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Successful Global Commons need Social Capital on a global scale

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
20th March 2011


Kaitlyn Rathwell makes an important point relative to an age of global problems, global solutions and global governance, i.e. we need global trust. This can be achieved through local engagement, global solidarity, and the intelligent use of social network tools.

Excerpted from a longer article by Kaitlyn Rathwell:

“We can start now building trust, reciprocity, shared and enforced rules and norms and social networks that can cross scales (e.g. local, regional, National, global) as necessary. Doing this could help maintain community cohesion and create transparency and accountability for managing shared resources.

In an era of globalization, there are many resources that we share with the entire globe. For example, air quality and fish in the oceans. Increasing the scale of the common resource issue to the global scale also increases the complexity of the issue (Ostrom 1999). The management of resources necessarily occurs at the local scale, but in some cases (e.g. climate change) this accumulates to create a global impact. Therefore we must poor energy into building both our social capital at the community scale and at the global scale.

We need to build social capital at the global scale (difficult to do with our colonial history and ongoing international power differentials). Reciprocity and trust can be fostered by commitment to and enforcement of treaties and international agreements. At the same time we need transparent and elaborate social networks so information can be exchanged from the local to the global scale and back again. We need to ask important questions like who will be in charge of enforcing rules are followed at the global scale? What kind of social networks can we create to maintain transparency and accountability for enforcing global rules? What are the rules and norms that we want for management of the global commons?

This is of course an incredible challenge! So how can you be an agent of social capital in your communities and our global community? Lets take it back to my water example and the freshwater from the Aberfoyle Aquifer that I love to drink. I have to take action to build the social capital of the community that manages my water. I will have to be an active participate in decision-making and actions on the ground to build trust and reciprocity through action with others influencing water. And I will have to put pressure on institutions above me to be supportive of our attempts as community water management.

I have started doing this, and so can you! I am a volunteer for the local WellingtonWaterWatchers NGO here in Canada, I have sent a letter to the government here with my concerns about Nestle’s request, and I am building a network and communicating the issue by writing about it here and sharing it with you. Thus, I continue my pursuit as a ‘shameless optimist’ with the belief that we can dodge Hardin’s famous tragedy by working together to build social capital in our communities and for our globe.”

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