Harnessing Your Social Capital in Nigeria

Harnessing Your Social Capital in Nigeria

Thursday, May 4, 2017 6:13 pm

Adeola Agoro

By Adeola Agoro

A little over ten years ago, a brother of mine, Dr.H who owned a very big hospital in Lagos invited me for what he said was an important meeting. I arrived at his hospital with a notepad in hand and all the seriousness a journalist of my standing back then could muster. Sitting comfortably in front of me, he started giving me the assignment, which he said he knew was going to be beneficial to both of us and he wanted me to go after it with all the energy and time the job demanded.

He started by listing heads of certain government agencies, parastatals, police headquarters, army formations, naval units, National Assembly, the media and so on. He ended the list with the names of very important personalities in Nigeria. “Make sure you know all of these people and they know you. Get their telephone numbers and keep in touch. Then introduce me to them later and one by one; I will be taking them out for lunch or dinner and form a close and personal friendship with them. You cannot fail in life if you know some of these people.”

I left the meeting feeling like he wanted to use me. I looked at it that if I were going to get to know those people through such great efforts, why would I transfer the acquaintance to my brother. I never carried out the assignment and I didn’t try to know these people of high ranking whose names were given to me; at least not back then.

Years later after having met a lot of influential people through my job, the sense in what Dr. H was trying to achieve hit me. He wanted to harness his social network to maximize the potentials of economic and cultural capital.

That takes us to the topic of today. What is Social capital?

Social Capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation, and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.

Social Capital has caught the attention of many right-thinking and forward-looking individuals of late and that is for the right reasons. What is it that you do in our modern life that social capital does not play an active role? How far can you go in life without needing social capital? Are you in the job market hoping to get a very good job? You might have crossed that bridge and already settled in a good job; how far can you go on your way to the top without being conscious of the social capital at your disposal? You may be the CEO of your own company or a politician. To continue to achieve successes in all you do, you need to make social capital an important ingredient.

According to Collins English Dictionary, social capital can be described as the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation. Let us try to break it down a little to make it easier for us to understand what exactly social capital means. Your desire is to own a supermarket that will serve a specific area. You have enough financial capital to start the business and you have the human capital to guide you towards a successful business.

Not too far to your desired area of setting up the supermarket is the big chain of stores, Shoprite. How do you hope to succeed with the giant not too far from you? That is where your social capital will come in. In that vicinity, you have friends who have friends who also have friends. “Oh, my friend’s friend is the owner of that supermarket, I can even introduce you to him.” One person tells another. Another person says, “That man that joins us on the field for football is the one putting that place together to serve us in this neighbourhood.”

“Ha, that supermarket? My children go to the same school with the children of the owner. In fact, his madam and I meet often at the salon.” A woman tells another. Now, the man has put some of the most important components to starting up his business – financial and human capital but social capital seems to be the engine through which he would run the business successfully.

A few years ago, a client bought a house in a residential estate here in Abuja. He converted it to a supermarket and equipped it with the best items from Nigeria and different parts of the world. Just when he opened it up for business, the estate management came to stop work. They involved the right environmental agencies in the Federal Capital Territory and he was asked to convert it back to a residential building. That was like requesting that millions upon millions of naira should be flushed into the drain. The FCT minister was petitioned by the estate management when it seemed as if FCDA was wasting time. The matter became messy.

This client of mine has only one ace and he used it –social capital. Not long after he sensed that the estate management was going to be his waterloo, he decided to vie for the presidency of the estate. He went from house to house for the campaign and physically got involved in the private parties and matters of the residents. The estate is one of the biggest in Abuja with over 5,000 residents. He met many of the occupants of the houses and registered his face. Not only that, he ensured they knew about the existence of the supermarket and the need for them to have a neighbourhood store/pharmacy to reduce their having to go far especially at nights.

Needless to say, he won the election as the president of the residents association.When the matter came up again for him to revert the supermarket to a residential house, most members of the association stood up to say they wanted it. It was a long battle, but he won. That is the power of social capital. The moment you have built up your social capital to an enviable height, you will find out that other things you need would come easily.

