Often when people ask me to simply explain the concepts of Asset Based Community Development, what they really mean is, “What can I do that will satisfy my desire to help people and places that are in need.” While I very much relate to the desire to be a helper and to alleviate suffering, the very idea of engaging with people solely based on their needs is not Asset Based.
Asset Based Community Development says that the people of any particular place have inestimable value. It says that even in places notorious for violence, prostitution, drugs, hunger and homelessness there are people who are full of possibility, talent, wild dreams and aspirations and love. What makes ABCD different than the traditional approach to community transformation is that it demands that we learn about the assets of the place with patience and commitment. We cannot know what assets are present until we take the time to find out. We cannot find out with out building relationships with people, letting them into our lives and asking them to invite us into theirs. Relationships are messy and uncomfortable at times, and the more cultural differences present in a relationship, the longer it will take for trust and mutual respect to be built.
Can we endure the seeming insanity of doing “nothing”? Do we have what it takes to just be present with people for a time in order to learn about their lives? It takes bold and courageous leadership to sit and be still and not jump to the most “obvious” program to start. Houses need to be fixed. Kids need to be tutored. People need to be fed. But more importantly, people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and not be turned into a category on our spreadsheets. The ministry of faithful presence - just being with people in a specific place - is the only way to understand how to uncover and empower assets. Opening up the lines of communication for the sake of knowing - actually knowing- each other will prove more helpful in meeting needs than you could possibly imagine.
Our culture of service is cloaked in good intentions of meeting people’s needs but we have inadvertently turned needy people into projects and justified it by convincing ourselves they need us. Meeting people's needs has become a distraction to the transformative power of loving people well. Will you join me in being an ambassador of dignity? Will you speak up for the places and people in our cities that deserve to get their fair share of good press for a change? Will you boldly put down your spreadsheets and program agendas and look up to engage with the incredible people that inhabit the neighborhoods of our cities?