Building on People’s Assets

(November 2014)

We believe people have skills, access to resources and social connections that they can or do already use. Building on those assets is empowering and allows people to see themselves as capable of creating change.

In late August, community development trainer Francis Njoroge spent a week at the Seed of Hope Centre in Bhekulwandle, South Africa. His message of Church and Community Mobilization resonated with the 20 or more SOH staff and local church representatives who attended the 5-day workshop.

Francis shared his passion and a process, honed over 30 years of work across the African continent, which helps churches work with their communities to awaken and begin moving together toward a brighter future.

For years our organization has been growing in an approach known as Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). The premise of ABCD is that rather than starting from need (“what do you lack?”), development begins with a recognition and appreciation of available resources (“what do you have?”).

We like this, firstly, because is a very practical approach, because it assumes that people have skills, access to resources and social connections that they can or do already use. Building on those assets is empowering and allows people to see themselves as capable of creating change. It also recognizes that often poverty results from failing to recognize, or the misuse of resources. When people see themselves as holding resources that have potential to increase and improve their lives, they take decisions for themselves and find ways to improve their situation.

It’s the opposite of the more common approach to work among the economically poor, which begins with recognition by the outsider of areas of need, and efforts to provide what is lacking for (or sometimes “with”) people. While thinking of needs and matching outside resources to them feels practical and expedient for outsiders looking for projects, it has the unintended consequence of weakening self-reliance and undermining self-confidence.

The second reason we’re fans of this approach is because it is biblical and recognizes the biblical mandate to be stewards of creation and the gifts entrusted us by God. It’s empowering for people to go through a process that helps them grow into an identity as people made in God’s image and holding the potential to create, transform and protect their lives, family, community and world.  Many forms of poverty are attributable to a broken sense of our real identity. Alleviating poverty without addressing worldview and identity leaves people vulnerable to replacing material poverty with a materialistic brokenness.

“The greatest cancer in Africa is a thing called dependency. It is the job of those of us who are here for the long term to deal with this cancer.”    ~ Francis Njoroge

For 11 years, Seed of Hope South Africa has helped bring that awakening to individuals – children, farmers, HIV-sufferers, unemployed mothers, youth in school classrooms. We are now embarking on an even broader vision for the years ahead – joining with passionate local churches to awaken the community, and banish the cancer of dependency from Bhekulwandle.