Category Archives: 150 things you can do to build social capital

People for Good aims to spur acts of kindness

Flickr photo by baloozer

The Canadian “People for Good” effort has tried to encourage Canadians to do good deeds.

One bus ran a PSA with the slogan: “Need a lift?”  And below it said “You look great today.”  Here are some suggestions they make:

  1. Smile at a stranger – or wave at your fellow subway passenger
  2. Open and hold the door for someone
  3. Give up your seat on the subway, bus or streetcar
  4. Buy a coffee for your co-worker
  5. Surprise your colleagues with freshly baked brownies
  6. Cut grass or shovel snow for your neighbor
  7. Help a stranger change a tire on the road – or put in a coin in expiring parking meter for someone you don’t know
  8. Return a grocery cart after someone has used it or let a stranger ahead of you in a store line
  9. While  on Facebook, just pick up the phone and give your friend a call
  10. Simply say ‘‘Thank you’’ to someone who helped you – and really mean it
  11. Mow your neighbor’s lawn
  12. Instead of an email, send a handwritten note.
  13. Call your mother
  14. Bring home flowers.
  15. Make cookies for your neighbors
  16. Do a chore, even if it’s not your turn.
  17. Give up the remote
  18. Make breakfast for the household
  19. Go say hello to your neighbor.
  20. Tell someone you love them.
  21. Unload the dishwasher.
  22. Have dinner at the table with the whole family.
  23. Wake up in a good mood.
  24. Give someone first dibs on the morning paper.
  25. Clean out your closet and donate your old clothes.
  26. Say good morning to a stranger.
  27. Help someone cross the street.
  28. Offer to give someone directions
  29. Pick up a piece of litter.

For more suggestions, visit here. is the brainchild of Mark Sherman, Exec. Chair, Media Experts (a media strategy firm), and Zak Mroueh, President, Zula Alpha Kilo (advertising agency).

Add your own ideas by posting comments.

See also our list of 150 things you can do to build social capital.

Tool libraries

Berkeley, CA Tool Lending Library (from oraleese on

Berkeley, CA Tool Lending Library (from oraleese on

Borrowing a page from Saguaro’s recommended list of ways to build social capital, comes the emergence of a new kind of library: tool libraries.  These probably help individuals save money over each person buying these tools, and these libraries may be good for the environment (as you avoid needing to have everyone buy a skunk trap, when they might need it only rarely).  But the bad news comes in the social capital department: rather than this being friend-helping-friend (I’ll lend you my lug wrench and you take in my mail when I’m on a business trip) and thereby building up some trust, reciprocity and social capital in the process, these are libraries where you pay a few bucks a month and get to borrow common and uncommon tools.  The social capital that would be build by more informal lending libraries or tool sharing would be way more valuable when it comes to things like deterring crime, helping schools work, ensuring health and happiness, etc.

At least the ones that are geographically based increase the chance that one encounters neighbors when you go to borrow a tool.

  1. North Portland Tool Library
  2. Atlanta Tool Bank
  3. The West Philly Tool Library
  4. Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library; actually part of their public library
  5. And why couldn’t this lending spread to kitchen gadgets or A/V equipment?
  6. Tech Shop: offers more tools, but loses a lot of the social capital potential of this idea
  7. List of U.S. Tool Lending Libraries
  8. Idea of Toy Libraries

Sleeping with your neighbors

Well, sleeping AT your neighbors, anyway.

Peter Lovenheim had an interesting NYT Op-Ed this June called *Won’t You Be My Neighbor?*.  Spurred on by the shocking double murder-suicide of some neighbors of his whom he didn’t know, he started a project (which his teenager daughter rolled her eyes at) to try to persuade his neighbors to let him do adult sleepovers with them, and in the process build up relationships and trust.  Initially neighbors were distrustful, but now half of the roughly twenty neighbors he’s asked have said yes.

It’s a very moving story.  One wonders whether a block party or informal social gathering might not have been an easier place to begin, but it’s hard to knock his integrity and motivation.  Lovenheim hopes that if something horrible like his neighbors’ dual murder-suicide would ever be likely to occur again, he’ll be in the know and possibly able to nip it in the bud.

How often neighborhoods lie one catalyst away from being reconnected.  A college roommate of mine single-handledly revived a neighborhood he lived in by resuscitating a social club, doing odd jobs free for neighbors, asking to borrow tools (or lending them).  One hears many other stories of people who revived neighborhoods through street watches, or urban gardens, or babysitting cooperatives.  As Paul Resnick (of the Saguaro Seminar) suggested, better to ask a favor of neighbors than to wait for them to ask; and by asking for a favor you invite others to ask one of you.

So here’s to the Peter Lovenheims of the U.S. May there be many more and may it not take a tragic death or emergency in your neighborhood to awaken you for the need of these precious ties.  The social disconnection is not always as fatal as it was in *Dying Alone* (where Eric Klinenberg describes how the ones who perished in Chicago’s Heat Wave of 1995 were almost always socially isolated), but there is a heap of sociological and public health literature detailing the more invisible cost to those who are isolated (less happy, less healthy, harder time finding jobs, homes more likely to be broken into, etc.).

Read the Lovenheim Op-Ed here and comments here.

For a list of things you can to do promote neighborliness (short of sleeping over at someone’s house) see 150 Things you can do to build social capital.

Change the World for 10 Bucks

WeAreWhatWeDo, launched the UK Change the World for a Fiver — a hugely successful book that had individually simple but collectively transformative ideas, like Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or Smile at a Stranger. They got pro-bono help from leading graphic artists in the UK and came up with wonderful graphics.

You can get a taste of those UK ideas here. Click on any to see the ideas fleshed out.

A year from now, they plan to launch the US counterpart– Change the World for Ten Bucks — a creative, small action, big change, block-busting bestseller. They want 50 ideas that they should ask one million Americans to do to change the world. And they want these answers “over-easy with dimples and a broad American twang please. Ideas that are singularly tokenistic and collectively titanic.”

Send me your ideas (as comments) for the US book and I’ll forward them on to WeAreWhatWeDo. Collectively, we can make a difference.

Some of our ideas for building social capital can be found in the 150 things you can do to build social capital.