Invest Your Social Capital for Big Returns

Listen for the returns on your investment growingBefore I share with you a new paradigm for eradicating poverty I have a few questions for you…

I’d like you to take a moment to think of a pivotal time in your life, think about the person involved and the essence of what that person said or did that made it a pivotal moment…most people remember a time when someone believed in you more than you believed in yourself…Now I am going to ask you to think about the last time you were that person for someone else…

This new paradigm which was informed and inspired by a think tank I am part of…this new paradigm…gives us plenty of opportunities to believe in someone before they yet believe in themselves.

Now I know we all like to get big returns on our investments, so I am wondering why when we invest in poverty eradication efforts we are so willing to invest in projects instead of people? Why are we so willing to invest in building buildings instead of building skills? This new paradigm offers a sustainable method of investing our capital, our abundant wealth that will yield immeasurable returns.

Lest you think I am not talking to you, let me be clear…I am…the wealth wherever you are, is abundant. When investing our capital, I am talking about more than money; I am talking about developing and maintaining relationships while sharing resources – that’s our social capital. So how do we leverage that social capital, that abundant wealth that you have, that I have…to make a difference in the world?

I was in Ghana, West Africa recently helping to build the capacity of Street Girls Aid, an organization working with the 61,000 street children living, working and sleeping in the streets of Accra. 61,000 street children. That could be pretty overwhelming and instead we leveraged social capital in a way that is making a sustainable difference in the world, making a difference for those children…

I’m also working on a poverty eradication effort in Nicaragua, inspired by economist Jeffrey Sachs who in 2006 challenged us with this – “We are the first generation that not only has the capacity but the responsibility to end extreme poverty”. Now that’s a challenge that I can get into especially knowing that 43% of the population in Nicaragua lives on less than $2/day. Of course I want to invest in eradicating poverty, but only if I know that my investment will make a meaningful difference…

And that’s where this gets tricky…of course I want to make a difference…but this new model of investing social capital in poverty eradication requires us to be bold and be patient – kind of like hurry up and wait…

I work with a lot of type A people…I might even be one myself…fixers, kind do-gooders who haven’t seen a problem that we can’t fix or solve, and we can McGyver our way out of any situation, sometimes even creating new problems to match our solutions…

And when faced with overwhelming challenges like 61,000 children living in the streets, or half of a country in poverty…it feels much better to be able to see immediate results – we dig wells, we build roads and homes because we can quickly see and measure the outcome of our actions…but to what end our investment?

Be bold… let’s hurry up and make a difference!! Be patient…STOP let’s think about how to do this right…let’s take the time to build relationships and invest in people and that all takes time…why does it take so much time?

Investing in people and relationships is not easy, nor is it a quick fix…actively believing in someone who does not yet believe in themselves takes patience, creating confidence takes practice, and dreaming about the possible infinite opportunities is NOT about fixing, or problem-solving, or telling, it is about patiently listening and connecting.

In “Bridging the Class Divide” author Linda Stout suggests that people born into generational poverty have limited exposure to options outside of their experience…so when we work to create a framework for visioning, we have to believe in the capacity of all, understanding that not all been exposed to the same opportunities to articulate their dreams, or think about the future…and that takes time…

Last year I was facilitating a focus group in the US with parents in poverty with young children and reached the final question “do you have anything else that you would like to add…” and a young mom in the back jumped up and said “I want everyone to know that just because I am poor does not mean I am stupid”

I keep that mom’s lesson in forefront of my mind at all times. When working to eradicate poverty, we need to humbly remember that the people with whom we are working are the experts, they know best…they are the experts of their realities and so who are we…who am I to impose my own strategic priorities on others???

All we are as investors of social capital are conduits, sharing resources, connecting people, providing opportunities to try and practice new skills and tools and then… we need to get out of the way and let the magic happen …without us.
This may well be the most difficult part for us in this new paradigm of eradicating poverty, yet until we are willing to be detached from the outcome, our efforts will not be sustainable.

It is a beautiful moment – when people gain confidence in their competence, are vested in their work and are realizing their dreams. I have seen it happen time and time again when it all comes together and a community says – we’ve got this, we can do this, we can make this happen…

People, relationships and dreams – that’s the new paradigm.
People, relationships, and dreams – that is where our sustainable investments lie.

As philanthropists with abundant wealth, with tons of social capital at our fingertips…we have within us the power to change the world. We can invest in building relationships and capacity, we can create opportunities for others to dream and confidently move forward, or we can invest in others who will willingly put their sandals on the streets. The power and responsibility of changing the world lies in our hands…I know how I am investing my social capital…I invite you to consider investing your abundant wealth in people, relationships and dreams. Thank you.

This was originally delivered as a TEDx talk at TEDx HoracePark, March 1, 2014
The Power and Responsibility of One.
By Kathy Stutzman

“The End of Poverty”, by Jeffrey Sachs
“Bridging the Class Divide”, by Linda Stout
“Census on Street Children in the Greater Accra Region, Ghana” Ghana 2011
“The Community Leadership Handbook” James Krile with Gordon Curphy and Duane R. Lund
The WHO data bank for Nicaragua
Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1981)

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