council teens that it was supposed to a very cold winter. They started talking about how in this economy people were struggling to meet basic needs. Trained to act on problems they see, the council quickly devised plans for a coat drive.

Guided by Keith, the AmeriCorps member who mentors them, the Council developed a collaboration with the Burlington Coat factory. A few weeks later, on a rainy January night, Jaquan and the other Council members gathered to sort and distribute 600 winter coats. One recipient, who clearly didn’t have enough clothing to stay warm, said simply, “This coat drive is a godsend”. Read more

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