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  Community-based Strategies – Asset Building

A positive approach to a problem is more likely to yield positive results.

The asset approach is based on the belief that communities have skills, networks, resources and energy that can be used to tackle local problems and improve the community’s quality of life. In turn, it strengthens the effectiveness of people and organizations working to find solutions to problems within the community.

The Asset-Based Community Development Institute, established in 1995 at Northwestern University, focuses on developing community assets rather than concentrating on its deficits.

There are five steps in developing community assets.

  1. Mapping the capacities and assets of individuals, citizens’ associations and local institutions.

  2. Building relationships among local assets for mutually beneficial problem-solving.

  3. Mobilizing the community’s assets for economic development and information sharing.

  4. Convening a broadly representative group to build a community vision and plan.

  5. Leveraging activities, investments and resources outside the community to support asset-based, locally-defined development.

Asset Building Links

Here are some interesting links we've found on asset building. They are organized into the following categories:

Overview of the asset-based community development philosophy

New Asset and Income Policies to Assist Low-income Adults - This paper from TD Economics makes recommendations for how Ontario should respond to a near-term opportunity to harmonize Ontario social assistance policies in anticipation of the roll out of federal Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in 2009. With the introduction of the TFSA, the provinces and territories will now have an earmarked registered tax account where low income Canadians could build savings to support themselves in times of economic disruption. Download the paper here. [Source: CSRL-News]

Comprehensive Community Revitalization: Strategies for Asset Building - Historically, efforts to revitalize communities have operated from a deficit perspective, which means that they begin by defining the deficiencies and needs of the neighborhood. Instead, asset-building looks at what currently works and is valuable within a neighborhood. This approach believes that the "glass is half full," as well as that even in the poorest of neighborhoods there exists a pool of assets (skills, resources, businesses and institutions) that can be better linked and maximized to create a more effective local economy. Read more on this subject here.

Asset Building.org - The New America Foundation launched AssetBuilding.org in January 2004 for use by policymakers, the media, academic researchers, civic and community organizations, philanthropic foundations, and others who need up-to-date, in-depth analysis of asset ownership in the U.S. and abroad. The site includes the rationale, theory and evidence for asset-based policies, provides links to the key research and policy centres in the assets field, and catalogues key articles, books and commissions on asset-based policy. AssetBuilding.org is one component of New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program.

Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) - CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development) works with communities to help them envision, define and build their own economic strategies. Many of their publications are directly related to asset building and several are available free of charge. They are divided into the following categories:

The Focus section takes a detailed look at promising ideas such as: Expanding Individual Assets, Promoting Entrepreneurship and Improving Capital Markets. A comprehensive Glossary provides an introduction to asset building terminology.

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Additional resources on asset building and community development

Bank On: Securing Bank Accounts - The Pew Charitable Trusts' Safe Banking Opportunities Project is partnering with State and city officials to help low- and moderate-income households secure bank accounts. The new programs, called "Bank On" initiatives, connect the "unbanked" - households without bank accounts - to appropriate accounts that help lower their financial transaction costs and put them on the path to building savings and assets. Learn more here. [Source: HandsNet WebClipper]

Children's Savings Accounts: Why Design Matters - Many elected officials in the US and the UK have expressed heightened interest in fostering an ownership society. Endowing all children with savings accounts, perhaps even starting at birth, is one way of trying to achieve that goal. This Urban Institute report shows that specific design features of a children's savings account program will impact the distribution of wealth. Learn more here. [Source: Urban Institute]

Wealth, Low-Wage Work and Welfare – This report from SEDI argues that welfare policy is caught in a trap of its own making that strips applicants of the same productive assets they will need to leave and stay off welfare later on. The report suggests that serious review of the unintended consequences of asset limits within provincial income support policy is needed. Download the full report here. [Source: SEDI]

Community-Wealth.org - Community-Wealth.org brings together information about a broad range of community wealth strategies, policies, models and innovations. A few of the helpful resources located on this site include:

  • Community-Wealth Access Panel - The Access Panel allows the user to easily find the overview, supporting organizations, models, research and articles relating to each of the main community wealth building sectors featured on their site.
  • Directory of Community Builders - The Directory lists organizations that supply training, funding, technical assistance and other resources to community wealth builders.
  • Articles & Publications - This section offers a list of articles and publications arranged by community wealth sector. Within each sector, listings are arranged into four categories: Articles, Books, Papers and Reports.

Ford foundation - Asset Building & Community Development - The Asset Building and Community Development program helps strengthen and increase the effectiveness of people and organizations working to find solutions to problems of poverty and injustice. The Asset Building and Community Development Program is divided into two parts: Economic Development and Community and Resource Development. Available are recent grant outlines, related readings and press releases that describe, in more detail, the Ford Foundation’s work in these two areas of development.

