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IDRC-supported research highlights importance of positive social capital on marginalized youth

July 27, 2016

While research has widely shown that adolescents require positive social networks and interpersonal connections—that is, positive social capital—to reach productive and socially responsible adulthood, what social capital is, how it works, and how critical it is to reducing levels of youth delinquency and violence is not well understood.

However, a recently completed IDRC-supported study examines the way civil society organizations in three countries—El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Canada—seek to enhance community-based social capital to reduce youth alienation and promote youth development. The study’s final report, Responding to youth marginalization, crime, and violence, summarizes the three-year case studies carried out in three low-income urban neighbourhoods in San Salvador (El Salvador), Managua (Nicaragua), and Ottawa (Canada). 

Focusing on youth growing up in situations of urban poverty, the study highlights the challenge that communities, civil society organizations, and governments face in providing adequate socio-economic support for youth. The research found there is a need to move away from punitive crime control as a response to alienated youth, illustrating the positive effect of investing in social capital formation (social programs encouraging constructive activities and supportive relationships for youth) instead.

Enhancing youth social capital:  A story of two low-income neighbourhoods in Nicaragua and Canada

A new documentary, Enhancing youth social capital: A story of two low-income neighbourhoods, builds on the original study to reveal the strikingly similar experiences of youth social capital formation—despite considerable historical, geographical, and socio-cultural differences—in the communities of Salomon Moreno (Managua, Nicaragua) and Britannia Woods (Ottawa, Canada).

Similarities include:

  • dynamic local leadership within each community;
  • adult and peer mentorship;
  • the availability of educational and recreational opportunities;
  • policing that emphasizes community engagement as well as crime prevention; and
  • assistance from civil society organizations and certain branches of the state. 

Looking beyond the differences in cultural context, material means, and organizational density, the documentary also indicates the patterns common to both communities: the vulnerability of youth, the role of local leaders, and the necessity for partnerships and community involvement to reduce violence by and against youth.

Finally, both the study and the documentary point to the need to address these ongoing challenges:

  • mobilizing and coordinating the resources needed to ensure viable programs and activities for youth;
  • developing and expanding public awareness about the value of investing in, and contributing to, the welfare of youth living in low-income communities; and
  • cultivating political support to ensure the sustainability of youth social capital formation at the community level.


Remote video URL

Enhancing youth social capital: A story of two low-income neighborhoods