Embrace Richmond has been doing Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) in Richmond, Virginia for eight years.  Today I was challenged to put the “E” into ABCD.  What is the “E” that has been missing?  It is economics.  Healthy communities are communities with healthy economic systems.  They are communities where wealth is generated in the neighborhood and stays in the neighborhood.  This is achieved through both the traditional currency system as well as through informal bartering type systems.

Yesterday I met Scott Davidson and Major Treadway from Vocoform, an organization that is seeking to add the E to our ABCD work through a partnership with CFA, the national association Embrace is a member of.  Vocoform has developed an enterprise model that they call “Values Based Enterprise.”  The goal of this business model is to develop sustainable ventures that build the capacity of local communities.

The primary tool Vocoform uses to achieve it’s goal is what they call an “Enterprise Training Lab”. The Lab provides future entrepreneurs with both the practical hands on operations side of owning and operating a business as well as the soft side of business development which includes vocational discernment and personal development.

Through the years I have seen many models for economic revitalization.  The most common one I have seen is for non-profits to start businesses and then hire local residents to work in the businesses. While this creates jobs, it does not often lead to ownership or capacity transfer. These models are often costly and require a large investment of outside resources, thus making them hard to sustain.

Vocoform is seeking to prepare leaders from the local communities to be the owners and to do so in a way that is not dependent on outside resources.   They are focusing on small, low cost ventures that are accessible to low wealth individuals. Examples include food carts, in-home day cares, and landscaping.

Unlike many small business training programs, they are doing their training in an actual business setting where they basically turn over the “ownership” of the enterprise to the apprentice so they are learning in a real live venture.  They learn everything from marketing to finance to staff management.  Most importantly, these apprentice leaders are supported by a team of business professionals who are providing continual feedback, support and accountability, something most new business owners lack and desperately need.

After completion of the six month apprenticeship, the graduate of the program leaves with a solid business plan of their own and enough marketing and financial training to run their own business.  It is a brilliant model.

So I have been asking myself all day, is this something that we could bring to Richmond?


What are some low cost ventures that you can think of that might be good “enterprise labs?”


How might we take a model like this and actually create “enterprise labs” in partnership with existing businesses?


How could local churches support this kind of ministry?


Is the time right to add an “E” to ABCD?