How social capital is good for business

- August 15, 2007 3 MIN READ

When social capital, or generosity, is a foundation of your business strategy, it provides huge benefits. It helps build strong relationships with your community and customers, plus when it comes to PR, it beats expensive advertising.

Some cynics believe that generosity is ultimately self interested. But is it really the case that “nothing is for nothing?” 

Imagine this: when you open the door for your neighbour you will be expecting something in return. When someone gives up her seat for an elderly person on the bus, she will expect something in return. How terrible the world must seem to those who do not comprehend the trading of social capital, or generosity.

Generosity can be thought of as the basis of social capital. It encompasses civic mindedness, the open sharing of ideas and resources.

The Internet abounds with the idea of sharing. There are thousands of discussion forums with the collective knowledge of a multiple voices on just about anything you can think of – from programming languages and pet care, to relationships or warts. Indeed, the whole open source software movement revolves around generosity and sharing.

I discovered the stock photo site StockXChange a few years ago. This is where photographers from around the world offer their photos freely for others to use. No cost, no obligations, no strings. This was hard for me to believe at first. Thousands of great photos, most in high resolution, absolutely free!

Recently, I downloaded some photos for my book. As a courtesy, I contacted the photographers to inform them of my pending use of their photos. To tell you the truth, part of me was quite apprehensive as I still half expected a catch.

I was proven utterly wrong! Many of the photographers sent back effusive emails expressing their excitement that I was using their photographs. And yes, all the photos are free to use! I still get a big smile on my face just remembering those emails. Each brought an incredible and overwhelming sense of immediate personal connection with the world. There are truly nice and generous people around the world. Wow!

This, my friends, is the whole point of generosity. It is people openly and unreservedly sharing their work and themselves with the world. And they do it only for the sake of sharing!

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Here are some tips to cultivate generosity within your business practice:

Day-to-day work

Generosity is in the care and service that you bring to each client. Are you genuinely interested in helping your clients? Do you often go out of your way to be available? How can you exceed their expectations right now? The opposite if this is constantly thinking “what’s in it for me” and “have I given too much already?”


Generosity is the openness, acceptance and time you give to each stranger you meet because you are interested in what they have to say. It is the ideas, suggestions, insights and advice you give freely to others in conversations. Being helpful, kind and attentive goes a huge way in building solid relationships, especially in this day and age of soulless business practice.


Generosity is the commitment to pro bono work or ad-hoc assistance for community organisations that engage with your values. You can also share your knowledge and experience by writing articles, speaking, blogging and participating in online discussion forums.


Acknowledge and value the people around you who have been generous to you. Give to others as others have given to you. Practice generosity for generosity’s sake, and as a way to demonstrate your appreciation for the opportunities you have.


Acknowledge and value your contributions to the world and ensure that you get paid (where payment is not necessarily monetary of course) and recognised for those contributions. Celebrate you – which means spending money and time on yourself!

Being generous makes you feel good inside. It connects you with other people in the world, and adds immeasurably to your overall well-being and society as a whole. Generosity makes for a better world!