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A popular saying posits that “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” The core message speaks to the importance of social capital. Of course, what you know also matters—and can be amplified by a strong social network.

Social capital refers to relationships that can provide advice, advocacy, introductions, connections, and much more to the benefit of individuals in personal, social, professional, and other areas of life. Social capital involves networks that people can tap to learn about opportunities, improve social standing, access employment, and other socially beneficial resources.

Successful people typically grow and leverage social capital to help them achieve their life goals. Healthy social networks can create access to benefits such as higher education institutions, employment opportunities, or career advancement. Social capital is the glue that binds individuals, groups, and communities in ways that foster trust, reciprocity, mutual support, and collective progress.

Of course, some students naturally build social capital due to their personality, family, and other connections. However, many students do not have such advantages. They may not even be aware of the importance of building social capital, let alone how to do it. Yet, success in today’s world and workplace is heavily influenced by it.

Our challenge is to help all students, but especially those who may not understand or have access to social capital, build and leverage this important resource. Our instruction, support, and assistance can make a life-changing difference for students who otherwise may miss opportunities and fail to build paths that can lead to lasting success. Let’s explore six strategies we can employ to help students understand and build robust, sustainable social capital.

First, we need to teach students what social capital is and how it can open doors to achieving success in life and work. We can share examples of how successful people build and use social capital. We might even invite a respected adult who is skilled in building and leveraging social capital to engage with students. The key to this step is helping students see that social capital is an important supplement to commitment, hard work, and persistence.

Second, we might give students opportunities to build and practice interpersonal skills such as listening, conversing, and other elements of emotional intelligence. Relationships are key to accumulating social capital, and interpersonal skills are crucial to building and maintaining relationships.

Third, we can encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities, volunteer, and engage in other activities that offer opportunities to form relationships and build social capital with peers who might share interests and have common goals. These activities can help students to further develop skills that are central to social capital development. Additionally, the relationships students develop with peers can lead to introductions and connections beyond their immediate group.

Fourth, we might connect students with local employers and professionals who are willing to mentor, teach, and nurture attitudes. We can encourage and support students to attend career fairs, seminars, and other professional activities to gain insights regarding career choices, gain exposure to people within various careers, and continue to build their social capital.

Fifth, we can coach students to mobilize their social capital by sharing their goals, seeking assistance, and accessing the resources of their social network. It is important to build social capital, but social capital is most useful and important when it is mobilized to create opportunities. Helping students learn how to ask for assistance with courtesy, tact, and confidence can be crucial to leveraging the social capital they build.

Sixth, we need to impress upon students the importance of sharing the social capital they have developed. Social capital thrives when it is shared as often as it is tapped. Finding ways to serve and support others not only builds social capital, but choosing to support the goals and meet the needs of others also makes social capital an even more valuable resource for everyone.

Social capital is not a replacement for learning and diligent work. However, it can position the investment students make in learning to pay dividends in expanded opportunities and rich relationships.

Thought for the Week

When we understand another person’s perspective, what they are thinking and feeling, we are better able to relate to them and understand their needs.

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