Category Archives: Social Capital

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy:

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

The Village – Saving the World through MMOG

The Village - Homepage image 

Via the Charity Blog I came across the Village, an online massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) that immerses the player into the role of an entrepreneur building companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the Third World.

Inspired by the logic of Kiva – the micro-credit organisation that allows people to select projects they want to fund through an online database of micro-entrepreneurs – the Village aims to bring the real world of social entrepreneurship and the virtual world of online gaming closer together.

This is a good idea, but still doesn’t answer the question that has been bugging me for the last 6 months: could these two worlds – the real and the virtual – be brought even closer together, and integrated with the increasing universe of mapping tools that are being developed for non-profit organisations and NGOs?

Blog-hopping: Pienso (Luego Existo)


Another very interesting discovery, Pienso is an English-speaking blog on ‘development, economics, international business, social enterprise, latin america and more dismal thoughts‘. Tons of links to really interesting sites and blogs and weekly link-drops with tens of articles and occasional editorials, such as these:



Social Enterprise:

International Affairs:


A slightly economistic, pro-private sector and anti-third sector bias, if I spotted correctly, but certainly an informed author. Check him out.Update: on second thought, this guy’s right up my alley. I love almost all his links, now that I’ve checked them properly. Will keep a close eye on his posts.

Bowling with Putnam…

Penguin Bowling? From

Having left my cosy LSE Library corner for my native and cold Lombardy, mainly to do exactly what I have been doing in London for the past 3 months – i.e. bury my head in books about international political economy and political ecology, only without a decent Internet connection – I have to confess I miss not being able to post regularly on this blog. Alas, holidays are a curse we all need to endure, and like everyone else’s mine will be dominated by nosey relatives, with the added bonuses of Wade’s Governing the Market, Amsden’s Asia’s Next Giant and an array of essays and studies on snow leopards in Nepal and wolves in Central Italy.

Still, I have found some time to make a few notes while reading Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, the epic study of the collapse and revival of American community. Admittedly, I didn’t read it all, but enough to appreciate its depth and contribution to our understanding of social capital theory. I noted down a few passages which I reproduce here, especially those relating to Information Technologies, in the firm belief that the Internet will work its magic and spread the ideas far and away…

‘By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital … the core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups’

‘Social capital … can be directed toward malevolent, antisocial purposes, just like any other form of capital’.

‘Computer-mediated communication is, to be sure, more egalitarian, frank, and task-oriented than face-to-face communication. Participants in computer-based groups often come up with a wider range of alternatives However, because of the paucity of social cues and social communication, participants in computer-based groups find it harder to reach consensus and feel less solidarity with one another. They develop a sense of ‘depersonalisation’ and are less satisfied with the group’s accomplishments. Computer-based groups are quicker to reach an intellectual understanding of their shard problems – probably because they are less distracted by ‘extraneous’ social communication – but they are much worse at generating the trust and reciprocity necessary to implement that understanding’.

‘Much of Western political debate for two hundred years has revolved around the trade-offs between liberty and equality. Too much liberty, or at least too much liberty in certain forms, may undermine equality. Too much equality, or at least too much equality in certain forms, may undermine liberty. Less familiar but no less portentous are the trade-offs involving the third value of the triad: is too much fraternity bad for liberty and equality? All good things don’t necessarily go together, so perhaps a single-minded pursuit of social capital might unacceptably infringe on freedom and justice. […]

Is social capital at war with liberty and tolerance? This was and remains the classic liberal objection to community ties: community restricts freedom and encourages intolerance. […] Is social capital at war with equality? Thoughtful radicals have long feared so. Social capital, particularly social capital that bonds us with others like us, often reinforces social stratification. […] Does this logic mean that we must in some fundamental sense choose between community and equality? No. Community and equality are mutually reinforcing, not mutually incompatible’.