Social Cohesion, Social Exclusion, Social Capital
This paper is funded by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ethnic diversity and the experiences of “social exclusion” among recent immigrant communities are of growing importance in the Region of Peel. Social exclusion describes the structures and dynamic processes of inequality among social groups that create unequal access to resources that determine the quality of membership in society.
Within racially, ethnically and religiously diverse communities, how should the Region address the challenges of social inequality arising from the experiences of uneven integration into Canadian society, in an effort to build social cohesion?
This paper looks at how the quality of social relationships and associational life in general affects the capacity of groups and communities to solve enduring social problems and optimize emerging opportunities.
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Using a brief review of the literature, this paper considers the value of “social capital” – resources derived from social relations that can be harnessed for building social cohesion. In particular, the paper looks at the impact of positive contact between members of dominant and minority stigmatized groups in publicly shared spaces such as schools, libraries, recreational centres and other public institutions, in bringing diverse cultures together.
In what ways is individual or group action dependent on the social environment, and how can key elements of that social context be harnessed to address individual and social challenges relating to diversity and social cohesion? An important aspect of the literature on social exclusion and social capital concerns how the value of social relationships can be quantified and their quality and utility measured – using key indicators and outcomes, enhanced, replicated and utilized for social purposes.
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Implications/ Proposed Actions
The paper’s conclusions, consistent with the literature, affirm the value of social capital in addressing social exclusion and the challenges of integration through building social cohesion, promoting social inclusion and empowering local and ethnic communities.
The paper takes a structural approach towards the utilization of social capital as a public policy tool, noting that, while dominant and subordinate social networks can act as key instruments of public policy and community action in addressing social exclusion, they are subject to structural imperatives beyond the local communities in which they operate. Governments can strengthen social inclusion, build social cohesion and empower communities by identifying key factors that demonstrate the value of social capital and supporting successful models of social, cultural, economic and political participation in local communities. The paper suggests eight such factors:
- Participation in local community
- Neighbourhood connections
- Family and friends connections
- Work connections
- Tolerance of diversity
- Feelings of trust and safety
- Proactivity in a social context
- Value of life
It also offers some promising practices and initiatives undertaken in other jurisdictions that map, quantify and utilize social capital for the purposes of strengthening community and social cohesion. It offers a set of recommendations, beginning with the call for a Region-led community-based task force to study the growth of ethnic, racial and cultural diversity in Peel Region, as well as the challenges to social cohesion and opportunities for social inclusion.
At the neighbourhood level, it suggests program initiatives to strengthen both intra- and inter-community bonding activities, particularly those focused on youth, and to better utilize community and social networks for service and program delivery in areas such as health, education, and community and social services. At a Regional level, it proposes a systematic integration of diversity management in the planning and implementation functions of the Region’s operations, including employment equity in its hiring practices.
Finally, the paper suggests that the Region can demonstrate a strong official commitment to social inclusion by undertaking funding initiatives to enhance the active participation of diverse communities in the design and implementation of policies and programs at the community level. It proposes a diversity and inclusion strategy for addressing social exclusion that will involve the following considerations:
- Identify key institutional arrangements and structural and symbolic threats to social cohesion. Identify key community networks, including among vulnerable communities, to help develop a plan of action to address the socio-economic disadvantages and structural inequalities in access to labour markets, the health care system, the education system, housing selection, and neighbourhood services.
- Identify social exclusionary factors that are key impediments to social, economic and political integration, and take specific policy and program action to address them. Included here is taking action to counter social closure that may arise from pre-existing dominant groups maintaining exclusive social networks at the expense of minority ethnic and religious groups.
- Mobilize social networks as a resource for addressing community and individual challenges by funding projects that build shared interaction among individuals and communities, accumulate bridging capital and support the bridging of associational activities of diverse ethnic and racial communities and faith groups.
- Make explicit commitments to diversity management and social-inclusion values by investing in projects that develop creative partnerships between local government and non-governmental community organizations, businesses, labour and faith communities.
- Support the development of bonding capital through ethno-specific group infrastructure by utilizing and legitimizing opinion leaders in the diverse communities and strengthening their communication skills and their capacity for leadership.
- Undertake research to map social networks and better understand the quality of the social capital they possess and the bonding and bridging capacity they hold.
- Develop a communication strategy that explicitly promotes the bene
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