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Reinstating Jordan’s social capital: An Italian lesson

Mar 16,2019 - Last updated at Mar 16,2019

The issue of concern to us today is that Jordan’s social capital indicators have declined significantly to an alarming low edge. Only 16 per cent of adult Jordanians reported that “most people can be trusted” by the end of 2018, according to the World Values Survey (WVS) 7th wave carried out in Jordan by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions.

In previous waves of the WVS in 2001 and 2007, the percentage of “trusting” Jordanians hovered around 30 per cent. The drop from 30 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2014 and 16 per cent in 2018 cannot go unnoticed. Denial is not an option for strategists, public-policy planners, makers and implementers. 

This decline has implications for all Jordanians, their friends and allies both regionally and globally. Social capital is not just the presence of institutions which fortify a society; it is the glue that holds institutions and people together as a political society through mutually reinforced interpersonal trust among citizens and a two-way trust between state institutions and citizens. 

Interpersonal trust is an essential building block for cooperative and associational life, business transactions, belonging, hope and citizenship-based patriotism. As such, social capital signifies the quality and quantity of a society’s interactions that solidify cohesion and sustainable development. Both are demanded in our society today as economic pressure is encroaching on and damaging the social fabric.

Given this decline in interpersonal trust and public trust in civilian institutions, especially in the current government, which has recorded unprecedented low levels of public confidence according to Centre for Strategic Studies polls, there is a need to reinstate social capital through specific action plans that depend partly on revitalising cooperative culture, organisations, training and accessible cooperative funding.

Cooperatives have been the essence of northern Italy’s economic development and sustainability since 1800s as the recent history of “Cooperazione Trentina” clearly demonstrates. Cooperative culture, organisation and work from production to shelf have made Trentino one of the richest and sustainable provinces in Italy. 

This culture was noted by the authoritative political scientist Robert Putnam of Harvard in his widely cited work “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”, in which he studied Italy’s regional governments and concluded that associational life in northern Italy led to its prosperity and democracy compared to less associational parts of Italy especially in the agrarian south.

In Jordan, there are nearly 1,600 cooperatives, of which nearly 1,200 are active and cover various sectors from agribusiness to multipurpose, with a total membership of nearly 145,000, which constitutes nearly 1.5 per cent of Jordanians. Many of them are nominal, not productive, members. In Trentino, by contrast, well over 50 per cent of the population are active, producing members of cooperatives. These socioeconomic networks facilitate the growth and reinforcement of interpersonal trust which leads to more value-based transactions, which in turn leads to sustainable economic development and the evolution of civic norms. The Jordanian cooperative sector needs a major reform to yield sustainable development and social cohesion.

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions [email protected]

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