Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Public Policy


Anna Zajicek

Committee Member

Zola Moon

Second Committee Member

Amanda Williams


Low-income Somali Refugee workers, Name generator instrument, Social Capital, Social Network, Social Network Resources, Workplace Literacy Program


There is a substantial body of literature on the economic benefits of workplace literacy programs, and much less empirical studies on the social or non-economic outcomes of workplace literacy programs, particularly in the context of low-income refugee workers. Adopting a social network approach, this study examines the impact of workplace literacy programs on the social capital development of Somali refugee workers. Social capital can be defined as the network of relationships possessed by an individual or social group that facilitates their access to emotional, instrumental, or informational resources, essential for their daily survival, stability, or upward mobility. This study takes the position that literacy development is a socially situated and contextualized set of practices which impact the structure of an individual’s social network. Thereby, creating access to certain types of social resources –emotional, instrumental and informational – that can be used for the good of the individual. Data were drawn using interviews with eighteen participants enrolled in a workplace literacy program and had attended classes for at least three months. The classes offered included ESL, GED and Citizenship. The interview protocol was designed using a hybrid (name and resource) generator instrument.

First, we examined how participating in classes impacted the structure of participant’s social networks by measuring (i) the size of the social network, and (ii) strength of the ties in social network. Next, we examined the types of social capital resources that accrue to low income Somali refugee workers through their networks acquired as a result of participating in classes. The findings revealed that participation in classes had a positive impact on their network structure, through the acquisition of strong ties with co-workers, and weak ties with teachers and supervisors. This created access to emotional, instrumental and informational resources that participants previously did not have access to and consequently enhanced their social capital development. Moreover, mobilizing social capital resources through strong ties with co-workers would have been difficult or impossible in the absence of specific mechanisms, which we identified as motivation, trust and reciprocity.