Most approaches to community development focus on what communities need. What if we worked instead from what communities have?
Asset-Based Community Development is a way of thinking about how to build communities that focuses on the things they already have, rather than the things they lack. The concept was named and promoted by American community organizers and professors John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann. Focusing on only what communities need and lack promotes a pessimistic attitude towards development, and prioritizes outsiders who can make up for those lacks. If we focus instead on our strengths and assets, we build from those strengths towards a better future for all, while instilling hope in the community.
McKnight and Kretzmann identify three places to look for the assets that you can use in the community. They are the gifts of individuals, associations of community members, and institutions like schools or hospitals. Most communities have assets in all three categories, and assets of many different types, which include material, people, ideas, and values. (Link)
In A Practitioner’s Guide for Social Entrepreneurs in Egypt and the Arab Region (Link in Arabic), Ehab Abdou describes how useful local assets are for social entrepreneurs:
“Start by looking at those, and encouraging the community to share what they have with you. In the case of Fat’het Kheir, if it were not for someone from the community allowing her house to be used to welcome and meet people from the community, the organization would not have been able to move forward. If you are partnering with a group, ask them to offer at least some in-kind support, or volunteer their time. It is a good way to ensure commitment, ownership, and establish a real partnership of equals while avoiding the typical dependency that is usually created through generous giving. Mapping out what the community can offer is in and of itself empowering, putting the community on a par with you.”
The Dalia Association
Dalia Association is a community foundation in Palestine, which follows an asset-based community development approach. In this video, Aisha Mansour, the director of Dalia Association, describes their work and how they draw from the resources that exist inside communities and throughout Palestine.
We think about the resources we can use, we are not a poor country and not a poor nation so we look at the problems in our society and think about solutions for them, solutions that are sustainable and that utilize local resources and within each other. The community makes suggestions, votes, and picks the initiative that is really going to make a difference in society while using local resources, and based on this voting we pick which initiative that will get the grant and we help them in the execution because many times they have a good idea but don’t know to get to it. We connect them with the technologies and the resources available that can help them in the country.
So this is mainly what we do in Dalia, and by doing so we try to create an active community, strong that can solve its own issues. Another thing we do is try to raise awareness that there are plenty of resources in Palestine, human and non-human capital and depending on the resources needed, we can connect them. Our country is rich and we can benefit from each other even if there isn’t anything called money, and also as a social organization we do circles that try to create space for the civil community. This space is disappearing, because of pricing and etc. There are no spaces for normal people to meet and discuss problems and exchange expertise, all of these things that Arabs used to always do. So, we also try to create these spaces and we call them Neighboring activities.