United Way is an organization expert in generating social capital. Do you know what it is and why it matters?

The importance of social capital

Surely you know what financial capital and human capital are, but do you know what social capital is? It is what describes the vitality of human social networks (not digital ones): the sense of belonging, the level of trust between the people who are members of a community, the degree of trust of those same people in their institutions. All of these are decisive pieces for the social itinerary of any human being.

The social capital in the communities of Spain is, in general, high. But it is unevenly distributed. People with lower incomes and less financial security find greater barriers to build it. United Way has been tackling these barriers for decades around the world – 134 years to be exact. In Spain we just completed five years joining forces: generating links that keep communities together. Working so that children, youth and the elderly with more difficulties have access to the social capital to which they are entitled to. It is known that communities that are better connected tend to prosper more.

There are economic studies and well-known NGOs such as Cáritas in Spain, which show that communities with high social capital have higher GDP, lower crime rates, higher educational exposure, fewer visits to emergencies and less need for social services. Which, in turn, means a lower cost for society and, therefore, a greater probability of obtaining support that enhances this virtuous circle that improves the quality of life for everyone. Hence, increasing the common good.

The absence of social capital is therefore a determining factor in poverty rates. People who feel connected have a greater ability to move up the social ladder. For example, the immediate circle (parents, friends, neighborhood) is usually the natural support to access the first job. But for those living in poverty who can they run to? What kind of work circle would you be able to connect with?

United Way is dedicated to design and promote synergies between social organizations (NGOs) and social agents (companies, institutions) that make up for the lack of social capital of vulnerable social groups such as children, youth and the elderly.

One of its most active programs is the Youth Challenge, which connects young people at risk of dropping out of school with active professionals, whom act as a reference and facilitate the learning process. Which in turn grants access to the labor market. In this work, among other resources, it has the “super power” of corporate volunteering, which allows companies to put their time and energy at the service of the community (childhood, youth, elderly …)

Another recent and significant example is the #LIVEUNITED campaign – specially designed as a result of the pandemic-, which helped 20,000 people in Spain thanks to the coordinated action of hundreds of private donors, several companies, a group of volunteers and nine social entities. A true network that was and continues to be essential to overcome one of the greatest social crises the world has known. “Although COVID has presented many challenges, it has also been a valuable and tangible demonstration of how social capital can be seen in action,” says Marina Fuentes, director of United Way Spain, “We saw communities respond with a tsunami of generosity and a great awareness of the importance of caring for others. It completely exceeded our expectations”.

This is just one of thousands of examples of how a community with high social capital can respond when asked. “My hope is that we take advantage of the lessons and the drive for social capital that we have experienced and now can incorporate them into our personal, institutional and social work,” says Marta Navarro, Program Manager at United Way Spain.

Social capital is the essential connective tissue that makes people and communities more prosperous, healthier, safer and better connected to the whole of society.

United Way celebrates 5 years joining forces in Spain and we want to invite you to be part of our way of promoting social change.