Harnessing the power of social capital

So, you have mounted a very beautiful neon sign in front of your office. You have even printed glossy business cards. You know how to introduce yourself and your business at social events. You have even read books like ‘Rules of Life,‘Rules of Work’, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ but the truth is that some of these days may come back as zilch if your network of friends and supporters is not very strong.

People need to have formed a very meaningful friendship in you. They need to have a sense of brotherhood (or sisterhood) in you. They need to trust you and have the belief that you be there for them when needed. It is not enough that you know the right people; it is vital that the right people believe in you and vice-versa. “Social capital extends beyond the traditional ideas of networking, to something deeper and more meaningful – the building of genuine, long-lasting relationships.” You need to belong to a social community that you are an integral part of.

Social Media as Social Capital

Far from the traditional forms of social capital, some social media platforms have become communities where being a member brings a form of affinity whose bond cannot be easily broken.

Regular members of any particular social media have been seen to pray for each other, join in celebrating happy moments and bonding during trials and tragedy. Posts such as requests for jobs have been met with positive outcomes and people have come to meet in real life to form friendships and trusts not easily broken.

I stand here as an example of one who has benefited a lot from the power of social capital achieved through social media. My regular friends 5,000 and over 5,000 followers (which grows by the day) ensures that I do not only have a voice to represent the people in my social class, I have been given jobs by members in my group, trusted by entities with jobs that demand great followership and I have also been protected in times of trouble. A case in view was once when I had security challenge, the moment I posted online about it, friends in my network had contacted highly placed people in different security agencies to tackle the matter.

I have also used my influence in social media to get job placements for young people and to fix some in vocations amongst members.

Social capital goes beyond networking. Yes, networking plays a role in achieving successes in today’s world, but social capital goes deeper as it about relationships that are built and nurtured to stand the test of time within a social community.

Working on and building your social capital could be as simple as offering free advice and resources to others, contributing regularly to your community, adding value via social media or simply being honest with your core team. You may not know it, but small things like these actually go a long way in establishing you as a person to be trusted, to be counted on and a very useful part of your commitment social community/group.

It takes nothing more that efforts, real commitments, consistency, and putting other people first. Daily, we should ensure that members of our community hear from us and know what we do. We never can tell when we would need them. Genuine friendships open doors and connections.

So many things count in our lives that we take for granted. When we invest time in our neighbours and they in turn check on us, that is an accumulation of social capital, which may improve the living conditions of people in the whole community because such a community will benefit by the cooperation of all in developing its parts. You as an individual will find love and trust of other neighbours.

Social capital can open the doors to gaining access to powerful positions through the direct and indirect use of social connections. At this point, it is pertinent to make us realize that most senior positions in the corporate world are usually fielded through social networks of a group of people who can attest to the experience as well as credibility of individual to show capability. It is very uncommon to see a situation where somebody would start from the beginning and rise to the level of CEO in an organization without the recommendation of people from a similar social network.

Interestingly, social capital has been said to have a very positive influence on health. Some researchers have found that “the presence of social capital through social networks and communities has a protective quality on health. Social capital affects health risk behavior in the sense that individuals who are embedded in a network or community rich in support, social trust, information, and norms, have resources that help achieve health goals. For example, a person who is sick with cancer may receive information, money, or moral support he or she needs to endure treatment and recover. Social capital also encourages social trust and membership. These factors can discourage individuals from engaging in risky health behaviors such as smoking and binge drinking. Furthermore, neighbourhood social capital may also aid in buffering health inequities amongst children and adolescents.”

Conclusively, we have seen through the foregoing that social capital is the ability to build and sustain social relationships that would allow individuals have access to resources and platforms that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.

We should participate in social activities and get more experiences in skills to develop our social capital. The more we strive to capitalize on our social capital, the more our networks and networth and the higher our social structure.

• Being a speech delivered by Alhaja Adeola AgoroJP, guest speaker at the 2ndAnnual Lecture of the Aliyu Ilias Foundation on Wednesday 26thApril, 2017, Abuja

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