Jan. 6, 2012: Concordia begins 2012 Year of Peace by building ‘social capital,’ by Robert Steimel

January 6, 2012 by

For more than two years, the Year of Peace Committee has been developing “social capital” through its activities — although we never once put that label on it. But it’s all been about social capital: the original Community Needs Forums, the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series, public Civility Pledges, book study groups, the film series and discussions, Year of Peace columns in the Blade and commentaries on KNCK radio, public surveys about peace-related issues, the book “A Year of Peace in Concordia, Kansas” published in 2011, participation in National Night Out last August, Year of Peace shorts, lapel pins and signs… In fact, the 23 church or church-related organizations, the Community Foundation for Cloud County, Neighbor to Neighbor, the participants in Christmas Tree Lane and many more nonprofit organizations and government agencies are all signs of Concordia’s social capital.

But what do I mean by that? “Social capital” refers to the bonds that tie a community together — the bonds that make communities safer, schools better and people healthier. When people are invested in their communities, they are more likely to vote, volunteer and care for one another.

In studies that date back some 20 years, researchers have found that communities with higher social capital have higher educational achievement, better performing governments, faster economic growth and less crime and violence.  People living in these communities are happier, healthier and have a long life expectancy.  In these communities, it is easier to mobilize people to tackle problems and easier to undertake things that benefits everyone. And people in those communities have a sense that they are part of something important and growing.

It becomes the ultimate self-reinforcing spiral:  The strong community invests to strengthen the social capital of the community — and in doing so attracts financial capital, friends and trust that further benefits the community.  Social capital has become a core measure for the health of the community.

The bonds of social capital are stronger in smaller settings — smaller schools, smaller towns, smaller countries, and so on.  Listening and trusting are easier in smaller settings.  One-on-one, face-to-face communication is more efficient at building relationships and creating empathy and understanding than remote impersonal communication.

While bigger may be better for critical mass, power and diversity, smaller is better for forging and sustaining connections.

There are actually two types of social capital.

“Bonding” social capital are the ties that link individuals or groups with much in common;  “bridging” social capital are the ties that link individuals or groups across a greater social distance.  Both kinds of connections are valuable to us as individuals, but bridging is especially important for building a strong community. Think of the way we as Americans came together in the aftermath of Sept. 11; that horrific day made us look past differences and come together as a nation.

But it doesn’t take an event of that magnitude to build social capital bonds; the idea is neither all-or-nothing nor once-and-for-all.  It is incremental and cumulative, and the opportunities are all around us: Community blood drives, the library, sporting events, local news in the Blade or on KNCK and ncktoday.com, band concerts, local coffee groups, fund drives for specific community needs, volunteering… They are all part of our social capital and important to community.

When you get involved in activities anywhere in the community, you are making an investment in social capital and you’re building a better Concordia. As we begin the 2012 Year of Peace, join us with your strengths and interests, and share and give yourself in service to your neighbors. We’ll all be better for it.


— Robert Steimel is a retired CPA and partner with Kennedy and Coe, LLC who serves as the volunteer executive director of the Community Foundation for Cloud County.  He and his wife Lorene live in Concordia.


One Response to “Jan. 6, 2012: Concordia begins 2012 Year of Peace by building ‘social capital,’ by Robert Steimel”

  1. Merle Rhoades on April 19th, 2020 5:05 pm

    Hi Bob!

    While googling, I came up with this article. Do you remember me–your old room mate from Fort Hays. Would love to make contact with you.

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