Social Capital and the American Dream

April 26, 2012 | Uncategorized

The Hilaire family secured a $5,000 loan through FII to open A Sweet Place candy store in Boston. This supplemented the social and financial investment of their family and friends.

This country has a rich history of people—connected by history, culture, or common values—working together to improve their lives and the prospects for their children. This mutuality is the scaffolding on which American Dreams have been built. Personal initiative is key, but no one—despite persistent myths about bootstrapping and self-made men—does it alone. People built pathways to the middle class by pooling money, watching each others’ kids, supporting each others’ businesses, and recommending each other for jobs. This is social capital in action.

That same sense of mutuality exists today. The Family Independence Initiative (FII) is building a movement to strengthen and resource social capital as a way to increase economic and social mobility for low-income families and communities. As others join this movement, we will see a revitalization of the mutualism and resources that support economic and social mobility.

One example of how we’re doing that is through an innovative loan. We heard from the families with whom we partner that they were having a hard time accessing loans. They don’t have credit or collateral, but they do have relationships.  We developed a loan that puts value on those relationships by creating a character underwriting criteria. That means people can leverage their social capital by getting letters of recommendation from members of their community. This loan model could be replicated by community organizations—like a health clinic or PTA—in partnership with a financial institution like a credit union or community development financial institution (CDFI).

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