Building Bridges, Fostering Bonds
Good afternoon, on behalf of the Board of Director’s of Social Capital Inc. I welcome you to the 4th annual Social Capitalist Luncheon.
I am excited about SCI’s mission… “To strengthen communities by connecting diverse individuals and organizations through civic engagement activities.” This mission becomes very important, particularly today where our communities are undergoing a tremendous transformation. Just look at the newly released Census figures. The Boston Globe reported this Monday, that Massachusetts was one of six states that would not have grown at all without the growth in Hispanic and other ethnic minorities. The numbers of Asians and Hispanics grew by 46% in this state, and nationwide more than 50% of the population growth is due to the surge in Hispanics. And this trend is occurring across the state from affluent communities like Dedham to working class cities like Revere and Chelsea. Ethnic diversity is increasing not only in the United States, but in most advanced countries, driven primarily by immigration.
However, as an immigrant to this country I am a concerned and troubled about the growing anti-immigration sentiment in our country. Recent research in social capital has shown that immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital. Robert Putnam, professor at Harvard and a leading researcher in social capital, cites new evidence that shows that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, residents of all races tend to “hunker down” that is to “pull in like a turtle”, resulting in less trust of neighbor, community cooperation and altruism becoming rarer, friends becoming fewer, lower confidence in local government and leaders, less expectation that others will cooperate to solve a mutual problem, lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering, more time watching television and more agreement that “TV is my most important form of entertainment”. Overall, diversity tends to produce a feeling of less happiness and lower perceived quality of life. In summary, diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.
We need to work more toward bridging and bonding social capital. Bridging across to people who are unlike you in some important way, generationally, race, and culture and at the same time bonding more with people who are like you. As Professor Putnam puts it, our collective efforts toward increasing social capital in our diverse communities, will result, in the longer term, what is inscribed in the Great Seal of the United States – e pluribus unum - to create a novel ‘one’ out of the diverse ‘many’.
SCI is working towards these goals. We are working with ethnically diverse youth in various communities across Massachusetts doing the bridging and the bonding necessary to create social capital and nurture civic engagement. SCI delivers its work very efficiently: by partnering with other community organizations, by placing AmeriCorps volunteers in communities in need, by leveraging the power of “social networking tools” to disseminate information about community events and needs, and by educating future Social Capitalist’s. We deliver all of these programs in a cost efficient way. With an annual budget of little over half a million dollars, in the first 6 months of this program year, we have trained over 225 new leaders in Social Capital, who have recruited over 1,600 volunteers, generated over 27,000 service hours and reached over 32,000 individuals with our programs. More importantly, our strategic focus of training young social capitalists will have a more lasting, long term impact within the 10 communities we serve.
So in conclusion, the task of becoming comfortable with diversity will not be easy or quick, but it will be speeded by our collective efforts, such as those promoted by SCI, and in the end well worth the effort. I encourage you to embrace diversity by bridging to someone unlike you and by getting more involved in the communities you live and work. Believe me, you will not only benefit your community, but it will be highly rewarding to you.
Speech given at the Social Capitalist Luncheon, 3/30/11