Every year, I follow a “maintenance schedule” which includes a trip to the optometrist. Based on my current mileage, it was suggested that I invest in multifocal lenses. When I first put them on, I was disoriented, but over time, things came into focus, and I could see more clearly.
I could say the same about my first encounter with Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). At first, it was disorienting. As a helping professional who constantly tried to maintain a level of relevance by doing things for people, it shook the meeting needs foundation of my work. Focusing on needs, I found that the more I did for people, the more things remained the same. In fact, the only “needle” being “moved” was the degree people were depending on me and the services I provided. Then I met Steven, a community organizer in the city I was living in at the time.
In Steven’s neighbourhood, there was a community association, theatre group, several youth-led community building initiatives, festivals, book clubs, computer labs, and most importantly, a deep sense of connection. When I asked Steven for his “recipe for success,” he spoke about abundance over scarcity and gifts over needs. He mentioned someone called John McKnight, and gave me a green book, “Building Communities from the Inside Out,” I was given new lenses. From this point, instead of conducting “needs assessments,” I started doing “gift inventories” and things came into focus
Here I began identifying the skills, gifts and interests of those in my community, started connecting them, and in turn, began addressing priority concerns identified by the community members themselves. What emerged was a community-organized music program, intergenerational events that addressed isolation among seniors, beer clubs that helped men talk about mental health, co-work spaces, a local business recognition program, and a youth conference where students connected with municipal leaders and shared their ideas for the city. This was happening all around me, but I wasn’t doing it, yet it happened because I was there, initiating conversations and connecting people with each other.
Years later, I brought this practice to my municipal work with community centres. I introduced my team to ABCD. Internally, we identified the strengths and passions of staff and crafted a vision for our work. This fostered a deeper connection between members of the team and gave meaning and direction to our efforts. In terms of their relationship with the community, they began to understand themselves primarily as helpful outsiders who supported community efforts, rather than primary producers of social and recreational services. I then moved beyond the centre walls, working with neighbourhood associations and community members. I hosted a series of ABCD conversations at association meetings and in public libraries. The result was a significant increase in citizen production and participation. Initiatives emerged, such as meal share programs, youth employment initiatives, skills libraries where youth connected with caring adults through the sharing of skills and interests, and a community market network. Our community’s abundance was on display for all to see.
Over the course of my career, Nurture Development has been an essential resource for my work. My skills were deepened by their online and on-land (in-person) learning opportunities, and my knowledge expanded by frequenting their blog posts, and reading Cormac’s books and articles. I appreciate their work, and am very excited to now become a team member at Nurture Development as the key associate for Canada. In this role, I will be offering ABCD training through our online modules, in addition to virtually coming alongside individuals, community groups, and organizational teams. Here I will provide training that is tailored to specific contexts and desired outcomes. If this is of interest to you, please be in contact. You can reach our offices at
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