I first heard Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) re-defined as Asset Based Citizen Driven efforts when I was at the ABCD Festival in the UK last year. The speaker named what I had seen in my own ABCD work: Institutions grasping the Asset-Based element of the movement and ignoring the role the community plays in its own development. Institutions were seeing the residents as “assets” that they could use to full-fill their mission verses seeing the citizens as the leaders of the development effort. This is especially true of governmental agencies. I was reminded of this “re-defining” in a recent twitter exchange with Cormac Russell of Nurture Development who is also doing the hard work of institutional paradigm shifting in the UK.
In my work in Richmond, I am watching a similar challenge emerge. While our institutional partners intellectually understand both the asset-based and citizen-driven sides of ABCD, for some, there is little evidence of this belief in their practice of ABCD.
“A lot of people talk community assets but then bring in outside experts to fix the neighborhood. We have to defend the power of the local.” Jody Kretzmann
For example, in one community there is a potential resident leader. She has consistently volunteered her time in the community and she has the support of others in the community. Yet the institutional partner has spent no time with her; no time listening to her, building a relationship with her, or supporting her in the vision she and her neighbors have for her community. Instead they are looking to outside groups to come in and run programs “for” the residents that none of the residents have asked for. The institutional partner will claim “no one stepped up.” It is as though she is invisible.
If you sense a bit of frustration on my part, I will confess, I am frustrated. I hear people say “ABCD” does not work yet I see those same groups refusing to invest in developing resident leaders. In most cases, resident leaders need coaching, support and encouragement. They generally do not walk up to you on the street ready to lead a movement. In our ABCD Trainings, everyone agrees that relationships are the key, but few translate this from a concept into their calendars. They are spending far more hours running programs than simply hanging out with emerging leaders.
Since I am the one who has trained and coached these institutions, this failure is all mine. I assumed that the relational element of the work would come naturally if groups understood ABCD. What I have come to see is that ABCD has to move from our head, to our heart and more importantly to our feet.
One of my partners has been referring to ABCD as CDCD – Citizen Driven Community Development. She wants to make sure everyone in her institution is crystal clear about the importance of citizens being the leaders. The funny thing is that this partner is not a church or a non-profit but a governmental leader.
Imagine a government that fully embraced the idea of a citizen-driven democracy. Imagine a church that fully embraced the the centrality of love of neighbor in the great commandment. Imagine a neighborhood empowered by both. That is my vision on heaven on earth.
There are times when it feels like this whole ABCD thing is just too hard. Breaking old patterns and ways of thinking and acting is hard. Complacency and lack of investment make me want to give up on the idea. When I get to those low spots, God invariably puts someone in my path to remind me that this movement is a spiritual revolution that is at the heart of God’s mission in this world.
I had a chance to hang out in one of our communities this past week. I was interviewing a new leader who had been identified by one of our most faithful church partners. She will be featured in one of our upcoming Neighborhood Heroes videos. That church partner saw her giftedness, built a relationship with her, encouraged her to use her gifts and now she is fueling a neighboring revolution in her community. She was glowing, telling me about all the ways she and her neighbors were changing the community. It only took a small amount of investment in this amazing woman and now she is teaching the church all kinds of new lessons in what Citizen-Driven really means.
So, as frustrated as I can get, I can’t give up. This past spring, we decided to share stories of what ABCD looks like on the ground as this movement comes to life in our city. It is the amazing neighborhood leaders highlighted in these videos, and stories yet untold that make all of this worthwhile. If you have not seen our Neighborhood Heroes video series, please check it out. None of these stories would exist without the great neighbors who are transforming their communities from the inside out.
In “Neighborhood Revolution” – you will meet Anita, Mrs. Walker, Angela and the Gryffites.
In “Bring back the Village” – you will meet Mamma Winfree and Mrs. T.
In “Young Dreamers” – you will meet Arque, Sharneice, CeCe, Tiesha and Sam.
When I get frustrated and wonder if any of this matters, it is these neighborhood heroes who remind me of why I do what I do.
If you are an ABCD practitioner or trying to make the shift to an ABCD approach, I hope these stories will inspire you to stay the course. Please feel free to share them with others who need to be reminded that ABCD is about restoring the heart of democracy by putting the citizens first.