The Asset-Based Community Development Institute - This website provides a list of resources and tools about capacity building community development. The Basic Manual includes Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets by John Kretzmann and John McKnight.

Institute on Assets and Social Policy - The Institute works to strengthen the leadership of policy makers, practitioners and others by linking the intellectual and program components of asset building policies. This site contains a wealth of resources related to asset building.

Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet): Pan-Canadian Community Development Learning Network - As part of their learning network, the CCEDNet composed a comprehensive survey to solicit information and case studies from organizations and projects across Canada. View the report based on the results of the survey here.

Asset-based, Resident-led Neighbourhood Development - This paper presents insights derived from Action for Neighbourhood Change’s (ANC) first 14 months of operation. It highlights the asset-based, resident-led approach pursued on the ground in the five participating neighbourhoods. It also considers the roles that government and voluntary sector partners at the national level can play in support of such initiatives. Download this paper here. [Source: Caledon Institute of Social Policy]

Building Assets Through Housing - In dozens of cities across Canada, the last few years have seen middle-class homeowners spellbound by the dizzying spectre of escalating prices for homes in their neighbourhoods. Today, some homeowners find themselves sitting on, or in, substantial wealth – seemingly far beyond the amount they could have accumulated by saving a few dollars every month. This paper investigates whether home ownership is a reasonable financial strategy for low-income Canadians to increase their savings; describes current initiatives to assist low-income Canadians to own a home; and assesses the extent to which these initiatives are effective in helping low-income Canadians increase their savings. Download the paper here. [Source: Caledon Institute of Social Policy]

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Examples and case studies of communities engaged in asset-based community development

Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet): Pan-Canadian Community Development Learning Network - As part of their learning network, the CCEDNet solicited case studies that profiled innovative organizations and projects from across Canada. There are 18 wonderful stories on this website that highlight successful Canadian asset building initiatives.

PEW - Inventing Civic Solutions: A how-to guide on launching and sustaining successful community programs - The article, Inventing Civic Solutions, contains the case studies of eight different civic problems, ranging from accessible transportation to rural leadership development and thriving business districts. Three of these stories, in particular, illustrate community asset building initiatives:

Ford Foundation: Building Assets to Reduce Poverty and Injustice - The Ford Foundation promotes an asset-based approach to poverty reduction and sustainable development. The following publication describes international and North American case studies of asset-based development. Read more here.

Community Building Resources (CBR) - Aim High - CBR is an Edmonton, Alberta-based community development organization, which offers workshops, newsletters and consultation on capacity-building, asset mapping and collaboration. The Community Building Resources Group conducted a pilot project in 1994, which led to the development of a model for Community Capacity Building and Asset Mapping©. This model involves discovering the assets and capacities of a community, designing an asset map that graphically shows the supports and their connections, developing a resource for community supports, connecting and animating citizens, and nurturing relationship building. See the model here.

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Micro-credit and other financial asset-based community development strategies

Building Inclusive Financial Sectors - Almost half the world’s people are without access to basic financial services. In Canada, individuals, financial institutions, governments and not-for-profits are working together to help build more inclusive financial sectors at home and around the world. Visit the website here.

Social Research and Demonstration Corporation – SRDC publishes a quarterly newsletter entitled Learning What Works with articles that feature community development endeavors, asset building community projects and strategies for poverty reduction. Electronic versions of the newsletters are accessible here.

The Aspen Institute

MicroFinance Network - The MicroFinance Network is a global association of leading microfinance institutions committed to improving the quality of life of the poor through the provision of credit, savings and other financial services. The Network’s publications include papers, technical guides and a newsletter. On this site, you will also find links to all of the Network’s members.

Asset-Based Social Policies – A "New Idea" Whose Time Has Come? - Asset building programs invite low-income citizens to participate in forced savings plans by matching their contributions with funds from financial institutions. These programs have enjoyed wide popularity in Canada, the US and the UK over the past few years. Senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, Andrew Jackson, questions the significance and long-term benefit of these programs and their possible influence on the development of social policy in Canada.

The Urban Institute - Opportunity and Ownership Project - The Urban Institute's (UI) Opportunity and Ownership Project held five roundtables in 2004 to lay a research foundation. A series of policy briefs present their findings, analyses and recommendations.

