AQF Views & Voices: Policy & Practice

Introducing the 5 Principles of Asset Based Community Development

Ethan David Lee

In September, the Al Qasimi Foundation will conduct a series of online Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) workshops with Cormac Russell from Nurture Development. ABCD is a community-driven approach to development that prioritizes sustainable action. It is built on the premise that communities are better equipped to drive their own development as they can identify and mobilize assets that those outside the community would be unaware of or unable to tap into. Through ABCD, communities can respond to challenges faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.

Originally designed in the 1990s to support community development amongst low-income, inner-city communities in the United States, ABCD has had a resurgence in recent years due to its recognition as a potential way to address budget shortfalls and the widening gap in health inequalities, especially in the United Kingdom. However, ABCD has a place in any community, regardless of culture, country, or sector because the key principles of ABCD are easily transferable to any situation.

In their original paper, John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann indicated that a community-focused approach brings two critical advantages. First, that significant community development only takes place when local people are dedicated to the effort and, second, that large-scale assets are unlikely to be freely available in the community. With these advantages in mind, here are the five major principles of Asset Based Community Development.

1. Every individual has something to give a community

Whether it is a skill, a passion, a physical resource, education, or anything else, everyone has an asset they can give. ABCD focuses on the assets available within the community, rather than on solutions to problems. It is through these assets that a community can claim ownership of their own development.

2. Communities know themselves best

The sustainable development of ABCD relies on local leadership. Not only do local individuals know what assets are available and where, but they are trusted by their communities. An external party coming in and imposing a development process does not understand the nuances of a community; they are often out of touch and will come up against resistance. It is citizen-led development and community self-empowerment that will have a long-term effect.

3. Relationships drive community development

The whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. When a community works together, they become stronger together. A community developers’ job, therefore, should be to seek out the members of the community who can drive and inspire others, bridge gaps, and forge strong bonds between different people and sub-communities. Relationship-building is an asset that ABCD depends on.

4. Questions lead to solutions

The goal of the community developer should be to help the local community explore their own potential. Communities need to be able to decide their own path. Rather than coming in with answers to the community’s problems, community developers are best placed to use their expertise to ask questions and allow the local community to discover solutions through their answers.

5. Support should come from inside the community first

The first ideas, the first steps, the first resources should always come from inside the community. No individual or community can achieve their full potential in isolation. However, when a community developer brings in external assets too soon in the community development process, they can kill community-led initiatives and ultimately damage the community they are trying to serve. Outside support should only play a supporting role to local initiatives.

The Al Qasimi Foundation has long believed in the principles of Asset Based Community Development, often collaborating with local partners in the community to bring specific and necessary change. In 2019, for example, the Foundation formed a total of 66 partnerships and collaborations. Through our Community Impact Grants, we also support the work of local entities to address needs in our community. Applications for the 2020 grant are currently open and are due by September 30. Find out more the grant and apply now by visiting our website.