Esmee Wilcox publishes her sixth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. In her view, a paradigm shift can be made if social capital looks more valuable than traditional capital. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
If what we say we want and need in society can’t be created within current parameters, then at some point we ought to rethink those parameters. The second half of this century is far enough away for us to imagine changes in the organising units of society, and how value flows through the economy. We can step into the imagination of creating social value without the limitations of how we currently translate it into capital value. In this world, what might influence how we create value in the economy? What might the reciprocal relationships be between corporations, communities and social entrepreneurs? Would these create the conditions where a different form of capital can be accumulated?
We might think now of social entrepreneurs operating on the margins of power, seeking to make changes in social policies not through established political or corporate structures but through consumer behaviour, through mobilising latent community activism, by identifying and organising around emerging issues that matter but aren’t yet reflected in societal behaviour. Digitally-enabled social influencers create followers and change without the prerequisite of access to capital or political power. We might see well-funded campaigns to influence democratic and political processes. But – much to the chagrin of institutional power – some of the recent transformative social movements haven’t been predicted or backed by external funders.
These social movements exemplify the power of networks and help us imagine an economy where value flows not from the exchange of capital but from the collective ability to self-organise and create. Presently we are limited by a capital system that creates friction in order to protect existing financial interests. The power of gatekeepers. The problem of entryism. Might future digital currencies operating under ‘The Commons’ solve these problems? If they were pinned to environmental and social resources, would they drive different patterns of behaviour?
We would also need to imagine a different relationship between communities, corporates, and social enterprises. Presently, we can see that reciprocity is loosely based on commodifiable associated value. Social entrepreneurs can have an enormous influence on the flow of capital from the trust that consumers and communities place in them. Trust is hugely important as we wrestle with global technology enabled networks. Corporations need trusted ‘network nodes’ and will readily trade their influence for capital. There is much that social entrepreneurs can work to their advantage. But in this scenario the balance of power still rests with traditional capital.
If we might imagine a reciprocal relationship that moves beyond this power imbalance. We may see agents of social change being essential to creating value in the economy, where new value is based on collective use. The value of capital resources in infrastructure projects – 4D printers, bio-tech networks, trains – rests in the myriad of impacts experienced by communities that is dependent on being amplified by the communities themselves. In the latter half of this century the scarcity of environmental resources, with a high ‘old’ value, may make this redefinition of value, based upon the impact of collective usage instead of individual ownership, more likely.
Social entrepreneurs may be able to position themselves as progressing this movement away from underlying atomised behaviour and binary commodification of social influence, by promoting the value of what we create together as increasingly important for the society we want. Straddling both the realities of our present systems and the need to trade social influence for capital, whilst foreseeing the greater net future value of social capital, is no easy task. However, social influencers are already operating in this way to create the society we want whilst disrupting the current parameters of capitalist systems.
A system where social capital is more valuable than traditional capital would represent a paradigm shift from our present system. A plausible version might be the greater valuing of social capital as an essential prerequisite for achieving value from traditional capital. In this imagination of the future, social entrepreneurs might have far greater influence. Accumulation would be imagined differently as flow and impact would displace ownership, with influence – the version of accumulation – manifesting in the ability to create and catalyse self-organisation. Public institutions that are theoretically able to take a long-term view on investment ought to be similarly considering this net future value of social capital. Where they are, the accumulation of social capital ought to be an opportunity they can grasp. As with corporations, there are opportunities for social entrepreneurs to consider their future relationships with public institutions.
© Esmee Wilcox 2019