In the 1970s the King of Bhutan announced that he wanted his country to measure their wealth not according to GNP (Gross National Product), but GNH: Gross National Happiness.
The concept of GNH is now a well-established and formalised pillar of the Bhutanese system of governance, but it exists informally within communities the world over in the form of social capital.
Defined variously as social networks, community relationships, connectivity and social cohesion, social capital is essentially the glue that binds the social fabric together. Some of the key indicators of strong social capital are volunteerism, trust, civic engagement, political participation and reciprocity.
The Eurobodalla has an extraordinary wealth of community associations, from book clubs to business associations; sports clubs to service organisations. None is more important than any other and each provides a vital cog in the wheel of our society. Anyone who wishes to participate in Far South Coast society will be able to find a means of doing so through some formal or informal group that meets their interests.
What all these organisations have in common is that they are run by volunteers. People give willingly of their time when there is a common goal. Whether it’s the SES or RFS during an emergency; raising money for the hospital or school; running a club or some similar interest group; or providing a service, volunteerism is a fundamental measurement of social capital. A community with a high number of volunteers is a community with a high-functioning degree of social capital. From there come things like trust and reciprocity.
While economic prosperity is desirable, it is seldom equitable. Social capital, on the other hand, has no bottom line: we are all, in effect, its bottom line. Governments may trumpet economic growth as the holy grail of achievement, but social capital is a far more solid foundation for communities. Allowing government to take control of voluntary associations is the first step in allowing economic criteria to be applied to social capital and this, inevitably, results in the weakening of society, as inequity grows from such application.
From strong social capital grows communities to which the precepts of Bhutan’s GNH can be applied. Communities where social participation is rewarded with strong networks, trustworthiness and a sense of communal well-being.
- Robin Tennant-wood