What is social infrastructure?

“Social infrastructure” is the set of organizational arrangements and deliberate investments in society’s systems, relationships, and structures that enable society to create a resilient, just, equitable and sustainable world; it includes social, economic, environmental and cultural assets.

Educational institutions can use the idea of social infrastructure as a way to organize and communicate their efforts to create positive social change and sustainable economic prosperity.

The role of VPs External Relations varies across institutions—some are responsible for alumni, ceremonies and events, regional campuses, fundraising, or advancement. Whatever the specifics, the common thread is building relationships across the institution, and building support for the social goals of the communities where the institution resides. ‘Social goals’ is broader than just social services—initiatives in community health, governance, and economic development are often part of the mandate.

VPs External can put systems and processes in place that make everyone’s else job in creating social infrastructure easier.

For example: Niagara College’s Applied Health Institute at their Welland Campus makes a distinct contribution to community health with applied learning programs that offer dental, mental health and aging services for the local population. Through the Institute, students have real-world learning opportunities and the community has extra supports to offset stresses on an over-burdened health-care system.

The VP External’s office played a key role in developing the vision for the Institute by listening to feedback from community members and frontline health care workers (some of them students and alumni) about the challenges they face in their work. The College’s investment in the Institute, and the network of relationships that have grown around it, are an example of how VPs External can contribute to building social infrastructure with institutional assets.

Once the President has communicated a strategic vision and objectives for the institution, the VP External is often responsible to quickly say “how do we move relationships forward to support this”—activating the myriad personal touch points across the institution that help people see themselves in the story and take action. As a leader in the institution, it’s the VP External’s role to be a community connector and find new and valuable opportunities for their institutions to increase their impact.