I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members, part of the Mayor of Dallas’ “Grow South Initiative,” to discuss assets in the community at the University of North Texas-Dallas. I was so impressed with their efforts to build communities in the Southern sector. One of the challenges that many face in trying to create positive impact is becoming aware of what is really needed in a community. We assume that there is very little that can be done, or there is nothing we can do. Quite often, we believe communities that struggle with issues such as poverty, crime, and other challenges do not have assets available for change, and this is not true. Recently, I shared with students the phenomenal approach of ABCD or Asset Based Community Development.
Find talent within the community
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is based on the work of John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann of Northwestern University. McKnight and Jody Kretzmann examined that every community has assets. There is often a consistent focus on deficits (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003) or lack in a community which negates its resources, work and individuals that exist. Asset Based Community Development reiterates that every community has 5 areas:
• Physical Space
• Local Economy
Every community has talent in individuals, as well as organizations, businesses, land, and other opportunities that are often overlooked. This approach focuses on the strengths of a community instead of allowing lack and need to dominate the conversation. When we are aware of what is available, we can begin to collaborate, create strategies, and think differently about the way we approach our communities.
Build relationships and social capital
The key to ABCD is relationships. Relationships serve as the glue in community. All of these categories are important to note as most of these entities are connected in communities because of relationships. For instance, we are aware of a local business because someone we know shared it with us, or we had a personal interaction with someone at the business that made us either want to return or find another place to shop. ABCD and social capital are interconnected. Social capital is defined as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Social capital, simply put, is about connections, our associations and networks. Our relationships are an asset.
Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone (2000), recognized that Americans are overwhelmed by their professional and personal responsibilities, which have kept many of us from connecting. He elaborated that the challenge America faces is a lack of relationship building. Putnam analyzed nearly 500,000 interviews with individuals to determine why social capital has been on the decline in this country. Social capital allows individuals to build relationships and gain access to information and resources, thus keeping people engaged and connected. Putnam built on the theories of some of his predecessors to demonstrate that social capital is vital for societal sustainability.
Social capital can also be “associated with good health, good educational outcomes, lower crime, a stronger community” (Onyx et al., 2007, p. 4).
Take inventory, grow partnerships
So why is all of this important? In order to know what’s needed in our communities, it’s important to map what’s already there. It’s important to listen and recognize the assets that already exist. In order to make the difference that we seek, we have to be willing to have the necessary conversations that will allow us a better understanding and to become better partners. We can change our communities through our relationships—one at a time!
Daily, this is what I do. I find myself listening, learning, collaborating, building relationships and convening so that I can learn how to support, sustain, and share as needed. This takes time and effort but we at the State Fair of Texas are committed to this process.
I encourage you to learn more about ABCD and the assets that exist in your community. I hope that you also will take the time to learn more about what’s going on in your local area. There is so much to do and so many opportunities to use our networks, relationships, gifts, and talents to make a difference! In my next post, I will share an opportunity for you to connect with us to help a local South Dallas nonprofit that’s doing great work in the community!
Honored to Serve,
Froswa’ Booker-Drew, PhD