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Applicability of Social Capital by the World Bank in Brazilian Poor Spaces

Since the end of the 1990s, at the request of the World Bank, four scientists – Christiaan Grootaert, Deepa Narayan, Veronica Nyhan Jones, and Michael Woolcock, developed six dimensions of social capital through research carried out in rural and urban areas in some developing countries. Based on these dimensions, they developed a questionnaire for measuring social capital and used it in the analysis and monitoring of projects financed by the institution.

The four scientists, in addition to analyzing the existing concepts of social capital, tested some questionnaires in poor areas of some countries, in order to structure a standard questionnaire, which would guide the measurement in several societies, according to World Bank (2003)[1]:

The document as a whole has been subject to extensive input and critique from an external panel of expert advisors, and has been pre-tested in the field (in Nigeria and Albania). […] The Tanzania Social Capital Survey collected data on associational memberships and trust, and related this to access to services and agricultural technology. […] The Local Level Institutions Study collected comparable data on structural social capital in Bolivia, Burkina Faso and Indonesia. The analysis focused on the role of social capital in shaping household welfare and poverty, access to credit, and collective action. […] The Social Capital Survey in Ghana and Uganda collected data on groups and networks, subjective well-being, political engagement, sociability, community activities, violence and crime, and communications. […] The Guatemala Poverty Assessment combined an LSMS with a social capital module (WORLD BANK, 2003, pp. 1-3).

In different parts of this research text, the authors made clear the need to customize the questionnaire for each society to which it is applied, although they suggest that it is possible to measure social capital in any society in the world.

Based on the research carried out in these countries, as well as the combination of data and analysis carried out in the countries mentioned, World Bank (2003)[1] created the six dimensions of social capital, which are still frequently used as the basis for measuring social capital today. According to World Bank (2003, p. 5), they are:

  1. Groups and Networks – which refers to “the nature and extent of a family member’s participation in types of social organizations and informal networks”;
  2. Trust and Solidarity – which is about “trust with neighbors, service providers and strangers, and how these perceptions have changed over time”;
  3. Collective Action and Cooperation – which refers to “joint projects and / or in response to the crisis”;
  4. Information and Communication – which “explores the means by which the poor are informed about market conditions and public services, as well as the extension of access to the communications infrastructure”;
  5. Social Cohesion and Inclusion – which makes it possible “to identify the nature and extent of these differences, the mechanisms by which they are managed and which groups are excluded from the main public services”;
  6. Empowerment and Political Action – that “explore the feeling of happiness, effectiveness and the ability to influence local events and broader political results”.

With this investigative backing of social capital already built by the World Bank, the financing made by this institution in the poor areas of Northeast Brazil started to include conditions aimed at stimulating social capital.
The World Bank, like other development promotion organizations, finances structural improvement projects in the poor areas of Northeastern Brazil. The Bank conditions the financing and execution of these projects on the mobilization of the beneficiary communities to directly participate in them, in order to create or increase social capital. It also seeks to measure the possible social capital created or increased since the 1990s. However, the results have often not been as planned, because culture, history, values and the habits of each country is different, influencing the results of these interventions.

Brazil is a country of continental dimension, which in addition to being quite different from countries in the process of advanced development, within its own national territory has different socioeconomic realities between regions and between states.

The Northeast region, the target of these various public policies for poverty reduction, was colonized and occupied by Portuguese, who brought Africans to enslave them, as well as enslaving the native Indigenous, in far fewer numbers than Africans.

These miscegenated peoples since the 16th century formed the cultural wealth of the Northeast region. However, it is still a people suffered by the difficult climatic conditions (the largest area of drought in Brazil) and by the recurrent assistance that promotes the election of some corrupt politicians, as well as the perpetuation of difficult socioeconomic conditions that impact on several characteristics of the populations, according to (IBGE, 2019)[2] and (MARIA, 2019)[3]:

  • Poverty
  • Low education level
  • Highest illiteracy rate in the country
  • Little professional qualification
  • High unemployment rates
  • Cities with the highest rates of violence in Brazil

This region is formed by 9 states that contain almost 1/3 of the population of Brazil (56 million inhabitants). Despite being a region known to be hospitable, it still lacks robustness or visibility in the formation of institutions with a collaborative profile, when compared to advanced developing countries.

The Northeast shows low political empowerment and less confidence in public and private institutions, as well as having many communities excluded from public services (basic sanitation, electrification services and public health services).

At many critical moments in Brazilian society, such as in the oil crisis of the 1970s (employees took over some industries that went bankrupt) and in the revolution of new technologies of the 1980s (the time of many layoffs of employees in industries), a set of economic activities in a format of self-management increased in the Northeast. However, this collaborationist movement tends to retract itself, returning to a more individualistic profile when the country’s economic improvement rates rise again, even if only minimally, demonstrating that social capital is not rooted in this society.

These experiences have repeatedly demonstrated that public policies that encourage social capital in poor areas must be contextualized to the cultural and socioeconomic scope of each territory, seeking to aim at the greatest instrument of change for a people, formal education.

It is understood, therefore, that social capital in poor areas should be stimulated not only in public poverty reduction policies, but mainly through the insertion of the dimensions of social capital in the formal education of these spaces, in order to teach children and young people that the only way to develop and live a life with autonomy and justice is to advance in favor of everyone working for the good of all.


  1. World Bank (2003). Measuring Social Capital an Integrated Questionnaire. World Bank Working Paper, 18. 0016_20040323162541/Rendered/PDF/281100PAPER0Measuring0social0capital.pdf. ^
  2. IBGE (2019). Conheça o Brasil – população educação. ^
  3. Maria, B (2019). Região Norte e Nordeste são as regiões com o menor número de concluintes do ensino fundamental. ^

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