What is Social Capital? Three ways to build more of it.

Al Condeluci has spent his career bringing people together. He is well known as an advocate for people with disabilities and a champion of inclusive communities. Through his writing and workshops, he shares strategies for enriching the lives of everyone within a community.

On April 4th, Condeluci came to Central Oregon to lead a workshop for professionals working to make our schools and community more inclusive and welcoming for under-valued people. The workshop also explored ways to build social capital among students with disabilities. What does social capital mean for transition students, and how can the Central Oregon community help students create more of it?


The Value of Social Capital

Social capital refers to a person’s network of relationships. More friendships and working relationships add up to a greater amount of social capital. And the more diverse a person’s friends are, the stronger the connections within the community.

“All it takes to start a relationship is finding one thing in common, just one shared interest,” said Condeluci. “We can create situations where diverse people can interact and find that common bond,” he added.

People with disabilities often have fewer chances to find those connections and build their social capital, but Condeluci is working to change that. His workshops teach specific ways to make communities more inclusive, and help people of diverse abilities build their social capital.

“Schools are where kids learn how to make friends—I call that social academics. Those social skills can be even more important than the actual friendships,” Condeluci said. Once a student leaves high school, he or she will meet new people in new situations, and those social skills make it easier to bond.


Three Ways to Build Social Capital in Our Community

All of us can help build social capital in our schools, to help students with and without disabilities. By bringing together students with and without disabilities, we can help strengthen their network of relationships. Condeluci suggests three specific ways to make that happen:

  • Make the day-to-day activities inclusive. When kids mix together on a daily basis, they learn social protocols like when to shake hands, or when to give a high five. These times create more social learning than special occasions like assemblies or football games. When students work together regularly, they all become more socially comfortable.
  • Be a gatekeeper. Often, it just takes one key person to make a difference in a student’s life.  It may be coach, a neighbor, or a teacher who encourages that student to move forward. Condeluci calls these people gatekeepers, because they can be the key to opening doors and inspiring confidence. Any adult can be a gatekeeper in a student’s life, just by taking an interest.
  • Embrace the spirit of inclusion. Inclusive activities benefit all students, both with and without disabilities, because each student brings something unique to the table. More than an educational strategy, inclusion means diverse people learning to work together—and that applies far beyond the classroom.

Condeluci is currently working on a new book, which focuses on the spirit of inclusion, and how that spirit is linked to social capital. Learn more about his work at alcondeluci.com