Understanding social networks is vitally important to what we do.

This is why we have devoted so much time into research and, simply, getting to know the communities. Learn more about how networks are important to us in the following sections.

A network is an interconnected group of people or things.* Nothing more, nothing less. It could be a biological network, like your blood vessels; it could be a trade network, like the global coffee supply chain; or perhaps a social network.

Now, it's the social network that we care most about (the global coffee supply chain is a close second.) Indeed, there are countless examples of social networks, Facebook for example. We're not exactly like Facebook, but it can give you a better understanding of the networks important to us.

*from the New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

The picture on the right shows a social network from the aldea, Pinabetal. While it may look confusing and chaotic, this is a great example of a network.

To illustrate, we have chosen three people in this community: Albin, Wilson, and Gilberto. Albin and Wilson are friends, which is why line 3 connects them. Gilberto is friends with somebody who is friends with Wilson, represented by the connection of lines 1 and 2.

Why is this important? People are influenced by those around them, and the closer two people are, the greater this influence. Imagine that Albin, Wilson, and Gilberto are all farmers, and that Albin found a store that sells fertilizer at a discount. He will tell his closest friend – Wilson – about this great deal first. He may not, however, tell Gilberto because Albin and Gilberto are not very close, and there is a limited amount of discounted fertilizer available. For Gilberto to find out, Wilson would have to tell their mutual friend, who would then have to pass the information along to Gilberto.

This is one of the essential element of our research. A person’s place in the network, in conjunction with how everybody else is positioned around him, will change how that person acts in many situations.

Taking these simple concepts and applying them to every person in a community is where the real power of social capital and network analysis research can be found.

An example of a social network in the village of Pinabetal.