Social Capital

Social capital enables individuals and communities to support each other in times of need and plays an important role in building resilience in a wide variety of contexts.

village savings group meets

Evidence shows that in certain contexts, various types of social capital give people the ability to lean on each other during times of need through formal and informal support networks. Bonding social capital entails the horizontal links between family members, close friends, and neighbors; bridging social capital connects communities and groups; and linking social capital connects social networks with some form of authority. Social capital enables people, households, and communities to work together toward goals and is a capacity that helps protect against, mitigate, and manage shocks or stresses.


Building social capital strengthens individuals’ and communities’ ability to support each other in times of need. It can also strengthen resilience capacities by contributing to women’s empowerment, promoting behavior change, and transforming social norms. Working through self-help groups or supporting market facilitation through socioeconomic networks can strengthen bonding and bridging social capital. Although effective across many contexts, social capital as a source of resilience is also highly context specific, with different communities having varying existing and potential forms of social capital. And although social capital has been shown to be an important factor in communities’ ability to mitigate and recover from shocks, some groups, such as religious or ethnic minorities, may be excluded from community networks.


A growing body of evidence shows that social capital plays a role in strengthening resilience capacities. A Mercy Corps multi-country study in Uganda, Nepal, and the Philippines provides strong evidence that bonding capital contributes to resilience. Evidence on the role of bridging social capital in making households more resilient was weaker, showing highly variable results across groups, context, and type of disaster or shock. Evidence on linking social capital and resilience was mixed. Evaluations of USAID resilience projects in East and West Africa found that bonding and bridging social capital are significantly associated with the ability of households to maintain and even increase their food security in the face of droughts. Linking capital was also positively associated with the ability of households to maintain their food security in the face of shocks, but only in certain countries.

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