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“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, solemnly declared on The Today Show this morning.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, solemnly declared on The Today Show this morning.

He was discussing the publication of the government’s social mobility strategy, entitled Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers

His point was that many people are able to advance their career through their contacts as much as through their ability.

He went on to argue that one of the reasons there is not more social mobility in the UK is because there are not many places or institutions that facilitate mixing between different social classes.

He pointed to places of worship as one of the few institutions where people of all classes can mix.

I don’t know if this is true, although a friend tells me that Churches and other places of worship do provide very popular singles nights and speed dating events, so clearly there is some mixing going on…

This discussion prompted me to consider if there wasn’t something slightly amiss with the idea that Churches or Synagogues should be recommended because they are good places to network in order to get ahead.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that the Chief Rabbi was arguing that people should start attending places of worship so that they can get that big promotion, but I do think that there is a danger here.

Many commentators have pointed to the benefits of having large and diverse social networks. Probably the most famous work on this topic is Granovetter’s The Strength of Weak ties in which he argued, amongst other things, that our social connections determine the type of employment opportunities available to us.

Imagine if a government, or a local authority or a charitable foundation took this point very seriously. They might decide that the best way to support people into work or into higher paid work would be to support activities in which rich and poor, out of work and in work all mixed. They might start supporting sports clubs, food markets, places of worship and any number of other projects and activities that appeal to a wide range of people.

Is there something too instrumental about this approach? How would you feel if you were playing for a football team that was funded in order to help the unemployed get back into work? Or, how would you feel if you were at a Church in which the congregation were furiously networking with each other?


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