Low-income communities have assets
From an article by Faith and Leadership
Most people and institutions that want to serve poor communities are focused on what the residents lack. “What are the needs?” is often the first question asked.
John McKnight, co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and professor emeritus at Northwestern University says that approach has it backward. “I knew from being a neighbourhood organizer that you could never change people or neighbourhoods with the basic proposition that what we need to do is fix them. What made for change was communities that believed they had capacities, skills, abilities and could create power when they came together in a community.”
Our most common metaphor for asset-based community development is a glass with water up to the middle. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? In our time, particularly in terms of cities and lower-income people, the institutions - including almost all the churches - look at those neighbourhoods and they focus on the empty half of the glass.
They call the empty half “needs”. These people are needy, or they’re needy neighbourhoods, right? That is the beginning point of almost all responses by institutions to lower-income and minority neighbourhoods.
You have to start with the belief that the people here have capacities and abilities and that if they come together in a community organization, they can be powerful. I’ve never seen a low-income neighbourhood that really changed because they finally got enough health, human service, religious or government agencies fixing them. That doesn’t work. It may make life more tolerable for individuals, but it doesn’t change communities.
Asset-based community development is a phrase for the resources that exist in communities where people don’t seem to have a lot of money. What we were doing was identifying the resources that are there, and we called those resources “assets”, so that we could say, “If you want to know what is in a neighbourhood - not what’s wrong, not what are the problems, not what are the needs, but what are the problem-solving resources in a neighbourhood - those are assets.”
Institutions can be helpful, but always in the second stage of a community’s life. The first stage has to be, “What do we have, and what can we do with it?” The second stage is, “What can outside institutions do in addition to what we can do?” But because institutions are so powerful and have so much money, they create a culture of neediness.
Institutions that are helpful provide support or incentives for local people to focus on what resources they have, and that particular neighbourhood has, and how they can be connected, to begin to make the people feel they are producers rather than clients.
What role can churches and church institutions play? You can see churches that are attempting to manifest themselves as neighbours rather than saviours. There are church leaders who understand that the guiding Christian principle is friendship, not service. It’s those people who I think are the light of the world.
If I were saying something to church people, I would say, “Go spend time with people who have friendly churches, who are part of a neighbourhood rather than serving the neighbourhood, who are as enhanced by the relationship with the people and the place as they are part of enhancing that place and people.”
When we look at anything, the question we ask is, of the outcome, “Who’s the producer?” If the institution did it all, you have put another foundation stone in the dependency system. There’s this idea, which really has grown hugely, that somehow if you surround people with enough services, that’s what makes a good life. What makes a good life is being surrounded by friends who are mutually productive with you so that you have greatly diminished the services you need or use.
If you’re a neighbourhood organizer, to get something done, you’ve got to see that people have integrity, productivity, capacities and that if you put them together, if you connect them, that they will multiply in their power to be productive and to deal with outside institutions.
You can’t organize people by saying, “I’m here because you’re a poor, pitiful soul,” right? “God, you’ve had a bad life, and I feel sorry for you. I feel compassion for you.” That would never organize people.
It’s very clear that we have a service economy, right? The majority of our people don’t produce goods; they produce services. If I say to the service provider, “You know, if people were organized at the local level and able to identify and mobilize their own resources, they’d need you half as much,” what do you think people would think about that? That’s the problem - we serve more and care less - service has replaced care, that client-hood has replaced citizenship, that productivity has been greatly diminished by dependency.
Read full article here.
To what extent are you creating dependency? How can you recognise and promote, “What do we have, and what can we do with it?”.
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