Asset Based Community Development

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 ABCD: Do you know its potential? 

Asset Based Community Development is an approach that benefits everyone who truly cares about making positive impacts in communities. Discover what ABCD is and how it can help you achieve stronger outcomes with greater equity in neighborhood revitalization and economic development projects. 

Asset Based Community Development corrects the flaws in older models of development that relied on “needs” and “SWOT” approaches. 

What is the problem with a needs-based approach to revitalization? It’s built on the premise that social issues (like education or employment disparities) in low-income communities stem from a “lack” in the community. Needs assessments aim to determine “what’s missing” and “what’s needed” within the neighborhood. This lack and scarcity approach can offer some insights, but it often missing the whole story. Most importantly looking solely at “what’s missing” makes it all to easy to overlook all the resources that are actually in play – including grassroots leadership! 

Imagine if someone went to a middle-class neighborhood, identified everything that was missing, and developed an action plan to address all the lack and gaps. How much good already going on would that assessment fail to capture? More though, just imagine how those middle-class residents will feel when presented with a picture that only shows what’s missing and failing in their beloved community. Now apply these same considerations to low-income communities. The problems with this single-frame approach are evident. 

At Polis Institute we deploy the Asset Based Community Development approach in all of our work. It starts with the premise that communities are best served by solutions that incorporate what’s already working (programs and services) and what resources exist among residents (leadership, talents, inspiration). A community’s assets include community leaders, special places, community associations, and grassroots initiatives, alongside government, nonprofit, and business entities that serve and care about the community. By documenting assets, solutions are poised to build on “social infrastructure” for more sustainable meaningful paths forward. This is exactly why John Mcknight and Jody Kretzman founded and popularized the Asset-Based Community Development model. And it’s why Polis Institute is a leader of ABCD today.  

In our next post, we’ll take a deep dive into the fundamentals of ABCD. Here let’s explore the implications of the ABCD philosophy. We’ll use the Community of Bestmore as an example.* 

In the small historically Black community of Bestmore, a woman named Mrs. A* spends her days volunteering to help young adults learn to be more involved community leaders. Mrs. A has been a community organizer for more than seven decades and is going strong. Her lively role is an asset to her community. Likewise, the young adults who have become volunteers, entrepreneurs, and leaders through her mentorship are also community assets. 

Now it’s true that in Bestmore the poverty rate is over 30%, crime is high, and college degrees are scarce. And it is important to understand the need for poverty alleviation, crime reduction, and educational achievement in the community. The ABCD approach doesn’t gloss over facts. But it does emphasize how resolutions to challenging socio-economic realities can be addressed through an asset-driven framework.  To resolve and solve, you need to know the assets within the community that can help generate sustainable structural transformation. The kind of change that keeps on growing well after nonprofits, consultancies, and well-meaning outsiders have moved on. ABCD gives generations of community residents a well-warranted place at the driving center of transformation. That’s what sparks the sustainability of ABCD-based solutions. They aren’t made FOR communities they are made with and BY communities. 

When all the ways in which residents and entities are contributing to bettering the future of a community are acknowledged in the process of revitalization, it means that assets can be mobilized by local residents and their partners for a lasting and sustainable impact. Polis Institute has more than a decade of experience implementing these principles and is a leader in Asset-Based Community Development for urban communities across the United States. If you want to learn more about how the ABCD approach can amplify your community’s work, get in touch today! 

*While based on an actual place, names are changed for privacy and ethics requirements.