Module 2: Fundamentals of Asset-Based Community Development

The ABCD approach “is at the center of a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development.” By “[b]uilding on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.”(1) Thus, the approach, in essence, claims to sponsor a shift from the social service model, which is in-line with traditional notions of patronage and charity, to a community-building model, in which productive interaction and capacity-building exercises spawn a sense of ownership and secure sustainability. The visual representation below articulates what this shift entails.(2)

Social Service Model

Community building Model

Focus on NEEDS

Focus on ASSETS

Responds to PROBLEMS


CHARITY Orientation

INVESTMENT Orientation

Emphasis on AGENCIES






Power comes from CREDENTIALS

Power comes from RELATIONSHIPS

PROGRAMS are the answer

PEOPLE are the answer

People are CLIENTS

People are CITIZENS

For a more in-depth discussion of the differences between these two models, please watch Segment 13 (from minute-marker 0:00 to minute-marker 9:03) of Kretzmann and McKnight’s video training program: Mobilizing Community Assets, based on their book Building Communities from the Inside Out. These segments can be found here (scroll down on this “Resources” page of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute to the section with the video segments). If you do not have the necessary media application to play this video, please take the time to briefly download it (a notification should pop up when you try to open the segment … follow the suggested steps to download the recommended device compatible with your computer).

One of the most foundational pillars of ABCD is the participation of community members in the re-creation of a better reality. Willing commitment to participation and investment, consequently, sponsor the potential for long-term ownership and perpetuation of progress.

“Sustainable solutions must understand the process of personal empowerment and social transformation in order for local ownership to take hold. Communities need to actively participate in the planning, execution, and maintenance of any development solutions that affect them. Since interior growth takes time and is difficult to achieve, any effective development intervention will integrate the perspectives it confronts and translate key messages in terms that can be understood and valued by the community. This allows the community to engage the work in ways that conform to local traditions and ways of thinking.”(3)

So what are the tools of ABCD and how are they put into practice to achieve an “effective development intervention”? Before answering this question, let us define sustainability.

Go To Module 3: Sustainability >>


(1) “Welcome to ABCD.” The Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

(2) Kretzmann, John P. Class Lecture. “The ABCD Approach & Temporary Volunteer Projects.” Northwestern University, Chicago, IL. June 2009.

(3) “Our Approach.” Foundation for Sustainable Development.