Many nonprofits, social service agencies, and charities use a type of ‘needs assessment’ when individuals and families request assistance. This form tells us more about the family and their situation. Whether or not we realize it, much of what we are learning from this is the types of capital that a family has access to.
Capital can simply be described as something that has value. When used in needs assessments, what we are really asking is “What could be used to support you?”. There are different types of capital and a few are below:
- Financial Capital – How much money do you have access to?
- Human Capital – What skills or knowledge do you know?
- Physical Capital – What tangible items (housing, transportation, land) do you have?
Once we know the answer to these, we determine what we are able to do. Providing financial assistance, life skills or GED classes, and tangible goods (food, clothing, hygiene items) are each examples of us providing these types of capital. However, we often miss one of the most important ones –social capital.
Social capital is the idea that social networks have value. That it’s not just what you have but who you know that matters. This impacts all of us. When our car breaks down, our babysitter calls out, we get sick, or we just have a bad day, we turn to the people we know. We rely on those we have relationships with to provide us with emotional, social, and tangible support.
And these relationships and friendships aren’t just important for our day-to-day struggles, but also when we have a crisis. When hurricane season comes, it’s often our next-door neighbors who we are supported by and help us get through power outages and fallen trees. When we lose our job, our friends connect us to openings and interviews they know about. And for families who are one unexpected emergency away from poverty, a supportive network can be the difference between staying housed or becoming homeless.
So, if we really want to create a flourishing community, let’s start with relationships. Let’s get to know one another through hosting neighborhood gatherings, potlucks, and attending community events. Let’s create flourishing neighborhoods one relationship at a time.
 Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000.