And greetings to all of our friends in Grassroots Grantmakers.
Many of you are familiar with the basic tenets of Asset Based Community Development, and are aware that during the last decade these simple but powerful ideas–start community building with resources and strengths rather than needs and deficiencies, and connect the capacities of local residents and voluntary groups with compelling visions for the future–these ideas have been adapted in a wide range of international contexts. The ABCD Institute now works with and learns from colleagues in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
Recent opportunities have taken us to Australia and Ireland, among other intriguing destinations. In Australia, I worked with colleagues Mary Nelson (Bethel New Life, Chicago) and Jim Diers (longtime director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods) to prepare 150 community builders from across all of Australia to form an ABCD–Australia Network. What a rich experience this was! One highlight was the chance to work with state and local governments in the state of Victoria. We were all reminded how powerful government support of and investment in local residents can be. Victoria (Capitol City: Melbourne) is organized through almost 80 local councils, the sites of local government. Urged on by the State, and supported by a very effective non-governmental state-wide coalition, more than 70 have embarked upon highly participatory local planning processes. Most are energized about an asset-focused approach, and are creating exciting futures for urban, rural and small town Victoria.
In Ireland, our work has also been catalyzed by government, in this instance a combination of national and local forces. Sensing a major set of challenges and opportunities created partly by the “Celtic Tiger,” the remarkable economic boom following Ireland’s entry into the European Union, the national government recognized the opportunities to guide the changes which were certain to come to Dublin. So they created the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to oversee the redevelopment of the old docks area into a new, vibrant, mixed-use (residential, commercial, industrial) community. They have succeeded in winning a 20% set-aside in new housing for lower income families, and are committed to including and activating the remaining working-class residents in shaping what the new community might become. We are delighted to work with the Authority to create tools and strategies for including everbody in the task of shaping the future.
There is so much more to be said about both of these efforts, and about other international lessons. This is a wonderfully rich moment for community builders, both domestically and internationally. For me, one of the central reminders of our recent Australian and Irish experiences concerns the powerful potential of public sector/government involvment. I think our recent experience in the U.S. may have led us to forget that possibility. Let’s work to resurrect that set of potential allies.
Best wishes for powerful communities,
Co-Director, Asset Based Community Development Institute