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The Power of Social Capital

The Power of Social Capital highlights the importance of measuring social capital and its impact in helping young people secure education and employment opportunities.

The Power of Social Capital is a summary of emerging research that highlights the importance of measuring social capital and how social capital can help young people secure education and employment opportunities.

We define social capital as the resources that arise from a web of relationships, which people can access and mobilize to help them improve their lives and achieve their goals.

In 2020, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Search Institute researchers launched the Social Capital Assessment and Learning for Equity (SCALE) Project. The goal of the project was to develop measures that practitioners could use to assess social capital and strong peer-to-peer networks.

The measures were designed and piloted in partnership with six organizations that serve youth and young adults: Basta, Beyond 12, Braven, Climb Hire, COOP, and nXu. All six partners are exemplars in the emerging field of social capital development. The report showcases key findings that transpired from the use of these newly created social capital measures with these six partners.

Key Findings

  1. Strong Practitioner-Centered Measures: The SCALE project was a measure development project. A main goal of this report, therefore, is to illustrate key findings using the newly developed social capital measures. These measures were found to be both reliable and valid in data collection efforts.

  2. Near Peers as an Important Social Capital Resource: Most partners who participated in the SCALE project targeted three relational targets: program peers, program near peers (often serving in mentorship or coaching roles), and educators. Of all of these relationships, near peers emerged as the strongest developmental relationship and the relationship that provided program participants with the most resources such as valuable information, connections to others, and useful skills needed to reach education or employment goals.

  3. Program Support for Social Capital Development: Program participants overwhelmingly reported that as a result of their participation in their respective programs, they strengthened skills, have access to more useful information, have a larger network of relationships, and are more connected to influential people who are useful for pursuing their goals.

  4. The Power of Social Capital: When comparing social capital to program outcomes, findings showed that participants who had higher levels of social capital as well as a stronger and more diverse network, also reported greater progress toward their education or employment goals, more of a commitment to paying-it-forward to others, and to believe in their collective efficacy to change education and employment systems to be more accessible and equitable.

We believe that relationship-rich organizations are well-positioned to equip youth and young adults with education and employment knowledge, skills, and opportunities. Yet many organizations do not assess their ability to build quality relationships and equitable social capital.

With effective measures as a starting point, organizations can tap their potential for improving programs to further support young people’s success.