Patricia Illing­worth, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, says social cap­ital should be under­stood as a moral good, one in which col­lab­o­rating across con­ven­tional divi­sions of lan­guage, reli­gion and eth­nicity could help solve global prob­lems such as war, ter­rorism and poverty.

She out­lined the argu­ment in a new book, “Us Before Me: Ethics and Social Cap­ital for Global Well-​​Being,” which was pub­lished in Feb­ruary by Pal­grave Macmillan to con­sid­er­able acclaim.

All truly great leaders — in other words, those who care about people — will find the ideas in ‘Us Before Me’ cen­tral to how they frame their local and global respon­si­bil­i­ties,” notes Nancy Dearman, CEO of Kotter International.

Illing­worth touted the value of social cap­ital at a pair of global con­fer­ences in July at Oxford Uni­ver­sity in London and Sor­bonne Uni­ver­sity in Paris.

She com­pares her effort to push the moral com­po­nent of social cap­ital into the public domain to that of an envi­ron­men­talist focused on pro­moting sus­tain­ability. “To not recycle is now thought of as a moral failure,” explains Illing­worth, who holds joint appoint­ments in the School of Law and the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion. “We have to think the same way about social capital.”

Viewing social cap­ital as a moral oblig­a­tion that over­rides self-​​interest, as opposed to a con­cept of social sci­ence, she says, would “lead to greater diver­sity and increase the like­li­hood of devel­oping and cul­ti­vating the idea.”

And studies show, says Illing­worth, that indi­vid­uals and com­mu­ni­ties with greater social cap­ital tend to be hap­pier, healthier and safer, in part because of the role social ties play in overall well-​​being. As she puts it, “There are a lot of things you can do with net­works of people that you cannot do on your own.”

But how do you build a diverse social net­work designed to alle­viate suf­fering and pro­mote global good­will, tol­er­ance and con­cern for humanity? For Illing­worth, you must start with the individual.

Social cap­ital has obvious appeal because people are hap­pier with other people,” she says. “Naming it and let­ting people know about it can have a band­wagon effect and help it slowly become part of the moral parlance.”