top of page


Social Cohesion and Inclusion - Part two of a five part series

Scott Cameron, President/CEO

bassa Social Innovations

The opioid crisis is hitting communities across North America in alarming rates. Red Deer, Alberta has been hit particularly hard by this epidemic, positioning it as having some of the highest reported fentanyl overdose fatality rates in the province. This series, based on the five dimensions of social capital as outlined by the World Bank, will examine trust, social cohesion and inclusion, groups and networks, collective action and cooperation, and information and communication through the lens of this current and relevant topic.

Social cohesion and inclusion is dominated by two overarching concepts – bonding social capital and bridging social capital. The opioid crisis is an excellent example of a complex community issue to highlight the differences between the two, and to demonstrate the value of having both, bonding and bridging social capital. “Bonding social capital refers to horizontal tight knit ties between individuals or groups sharing similar demographic characteristics” whereas, “bridging and linking social capital refer to ties that cut across different communities/individuals” (Baum and Ziersch, 2003, p.320).

The opioid crisis in our community, as in many other communities, has created an environment ripe for the “us” and “them” mentality. This divide is fueled by a desire to accentuate differences; “weak vertical (bridging) links combined with strong bonding social capital … will lead to low levels of social cohesion. The society will be marked by exclusion, inequity, and oppression” (Grootaert & van Bastelaer, 2001, p.18). Bonding social capital, in this case, would appear to be drawn along the lines of those directly impacted by the opioid crisis, and those on the periphery of the crisis.

At the centre of the opioid crisis are those most at risk, the men and women caught in their addiction with no options or

choices apparent to them – it is the essence of the addiction itself. The need to numb their physical and/or mental pain draws them to a network of people experiencing similar trauma. There are bonds developed within this network of people affected by drugs and addictions. To the extent possible, they support and care for one another as loss has become part of the insurmountable pain they experience and share.

Family members, when they are able to find one another, carry a different bond as a result of the addictions experienced by their loved ones.

Support workers and first responders share different experiences. Initially drawn to their helping professions by a compassion to help their fellow citizens, the repetitive nature of addictions can lead to a sense of helplessness, anger and frustration. These are people that know of those suffering in the community, are repeatedly called to help the same person, frustrated that they can’t change the circumstances of their addictions, and sometimes present when they pass despite all their best efforts. These people bond over their shared experiences.

Then there are the rest of us. It pains me to consider myself as a person standing on the sidelines of this crisis, but I’m neither addicted, a family member of someone addicted, nor a first responder. The bonds that tie those of us on the sidelines can differ greatly and it isn’t my place to point fingers. I’ve spent years trying to understand systems and leverage points within systems to help intervene. Others have stood by their convictions and cast blame and judgment on those that don’t quite have their crap together – a Darwinian undertone accompanies some – a sense that death on our streets might have some sort of magical cleansing effect.

When it comes to bonding social capital, there are no wrong opinions. We find comfort among those who share similar philosophies, beliefs and values. I will be bold enough to say, however, that choosing not to expose yourself to the beliefs and perspectives of others with an open mind to hearing and understanding, is a short-sighted approach and can lead to social exclusion and isolation.

Bridging social capital is the vertical linking of people, ideas and beliefs. Whereas bonding social capital allows people to connect with others sharing similar backgrounds and experiences, bridging social capital connects these different ideas and beliefs.

The opioid crisis in Red Deer is resulting in a movement to bridge social capital. The Stand Up for a Safe Community campaign is a grassroots movement envisioned by a group of community members that have found a way to cut through the different bonds of people affected by the crisis – everyone can agree on one thing – they’re fed up. Being fed up, in this case, isn’t a negative. This is a call to action for people to move from the sidelines of the crisis and to bring their game face to the table.

Parents fed up with the fear that their child may come into contact with a needle are fed up. Business leaders in the community are fed up with people and drug paraphernalia in their back alleys and foyers. Politicians are fed up with the public expectation that they must do something to fix it. First responders and support workers are fed up with people overdosing and dying on their watch. Family members are fed up with the sense of hopelessness and loss that they feel. People affected by addictions are fed up, yet lack the ability to see themselves clear of their pain. It’s not wrong to feel fed up – it’s wrong to expect someone else to find resolution to a complex community issue that bothers you.

This blog series is not intended to cast blame on anyone. We come to these complex community issues from many different perspectives, and each perspective is an important piece of the puzzle. If there were a single solution to this wicked challenge, it would have been found by now. The truth is, there is no single answer because each person’s experience with the challenge is different. This blog is to support the local call to action. Find comfort among those with whom you bond. Be part of a movement that bridges your ideas and perspectives with others of a different mind.

Baum, F. & Ziersch, A. (2003). Social capital. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 57(5), 320-323

Grootaert, C. & van Bastelaer, T. (2001). Understanding and measuring social capital: A synthesis of findings and recommendations from the social capital initiative. Retrieved from

bottom of page