ICW Model Series: Stage 3 — Bridging Social Capital

Founder and CEO, Jon Feinman

In this series, ICW team members will be sharing their work with you in each stage of our programEarning Trust, Building Hope, Bridging Social Capital, and Sustaining Economic Mobility. This third email comes from our founder and CEO, Jon Feinman.

In late 2019, two of our trainers took their children to Disney World. It was a trip they never got to take as a child — in fact, they had never been on vacation in their entire lives before becoming personal trainers at ICW. They stayed at a clients timeshare in Disney, took advantage of the recommendations their client had given, and gave their kids an experience they wished they had growing up. This same client had trained with and supported ICW for years. They brought their own two children to the gym. Our trainers weren’t just valued for their expertise in fitness, but their expertise in navigating the difficulties of life, expertise that would help their client and their clients family navigate challenges as well. While the connection was through fitness, it evolved into a valued connection in life, value that went in both directions. A report by authors Linda Burton and Whitney Welsh, Inequality and Opportunity: The Role of Exclusion, Social Capital, and Generic Social Processes in Social Mobility, describes social capital:

Social capital refers to resources that are accessible through social interactions and extended networks of social ties. Put another way, social capital denotes the value that can be extracted from social relations (Portes, 1998). Like other forms of capital, social capital is not evenly distributed in society (Lin, 2000). Rather, the social networks through which social capital lows develop in accordance with the homophily principle, which states that similar people are more likely to interact with each other than dissimilar people (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). In other words, like attracts like. Diferent degrees of similarity between individuals, in turn, give rise to diferent types of social capital. Bonding social capital reinforces the similarities that exist between strong ties (e.g., family and close friends), which bolsters solidarity and strengthens support reciprocity. In contrast, bridging social capital reaches across gaps in the social structure to link heterogeneous groups, generally through weaker ties (e.g., acquaintances).

While bonding social capital is useful for marshaling support in order to maintain the status quo, bridging social capital offers the chance of social mobility precisely because it “bridges” social divides. As the concept of social capital becomes more mainstream, it is often thought of and desired in order to find ways to connect and benefit from relationships with people who hold value as defined through a lens of capitalism and money — people who hold wealth and power. However, value is not just financial. We value education; we value relationships; we value knowledge and perspective; we value humanity. Value is a two-way street. If someone cares enough to invest in fixing inequities, cares enough to dedicate time spent trying to create a more free, fair, and just society, then they value the perspective and friendships gained by people who aren’t in the same social circles who are experiencing social issues from the same lens, a lens that often is not, as Bryan Stevenson says, “proximate.” In the 3rd stage of the ICW model — Bridging Social Capital — we see power dynamics being flipped. We see value evolve from a monetary transaction, the cost of a training session, to a relationship where people see each other as equals, as human. We see people grabbing coffee together, inviting each other to their vacation homes, more simply, we see people who care enough about each other to understand one another not through a moment in time, or a specific decision, but through the entirety of a person. This is the uniqueness and power of ICW. While policy change is important, policy change without moral change will only lead to new forms of oppression and inequity. What starts with individual connection and value, ripples to one’s own family and social circle. As more people are reached, that ripple extends from family to community, and ultimately to society. This is the vision of ICW. This is our “why” for growth and scale. Reach enough individuals, and together, we reach society.

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