Thursday, 10 December 2009

Social Capital in NS

On Monday at a lunch hosted by CCEPA, David Wheeler spoke on the "real truth" about Nova Scotia's economy. He was focused on solutions and possibilities, and although the most fundamental economic challenges we face (energy security, food security, the biophysical limits to growth, the collapsing global financial system...) got little or no mention, he did nail the major leverage point for addressing these challenges and the many others that we face in this province.

Mr. Wheeler spoke very well about social capital, and leveraging strengths and relationships in our province to build success. He identified lack of trust and a preoccupation with past wrongs as stumbling blocks on the road to prosperity. And he went on to identify some successful businesses and listed their partners and the organizations they leveraged for their own success.

The examples demonstrated that there is a real strength to be found by building collaborations, partnerships, and linkages with other organizations that may hold the key to your own success. Individual organizations certainly can and should work with these kind of strategies, but the real issue is one of scale. We need a widespread culture of trust, collaboration, innovation and bold action in this province to address our challenges, and we need it now. A culture with that high level of social capital will imbue that strength into all organizations, creating prosperity across the board, and allow the successes of individual organizations to be leveraged multiple times by partners and collaborators.

But once we've identified the need to build social capital, how do we go about doing it? How do we increase connection, collaboration and trust? Where can we invest our energy so that it creates the greatest return of social capital?

Here's an idea to ponder:
Resilience Nova Scotia
An organization dedicated to helping Nova Scotian communities, organizations and families adapt to changing circumstances, take advantage of new opportunities, and protect themselves against shocks and crises.

Resilience is increased when connections increase. The mandate of an organization like this would be first and foremost to build social capital, trust, and relationships. But that work could not take place in a vacuum. Relationships are built by shared goals, shared effort, and shared risk. Social connections are strengthened when economic progress is being made, when goals are being achieved, when there are real successes that can be leveraged.

We need to tell stories of success, research areas of vulnerability and find the people who can turn those vulnerabilities into opportunities. The focus needs to be on Nova Scotia as a whole, and creating the system conditions for strong networks that result in innovation and successful action on the crucial issues facing our province.

Resilience Nova Scotia: Government department? Non-profit organization? University department? Entrepreneurial business? Or perhaps most true to the spirit of the idea would be to found a partnership around the idea, including all of the above...


  1. Gabrielle Donnelly14 December 2009 at 11:29

    In my experience, trust is *the* foundational piece to building resilience. So in order to cultivate resilience, how do we begin to strengthen trust? A collaborative approach (as you mentioned) that creates spaces for trust to be nurtured is often overlooked and I commend Wheeler's emphasis on the impact of its absence in Nova Scotia.

    I love the new blog look by the way.

  2. I love the new blog look by the way.
    Thanks to Shannon for the header images ;)

    I think the idea of "creating spaces" for trust is key from the systems perspective. An organization or individual can take actions to build trust, and the goal for a system wide intervention is to make it easier and more common for individuals and organizations to take those actions. So creating spaces (physical, virtual, meetings, whatever) that facilitate and enable these actions is key.

    But you also need buy in from the players. A space with no one in it doesn't get you very far.