Well-connected students have a hidden advantage. Here’s how to bring it to everyone.

Most people would agree that it’s important to have a good network of people in your life. People who you can rely on for support, advice, and simply someone to talk to. It can be especially tough when you’re just starting out in the world and don’t have many connections. If you’re from a low income background, it can feel even more daunting trying to build a network. You may not know any wealthy or influential people, and it can be hard to find other people who understand what you’re going through. That’s where community comes in. By connecting students from low-income backgrounds with people that have found their way, we can harness the hidden power of social capital.  

Social Capital Explained

Social capital refers to the value that comes from belonging to specific networks of people and organizations. Within these communities, people are able to share information, assist others, and establish generational trust. In short, it’s the value of your relationships.  Social capital has been proven to play an important role in outcomes ranging from income to health. It is well accepted that if you are born into a family with valuable resources and connections, you can leverage this situation to accumulate even more wealth. This could mean going to the best schools, inheriting valuable assets, and having direct access to other people with social clout. But what if your family has low income and no connections? The value of social capital for those who don’t have it is often overlooked. New research from Harvard University, based on studying 21 billion friendships on Facebook, suggests that people’s friend groups tend to be highly segregated by income. For those in the bottom 10% of income distribution, only 2% of their friends come from the top 10%, on average. But for those people who do break the mold and forge cross-class friendships, the effects can be profound. A child from a low-income family who grows up in a more economically interconnected community will earn 20% more on average than their counterpart who grows up in a uniformly low income community. According to the research, having social connections to people from wealthy backgrounds makes a difference “through a variety of mechanisms, from shaping career aspirations and norms to providing valuable information about schools and colleges to providing connections to internship and job opportunities.The evidence is clear: strengthening relationships and communities across economic strata has a significant impact on young people.   

Bridging the Gap

Students from low income backgrounds entering higher education are at an inflection point of their lives – making a choice that will incur thousands in debt and define their life trajectory for the foreseeable future. Many students do this without time, space, or mentorship to help them make the right decisions for them. And, as the Harvard study shows, deciding to not go can actually make things harder as higher education positively impacts economic connectedness. Akama Fund is innovating the way individuals and organizations endow scholarships. Going to university is not for everyone, but those who make the decision to go should be supported. We build a bridge between modern day philanthropists and students entering higher education – providing them with the support they need to take the strongest first step into the world. We’re enabling modern philanthropists to back tomorrow’s change-makers and causes they care about, irrespective of their alumni affiliations or level of contribution. Through our community of mentors, students gain a better understanding of the link between their academic goals and a career and gain insight into the professional paths where donors are willing to invest in.

Key Takeaways

  1. Students from low income backgrounds are operating with a capital and social capital deficit
    • Being able to focus on studies, especially in final years or do a relevant unpaid internship rather than working to supplement living costs, has clear advantages. Moreover, a community of high income mentors can provide an insider perspective on professional development to help students make informed career decisions and understand where particular skills will be most valued.
  2. Money should not be the deciding factor in the choice of whether or not someone stays in university
    • For those who are accepted into university and want to go, not attending or not being able to continue due to financial reasons, can have a lifelong impact on their upward mobility. This is a societal shortcoming that needs to be addressed at scale.
  • More can and should be done to develop scalable solutions to address proven barriers to economic mobility
    • We can spend generations in siloes trying to impact something that is fundamentally not built with economic connectedness and income mobility in mind, or we can build something the way it should have always been and empower low income students to make the choice that is right for them.
Social capital is about creating valuable connections wherever you can. Start with Akama Fund.