The Benefits of a Connected Life

Honors in Italy - June 2018

· Social Capital Research

Siamo in Italia! We are in day 12 of our Honors class in Italy. We are staying in the Trastevere area of Rome, which is the heart of the city. It is less touristy and our walk to class is beautiful.

Today I will blog about the course title, Social Capital in the City and explain why we are in Italy. If you have not read my other blog posts, please do so to understand my research on social capital and social networks and its connection to Italy. The purpose of this class is to learn about social networks in Italy, how they benefit society in comparison to our networks in the U.S. We have seven class sessions in a traditional classroom and the rest of the days, we have class in the city, observing Italian culture at local café and visit businesses and organizations. During visits to various networks in the month of June, students are researchers in the field, employing three characteristics of qualitative research: natural setting, researcher as key instrument; participants meeting. As a group, they create their own network, prepare questions for presentations and observe the concepts of social capital in these organizations: network, trust and reciprocity.

What is a social network? It is really easy to understand. Think about your own network (family, friends, work). In his Ted Talk about the hidden influence of social networks, Nicholas Christakis, ends his speech saying “the benefits of a connected life outweigh the cost…the spread of good and valuable things is required to sustain and nourish social networks; similarly, social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things.”

Yesterday, the class visited LegaCoop, an example of this type of network, created to answer the needs of the community. Created more than 125 years ago, Lega Coop is a part of the Italian Cooperatives that began in 1854 to answer the community needs. LegaCoop provided a presentation on their cooperative, their challenges and how they are expanding growth through a digital platform and creating startups for young people. The Italian cooperative is an example of social capital because their social impact on the community represents trust and social inclusion and cohesion.

We received a bonus presentation with the founders of the Umbrex circuit, two women who have an idea and created a business plan to respond to the economic issue in the Umbria region. Umbrex is unique because they are not just a social cooperative but also member of the Sardex circuit (more about Sardex in another blog post). I was very excited to meet them because their approach is unique to use both networks as outreach in their community. And they did an excellent presentation discussing complementary forms of money and its use in their network (Bitcoin, Umbrex dollars and the Euro).

The connection of the members in these networks is valuable for their local community. The creation of the network results in more jobs; answers needs of the community in terms of services and goods and provides a method of currency for businesses. Just like any network, there are established rules of engagement and the need to be sustainable while building trust amongst the members.

Legacoop and Umbrex are example of networks that provide good and valuable things for their community.