Conscious Community Building

A strategy designed by keeping the community in mind during the design process, it is called “conscious community-building. “ It is about developing, building, and fostering that “sense of community” around a brand.

Source: The Poverty Paradox: Why Most Poverty Programs Fail And How To Fix Them 

As an entrepreneur, community builder, investor, and venture builder, I do always debate if decisions or actions are “good for the community”? Are they beneficial? Do they have positive or negative impacts on the whole?

We don’t need to extract value from a community – if we build a “conscious” one, it automatically gives back to the community-builder, connector, and to itself. A well-led community fosters self-sustaining ecosystems, an organic system that is guided vs. controlled.

That’s why when I came across ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development), I felt this was the exact and authentic language of conscious community building. It focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs.

I see ABCD as an optimistic approach to community-building and empowerment. We need to look at for-profit ventures which use the assets and strengths of the community. E.g., Go-Jek, a super app, and a marketplace utilize 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 based on four foundations (Kretzmann, 2010; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; Mathie & Cunningham, 2003): 

  1. Focus on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs
  2. Identify and mobilize individual and community assets, skills and passions
  3. Community-driven – ‘building communities from the inside out’ (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993)
  4. Relationship-driven

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. It is good to know, but we miss out on a critical piece – that even distressed communities also have some strengths and competencies, and we sometimes 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 of the community’s strengths.

I compare this to Strength Finder 2.O – can’t we build solutions and empower these communities by finding their strengths? Yes, I am damn confident we can. We should be exposed to their competencies, and help them work on it. The companies, startups, and not-for-profits are using Strength Finder 2.O inside their 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 community. Relationships within the community thus start to deteriorate.” 

So, how we should understand the community strengths, we can 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?

Or we can ask these following questions:

  • 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 robust?

So, what are these assets?

  1. Skills and Competencies of the individuals of the community
  2. Infrastructure available – physical and social fabric
  3. stories, culture, and heritage of the community
  4. Local Economy – include the informal Economy (e.g., people are swapping goods and services, voluntary work) as well as the traditional Economy (e.g., production, consumption).
  5. Existing govt., not-for-profit, business, and religious initiatives

It’s important to value these assets, and if we do that, then we automatically value the following things: 

  1. Local knowledge 
  2. Local culture 
  3. Local resources 
  4. Local skills 
  5. Local processes

“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 essential part of ABCD and asset mapping (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003)”

I think it’s vital that development agencies, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and SDG inclined individuals should make a note of this. We need to stop seeing “half-glass empty” and start having a more optimistic take on this – as “half glass full.” 

The 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 help them move out of this vicious cycle.

I will highly recommend every entrepreneur, social enterprise, philanthropists, community builder, and ecosystem builder, to watch this TEDx Talk by Cormac Russel on “Sustainable community development: from what’s wrong to what’s strong.” 

To know more about ABCD framework and how it works, follow the links

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5xR4QB1ADw
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=nMpNsj8-f-w
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPsb4sU0ewY 
  4. https://coady.stfx.ca/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/ABCDEthiopiaFinalEvaluation.pdf
  5. https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/publications/Documents/GreenBookIntro.pdf
  6. https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/abcd-reading-list/
  7. https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/resources/Pages/training-videos-podcasts.aspx

I challenge you to look at problems in healthcare, education, agriculture and solve it using the marketplace, fin-tech, or logistic-tech approach by keeping the community at the center of solution design. 

If you are one of them, please do mail me at sagar@moonshotventures.org

Let’s together change the problem statement from how can we eradicate poverty to how can we create prosperity.

Signing off with love

Humane Male 

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