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Building Social Capital: The Social Action Leadership Project

Social Action team

First- and second-year students design and implement two social action leadership projects. These projects are designed to help each student understand how individual leadership functions in society; 'social' refers to the larger community, or society, and 'action' refers to individual decision-making, or agency. The connection between the individual and community around the larger theme of leadership is what animates the social action projects.

These social action projects also help build social capital; that is, in the words of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, from his 2001 book, Bowling Alone, "whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals -- social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them" (page 19). Consequently, students in our program (1) identify a public affairs problem, and those group(s) impacted by the problem; (2) identify the associated leadership challenges created by the problem (i.e. how poor leadership choices created the problem, and how good leadership choices might remedy the problem); (3) create a decision-matrix to explore possible solutions; and, (4) propose a policy solution for the problem in the fall term, to be implemented in the spring term. Some completed social action projects have included: addressing the lack of access to the internet for underprivileged youth in Washington, DC; the problem of food scarcity for low income children in Washington, D.C.; the growing heroin and prescription opioid epidemic in the United States; the lack of college-readiness among students of immigrant backgrounds who are the first generation in the families to attend college in the United States; and, the plight of refuges in Syria. Our leadership students are working to build social capital, and thus to strengthen the larger community bonds.