Monday | 28 May, 2007

Social Capital in Armenia | Babken Babajanian

The lack of social capital is often seen as one of the main factors holding back political, social and economic development in the South Caucasus. Social capital here refers to the trust that makes cooperation possible. Without cooperation, commentators note, few ventures can succeed: successful farming relies on sharing experience, seeds, marketing channels; party-based (as opposed to personality-led) politics calls for striving towards shared political goals; even corporations require some social glue if they are to succeed.

So how does one build social capital? One response is the social investment fund model. Favored by the World Bank, the idea is that communities receive funds for investment into their infrastructure (school windows and heating; that one bridge that connects you to the highway; irrigation for the fields; or even just water for the households), but only if they cooperate successfully, and display initiative and community-based bottom-up decision-making. Babken Babajanian, an LSE-based scholar, has examined how these programs worked in Armenia. He relied primarily on qualitative interviews throughout 12 communities.

His finding is that although the infrastructure improved, the process got stuck somewhere between top-down and bottom-up. Ultimately, the success of all of the projects relied on the mayors. Where mayors were "developmental", the community became energized. In other cases, make-do mayors just used social investment funds as an additional source of revenue.

Babajanian argues that ultimately the larger political context often remains stronger than local projects. He seems to suggest that maybe more of a political mobilization is required to change old habits of interaction. The paper provides an excellent overview of the literature. We would have been curious to hear more about how exactly interventions impacted on the views and attitudes of the community, specifically whether they at least helped to create a sense that cooperation is a desirable goal. Arguably such a transformative experience can be beneficial.

The paper, "Promoting community development in post-Soviet Armenia: The social fund model." Social policy and administration 39, no. 4 (2005), pp. 448- 462, can be made available in CRRC libraries.