For the World Bank, social capital refers to the institutions, relationships and norms that shape the quality and quantity of social interactions of a society. Research shows that social cohesion is an essential factor for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. The strategies to improve economic perspectives of communities mainly focus on improving education and health services, building competent and accountable political institutions, and facilitating free markets that are able to compete in the global economy. Social capital is related to each one of the aspects. For example, with education, schools are more effective when parents and the community members are involved in their programs and activities. With health, doctors and nurses meet their obligations more frequently in places where they are engaged beyond their profession and their work is supported and supervised by citizen groups. With the adoption of policies that do not account for preexisting forms of social capital, situations of inequality, insecurity and violation of human rights are generated. Additionally, access to markets and a path connecting to the formal economy, including access to materials and computing resources, is a crucial step on the way to economic progress in poor communities.
José Maria Hernández (1) identifies four areas that are necessary to promote social capital: 1) a climate of trust that favors the negotiation process and local investment; 2) the ability of organizations to cooperate in projects and collective initiatives; 3) civic consciousness that represents the responsibility of the individual to the society in which he lives and contributes to; and 4) the ethics and values that are essential assets in societies because in crisis moments, the principles are are what drive important decisions in terms of development, social justice and transparency.
Promoting Social Capital through Development: Riecken Community Libraries as Social Capital
Riecken Community Libraries are proving that libraries are essential for a democratic society. The libraries are institutions where citizens are encouraged to make informed decisions and achieve their full potential. They deliver knowledge, promote critical thinking and stimulate self-education and lifelong learning. In poor communities, libraries also fulfill the role of providing a sustainable framework, with the library’s operations run by volunteers in the community. Through community leadership, important principles of development and self-government are formed.
Riecken’s libraries provide an example of democracy in action: the access is free for all, management is carried out at the local level, and the materials offered represent a wide range of ideas and viewpoints. Our library services are available to anyone who needs them. The community libraries promote a culture of transparency based on the transmission of values and strengthening of organizational skills. Youth also benefit from the libraries by gaining citizenship and leadership skills through local volunteerism. The local libraries stay connected to one another through the regional Library Association (in Honduras and Guatemala). The Association offers capacity for the libraries to develop proposals and advocate for regional solutions to conflicts that affect the libraries and communities.
The network of community libraries support the improvement of educational quality by reducing the achievement gap with programs, offering complementary resources at local education centers, improving access to information and supporting teacher training. In one specific initiative called “Read Takes You Away!”, the libraries help strengthen performance and utilization of Spanish classes through reading for pleasure in coordination with curriculums that support reading with children, parents and teachers. With technical assistance from USAID, more than 30,000 children and 1,200 schools are involved and are supported by the more than 80 volunteers from the Riecken’s libraries.
The community libraries also focus on the promotion of health through early childhood reading and nutrition education. This program involves pregnant women, parents and their children under six years old. In a fun and entertaining way, reading skills are combined with lessons on nutrition, such as cooking with fruits and vegetables, nutrition in general, and how to talk about nutrition with their young children.
Technology in the libraries represents an opportunity for economic inclusion of excluded sectors. The community libraries organize new services to meet the needs of the population such as integrating business centers into the library model. Local business producers – for example, weavers and artisans – are able to gain access to technology to improve their sales activities and business promotion. To further their education and understanding on how technology can help them, seminars are offered on marketing and business applications. Small business owners learn from one another through shared experiences and stories.
Lastly, the community libraries built a climate of trust after the election process held in November 2013 in Honduras. The coordinator of municipal governments and the organization of Honduran Municipalities, chose Riecken’s library network as one of the civil parties to accompany the transition between outgoing and incoming local authorities. In this capacity, Riecken’s libraries contribute to strengthening municipal and local management, and providing efficient and transparent governance.
Riecken Community Libraries are a social platform and an essential space for the social cohesion present in 65 communities in Honduras and Guatemala.
(1) Hernandez, Jose Maria. The importance of social participation for development. Social Capital and Development, in XII Sustainable Guayana forum: Meeting of social Organizations, March 27, 2012 http://goo.gl/1xpRCK. (Consultation made on: October 22, 2014)