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Background. The engagement of underrepresented populations in health research has been an ongoing challenge. Yet, the participation of these groups is recognized as key to health equity. Methods. Semi-structured interviews with 31 experienced investigators successful in the recruitment of underrepresented minorities were analyzed with reference to the concept of social capital to determine: 1) if it is actually in use by successful researchers although yet unidentified as such; and 2) if the rubric could shed light on new directions especially for those who find it difficult to implement community-engaged recruitment methods systematically. Results. Findings indicate that some elements of the concept of social capital are being used successfully, but that there are also substantial barriers to its full implementation. Conclusion. A lack of enforceable trust and associated institutional support for researchers is a detriment to research engagement. Efforts to remedy this would benefit large research projects, including clinical trials.