Putting the E into ABCD

Putting the E into ABCD

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?


  1. ‘eco’ [from greek ‘oikos’ meaning “home” or “household”; & according to the imagination of the greek philosophers, the planet is your “home” and all that live on it are members of this greater “household”] + ‘nomics’ [from greek ‘nomos’ meaning management]

    So the combination of oikos + nomos, i.e. eco-nomics, as the management of your household is crucial … and flows together with eco-logy [the combination of ‘oikos’ and ‘logos’ (= greek for knowledge)] into a river of health for all human endeavors, which of course includes ABCD 😉

    Q: “So ACBD + E?”
    A: Ah, yeah “Absolutely, …Yes!!”



  2. oops … ABCD plus E i mean

    not always as easy as 1,2,3, I guess 😉

    where would I/we be if it weren’t for the grace of God!

    “Can i get a witness?”

  3. Regarding low-cost ventures, I would first wonder in the local areas you are wanting to introduce this into … what businesses don’t exist but could be introduced? Food carts wouldn’t be something that jumps out at me, but something related to food would. It’s been a real while since I followed your blog, but I had been to a few events at Hillside (you used to have a banner header with two smiling girls on I think the Embrace Richmond blog/site… that was my daughter!) and I know just now when I search using Google Maps around Hillside Court for restaurants, there’s *nothing* really close… I guess maybe a food cart is a good idea. Towards the food idea, it seems like there’s open areas (Harwood+Lone+18th+Bruce) nearby… could you do some sort of community farm? If that were the case, maybe churches could get involved in helping start it and have the community take it forward?

    I don’t see why it couldn’t be time to “try” E, but that’s a bit of my personality to “prototype” something … “dip your toes” and see if it works. If not, maybe come back later and reevaluate


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