What is asset-based community development?

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Sustainable development within communities is traditionally approached by focusing on community problems and needs and trying to find solutions. Asset-based community development, however, takes a different approach. Instead, the focus is on the unrecognized forces and assets available to the community and their efficient use to mobilize and strengthen it. The objective is to bring together associations, individuals and institutions in an effort to collectively build their heritage. Through these efforts, the community is in a better position to recognize and respond to economic opportunities.

As a first step, considerable effort is made to identify assets within the community. This happens at the individual level, association level and institutional level independently and involves a painstaking process. Once assets are properly identified, they are aligned with the individuals and organizations that have an interest in or need them. Rather than focusing on community needs, asset-based community development starts with assets and resources already available, marking a major shift from traditional wellness-based approaches.

Emphasis is based on local associations in which the community is galvanized. These associations and positions are the driving force in asset-based community development. By tracking all community assets, they provide the interconnections between all participants who own assets or need assets, but through a process that multiplies the effectiveness of assets. Leaders in asset-based community development take a direct approach, allowing associations to play the role, thus creating an environment where development is community driven. Therefore, the fundamental principles of the approach are rooted in participatory development where active participation creates empowerment, rather than disempowerment.

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Five core assets are generally identified in asset-based community development. Identifiable assets include individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets and social connections. Community residents have skills, gifts and assets that are put to use, while associations provide a platform for people with common interests. Institutions such as businesses, governments and schools provide valuable resources and are leveraged to help identify and capitalize on resources . Physical assets such as property, space and capital are identified, while connections are strongly encouraged through socialization within the community, usually through local associations.

Social capital is a strong focal point in asset-based community development. With the aim of increasing the production potential of the community, emphasis is placed on establishing networks and rules, thus creating trust. With the construction of these networks, an environment of goodwill and obligation is created, leading the community to collective actions. Thus, asset-based community development is often thought of as the practical application of social capital.

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