Building Human and Social Capital in the Community

by Lisa Stoddard

It’s so difficult to get our collective “head” around the issue of poverty because it’s such a complex issue. One of the ways that we began to develop a better understanding of the complexity of the issue of poverty was by trying to think of our work in terms of how it applies to the four areas into which a vast majority of the research about poverty falls. After surveying all of the poverty-related research out there, aha! Process found that there were really four major causes of poverty. In Bridges Out of Poverty those causal areas are (1) behaviors of the individual, (2) human and social capital in the community, (3) exploitation, and (4) political/economic structures.

The most common area of focus among human service organizations is the first one—behaviors of the individual. At Community Action Partnership (CAP), we’ve found that just focusing on helping our program participants learn new behaviors isn’t enough. We also have to address human and social capital, issues of exploitation, and the political and economic structures that exist. One of our projects is called “Bridges to Work.” This project is focused on developing skills with both entry-level employees and their supervisors in order to increase retention and the opportunity for additional training, advancement, and income. We’ve found that we can have the greatest impact if we give entry-level employees and their supervisors a shared understanding. To that end, we use information from Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World with entry-level workers as part of a comprehensive course to help them “do better” at work.

Additionally, we provide a poverty simulation and Bridges training to supervisory staff. Feedback from employers is that this is an eye-opening learning experience for them. One employer described his change in mindset as moving from “what is wrong with this employee” to “let’s see what we can do to help this employee retain his job” because he now had a better understanding of the issues. Bridges is one of the tools that are allowing us to help both employees and employers develop more beneficial strategies for mutual success. CAP is changing mindsets, and these changes are impacting workers and businesses alike.

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