I just looked back in my blog to see if I'd every posted anything on social capital and health in communities. I couldn't find one explicitly but the idea is certainly threaded in a number of the posts. The reason I thought I might have posted before is that this is such a constant theme as I seek to understand the connection between leadership and community.
Essentially the point is that one of the most important contributions of leadership is to enhance social capital within the community. Social capital is the degree to which all participants/members invest in the community. Investment can be the amount of time spent in community meetings, in service to the community, in talking positively about the members of the community, in making space for others to be part of the community. It's just like investing in a for-profit or not-for-profit entity; the investment doesn't appreciate unless there is ongoing attention, analysis, and enhanced commitment among those who hope to reap benefits from the organization.
A very challenging part of community life is that we are quick to seek the benefits of community but aren't willing to invest in order to reap the benefit. Thus, everyone wants to go to a great event, happening, or other privilege of a community, but far fewer members are willing to do the work to make it happen. The Scholar Leader community at Miami is a very interesting example. It is a great community of bright and interesting residents. Members want to benefit from having Scholar Leader on their resumes. They also want to benefit from the privileges of the scholarships, the programs, and the associations established through the community. However, it is a challenge when it comes to those who are willing to work to make all the good stuff happen.
One of the keys to effective community is providing flexibility for members to contribute on the topics and at the times they are able. There will never be a one-for-one exchange of investment to benefit. If everyone were to identify a contribution they can make, the equation would have a chance to balance out over time. So, for example, one member may come to all the community meetings and may get involved in planning the January Plunge trip. Another member may not come to community meetings but may be an individual who is frequently involved in late-night "bull" sessions or who is the "go to" person for a particular academic subject area. Are these two students contributing to and benefitting in the same ways? No. They do benefit in likely proportion to what they invest and this is fine. The problem is that sometimes those who are the higher investors get perturbed with the low investors and then resentment unfolds. When some members resent others for not participating, the stage for deteriorating community is set.
The "note to self" point here is that healthy communities result when the degree of social capital investment is increased. Equal contribution and benefit as well as comparable investment across members of the community is unrealistic in most settings. Learning to accept this and remaing open to the ebb and flow of member participation will go a long way to increasing the overall social capital investment and, hopefully, benefit to all.