The co-chairperson of Global Entrepreneurship Network, Kizito Okechukwu.  I  Supplied
The co-chairperson of Global Entrepreneurship Network, Kizito Okechukwu. I Supplied

OPINION: Social capital societal mainspring

By Kizito Okechukwu Time of article published Jul 16, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - Last year, in celebration of what could have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, I penned a compilation of Madiba’s most empowering and inspirational quotes - 100 to be exact.

While compiling these, it quickly became evident to me that South Africa’s best-loved statesman wanted us all to feel a sense of shared identity, shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, reciprocity and co-operation. He wanted to build a society with a network of relationships, where people support one another.

Bluntly put, the concept of social capital is all about helping each other out. It involves creating connections and building solid, mutually beneficial relationships that can weather any storm during our today’s and our tomorrows.

For example, when someone is looking for a job, the odds are that most of us probably know someone who knows someone that can provide this job. Ultimately, it’s about “I’ve got your back and I know you’ve got mine”.

We must create a proactive caring society so to speak, by helping to provide opportunities for those around us. It is all about opening doors for the people behind us and even for those ahead of us.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), social capital has existed for almost a century. It may first have appeared in a book published in the US during 1916 that discussed how neighbours could work together to oversee schools.

Author Lyda Hanifan referred to social capital as “those tangible assets that count for most in the daily lives of people, namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit”.

For the sake of simplicity, however, we can think of social capital as the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.

On Mandela Day, we’re continuing our drive at 22 on Sloane to build social capital by gathering together a community of entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches, entrepreneur support organisations and other relevant parties. We are even challenging seasoned executives to network with our startups for 67 minutes.

So, how do we build trust and how do we ensure that our start-ups build social capital by operating in a trusting, transparent and well-networked environment?

I think the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) has gone a long way in helping to address this. The dynamics of the network we have built over the years instils a strong sense of trustworthiness and reputation, where for example, a US-based business knows it can trust a GEN-linked provider from anywhere in the world.

Led by GEN’s president, Jonathan Ortmans, the network has now expanded into 170 nations with millions of members.

Yet, I must stress that as an entrepreneurial collective, we never prevent or limit non GEN-linked providers from participating and encourage all to feel a sense of belonging to the network.

Going back to unpacking social capital, there remains much debate over the various forms that social capital takes, but one straightforward approach from the OECD divides it into three main categories:

Bonds: Links to people based on a sense of common identity (“people like us”) - such as family, close friends and people who share our culture or ethnicity.

Bridges: Links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity, for example to distant friends, colleagues and associates.

Linkages: Links to people or groups further up or lower down the social ladder. The potential benefits of social capital can be seen by looking at social bonds. Friends and families can help us in lots of ways - emotionally, socially and economically.

In the UK for example, a government survey found that more people secure jobs through personal contacts than through advertisements. This is not unique to the UK and it’s a global phenomenon.

Even in business, most people will prefer to work with people they know, have known of or at least were recommended by a trusted friend. To this day, marketing experts still deem “word-of-mouth” to be the strongest, most reliable and trusted form of advertising.

Trusting, networking and believing in one another also helps with crime reduction and creates a safer space to network. At the recent annual general meeting in the estate where I live, I noticed that 70 percent of our annual budget goes to security. Though we all applaud this as residents, but it begs the question of the lack of trust in our own communities where we must feel protected at each given time.

Another great example is the Neighbourhood Watch system, where vigilant suburb residents hold regular interactive meetings and constantly share vital intel on burglary patterns, other potential safety and security concerns, as well as trusted service and product providers, from garden services to babysitters.

To celebrate Mandela Day, we will be hosting an open day at 22 on Sloane. Stakeholders can pop into our campus, meet our start-ups, build a relationship with us and identify ways in which they can help to build the next generation of socially-impactful and capitalised entrepreneurs.

We also want to help existing big businesses design their future and understand which start-ups are disrupting the industries in which they operate. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Minerva High School in Alexandra township and Sunrise High School in Diepsloot. We’ve also invited some kids from these two schools to join us for the day.

In closing, we must acknowledge and appreciate that human and social capital are interlinked and inseparable, where social capital promotes the development of human capital, which our beloved African continent needs desperately.

Let’s not forget the sage words of Nelson Mandela, “life is about building good relationships at the individual and collective level”.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.


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