Asset Based Community Development Global Festival

ABCD blog. John McKnight

This past week I joined almost 200 community builders from 21 countries on 6 continents in Blackpool, England for a first-ever global gathering of practitioners of Asset-Based Community Development. It was great to be with John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, the men who developed and have taught this approach to community building for the past few decades, and to see how this work has spread.

The core idea of Asset-Based Community Development is that rather than begin by defining people and communities by their deficits and trying to fix them, you find their assets and engage their talents, passions, and leadership. It is a place-based strategy that recognizes that people don’t always need programs and institutions and often can achieve more working with neighbors and families. The three key questions of ABCD are what can residents best do by themselves, what do they need some help from organizations to do, and what do organizations do best? Too often organizations do work for communities and to communities without doing it with communities.

ABCD blog.Serving Dinner

We stayed in cottages at a holiday camp. My roommates were from New Zealand, England, and Syria. Every cottage hosted a dinner one night for guests from another cottage assigned to us and then visited an assigned cottage another night for dinner. Each cottage had two boxes of food and some meat and dairy in the refrigerators. I wasn’t sure I liked this idea, but we had a wonderful dinner and conversation at the cottage of three South African colleagues one night, and cooked for a cottage of three other South Africans the next. While I was hesitant at first, the cooking and hosting were great activities with strangers.

The festival included some plenary sessions and break outs. The break outs were a bit open sourced. I led sessions on Leadership and Asset-Based Community Development and Collective Impact. It was great interacting with people in the UK, Brazil, Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia in these sessions.

I am still processing lessons, but the biggest one is how much community driven and led change is spreading around the world. Following are some of the leaders and resources that most impressed:

John McKnight, the Yoda of community building, opened our gathering with a keynote on “What I Have Learned So Far. Watch it here.

Cormac Russell, who hosted us and leads the ABCD network in Europe, has a great blog, Nurture Development, and just wrote a short book, Looking Back to Look Forward, on the history of ABCD. His talk, Looking Inside Out: Our Way is the Community Way’ is available here.

Peter Kenyon from The Bank of Ideas in Australia presented on Rural Development around the World, through the lens of ABCD.

The Coady Institute in Nova Scotia, Canada shared their work supporting community building leaders in developing countries around the world. There is much to learn from them.

Asset-Based Community Development has really taken off in South Africa, and one of the featured groups (and my dinner guests) was The Ikhala Trust in Port Elizabeth.