We call it “conscious community-building“ when a strategy is developed by keeping the community in mind during the design process. It is about developing, building and fostering that “sense of community” around a brand.
At Faiā, we are advocates of Community-Centric Design. We do constantly debate if decisions or actions are “good for the community”? Are they beneficial? Do they have positive or negative impacts on the whole?
We actually don’t need to extract value from a community - if we build a “conscious” one, it will automatically give back to the community-builder, connector and/or to themselves. A well-led community fosters self-sustaining ecosystems, an organic system that is guided vs controlled.
That’s why when we came across ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development), we felt this was the exact and true language of conscious community building. The interesting thing about ABCD is that we look at a community and see its potential in terms of strengths and assets - i.e. what they can offer and not what they are deficient in. It focuses on community assets and strengths, rather than problems and needs (although important not to neglect the latter).
We see ABCD as an optimistic approach to community-building and empowerment. In our head - it’s very relatable to how some for-profit ventures, especially marketplaces hat use the assets/strengths of the community (e.g. Go-Jek is a marketplace, which utilizes community assets in the form of Go drivers, their motor-bikes and their competency to drive. Isn’t it amazing? Are those in the social impact space missing out on something?
ABCD is built on four foundations (Kretzmann, 2010; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; Mathie & Cunningham, 2003):
Focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs
Identifies and mobilizes individual and community assets, skills and passions
Community-driven – ‘building communities from the inside out’ (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993)
Strengths vs Needs:
If we compare traditional approaches to community empowerment and building, it always starts with a need analysis and gaps existing in the community. This is good to know but we miss out on a very important piece - that even distressed communities also have some strengths and competencies and we sometimes just overlook it - because we see them as “poor” or someone in need of help. In creating a needs map we focus on the problems in a community, overlooking many community strengths.
Sagar compares this to Strength Finder 2.O - can’t we build solutions and empower these communities by finding their strengths? Yes, he is damn confident we can. We should be exposed to their strengths, and help them work on it. We have been using this now in our companies, startups, and organizations - why not extend this to community-building and development?
"It can be a vicious cycle because as a community is labeled as unsafe, toxic and deficient, residents stop turning to each other for support and can become scared of their own community. Relationships within the community thus start to deteriorate.”
So, to start understanding community strengths, let’s start by asking these questions:
What are the needs of your community?
What needs to change in your community?
What are the barriers to creating change?
What are the strengths and assets of our community?
When was a time you felt our community was at its best?
What do you value most about our community?
What is the essence of our community that makes it unique and strong?
So, what are these assets?
Skills and Competencies of the individuals of the community
Infrastructure available - physical and social fabric
stories, culture, and heritage of the community
Local Economy - include the informal economy (e.g., people swapping goods and services, voluntary work) as well as the traditional economy (e.g. production, consumption).
Existing govt., not-for-profit, business, and religious initiatives
It’s important to value these assets. If we do that we can automatically find value in the following:
It’s very important to note community development is based on 2 important pillars, which are a sense of community and relationships:
"Not only are the relationships and social networks that exist within communities assets in their own right, but building relationships between ‘assets’ within the community is an important part of ABCD and asset mapping (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003)"
We think it’s really important that development agencies, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and SDG inclined individuals note this. We need to stop seeing “half-glass empty” and start having a more optimistic take on this - as “half-full glass”.
We see marketplaces like Go-Jek/ Tokopedia have already started taking the actions - we need to extend this to every possible social and commercial initiative that we build for the community. If we do this consciously for the community (i.e. help them better use their strengths, competencies, and assets) we will help them move out of this vicious cycle.
We highly recommend every entrepreneur, social enterprise, philanthropist, community builder, or ecosystem builder, to watch this TEDx Talk by Cormac Russel on "Sustainable community development: from what's wrong to what's strong”.
To learn more about the ABCD framework and how it works, follow the links below:
If you are an ecosystem or builder or running a tech venture, we would love to hear from you. Please drop by our website or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.