The Rise of Fringe Financial Services in Winnipeg’s North End: Client Experiences, Firm Legitimacy and Community-based Alternatives - Winnipeg Inner-City Research Alliance (WIRA) released a report on financial services in the City's north end. With traditional bank branches moving out of low-income neighbourhoods, fringe banking services like payday loan, rent-to-own and pawnshops are fast becoming the “banking” service of choice. With easy terms, extended hours of operation and locations throughout Winnipeg’s poorest neighbourhoods, fringe-banking services are flourishing despite painfully high interest rates. You can download the report from WIRA's website here.

Learn$ave: Helping people save money - Learn$ave is a research and demonstration project that provides matching grants to individuals to save for education and training. This report on the initiative was written after enrolment in the project had been completed, and presents a detailed description of the Learn$ave design and evaluation strategy. Access the report here. For more on Learn$ave, click here.

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The five steps for developing community assets

The steps listed below are followed by websites that can help you find your way through the process.

Step 1: Mapping the capacities and assets of individuals, citizens’ associations and local institutions:

Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCDI) - Mapping Tools - The ABCDI is directed by two of the leading Asset-Based Community Development scholars, John McKnight and John Kretzmann. The Institute has published the following mapping resources online:

Policy Link: Online Community Mapping Tool - Community mapping is one of many tools in the PolicyLink Equitable Development Toolkit. The toolkit contains a wide variety of tools, addressing the needs of impoverished communities. as well as those experiencing gentrification and displacement of community members. It presents policy options to build and sustain healthy and inclusive neighborhoods. The tools are applicable to affordable housing, land use, project financing, and income and asset building. Each tool is crafted to be accessible and useful both to new organizations and to groups with advanced knowledge and expertise.

Connecticut Assets Network - See the Connecticut Assets Network website for a wide range of resources and tools here.

Step 2: Building relationships among local assets for mutually beneficial problem-solving within the community:

Asset-Based Community Development Institute - Hidden Treasures, Building Community Connections by Engaging the Gifts of people on welfare, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, older adults and young people.

The stories in this publication tell of communities that have found powerful ways to include the individual gifts of members who have been labeled, e.g. “old”, “poor”, “mentally ill”, “disabled”, “young thugs”. They tell of communities that have inventoried their associations and found ways in which formerly isolated people can participate and become connected citizens. And finally, these stories tell of those extraordinary people who know everyone—Connectors.

Step 3: Mobilizing the community’s assets for economic development and information sharing purposes:

Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCDI) - Discovering Community Power, A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and your Organization’s Capacity

This document will help organizations:

  • Strengthen their own organization by enhancing connections with the community's assets
  • Strengthen the community by investing in the community's assets
  • Strengthen current and future community based projects, activities and proposals

Step 4: Convening as broadly representative a group as possible for the purposes of building a community vision and plan:

Asset-Based Community Development Institute - Hidden Treasures, Building Community Connections by Engaging the Gifts of: People on welfare, People with disabilities, people with mental illness, Older adults, Young people.
The stories in this publication tell of communities that have found powerful ways to include the individual gifts of members who have been labeled and isolated and how they have found ways, together, to build a common vision.

Step 5: Leveraging activities, investments and resources from outside the community to support asset-based, locally defined development:

Aspen - Access to Capital and Credit - The Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program runs this project, focused on researching efforts aimed at helping low-income individuals and communities gain access to mainstream financial services. These services include financial education and support, high-return savings products, investment opportunities, and the purchase and maintenance of assets.

Caledon - Individual Development Accounts - The Individual Development Account (IDA) is an important tool for combating poverty. It enables people with low incomes to accumulate a substantial financial asset. This paper outlines an IDA pilot project conducted by Opportunities 2000, a project of the Lutherwood Community Opportunites Development Association. It presents the lessons learned about the design and implementation of the program, including recruiting participants, supporting their involvement in the project, and the delivery of money management training.

Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) - Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are matched savings accounts that enable low-income American families to save, build assets and enter the financial mainstream. This site contains a wealth of information relating to IDAs including FAQs, IDA directory, resource library, program design resources and more.

Learn$ave - Design and Implementation - Learn$ave is a research and demonstration project that provides matching grants to individuals who want to save for education and training. This report on the Initiative was written after enrolment in the project had been completed, and presents a detailed description of the Learn$ave Design and Evaluation Strategy. Access the report here. For more on Learn$ave, click here.

Making Waves: Enterprising Women - The Individual Development Account (IDA) is a straightforward way to get poor people to experience the trials and benefits of saving. The idea behind Vancouver's Enterprising Women Asset Development project is to reinforce an IDA program with a more comprehensive and self-directed understanding of assets, so women learn to build a sustainable livelihood.

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Do you know of any valuable links or resources that you'd like to see on this page? If you do, please email us at tamarack@tamarackcommunity.ca.

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