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The Anatomy of an Asset Based Community Builder. What is an Asset Based Community Builder? An Asset Based Community Builder is someone who is focused on engaging the skills, knowledge and talents of every community member, as well as the institutional, associational, physical, economic and cultural resources that are part of every community to a greater or lesser extent. They are very comfortable both encouraging and gently (sometimes firmly) challenging community leaders and professionals to keep reaching out to bring in the assets and energies of people, and resources who/that are often left out. The Community Builder’s main concern is how to empower a wider, equal partnership between residents and the clubs, groups and social networks of their community and the institutions that serve them. They are community weavers, intent on weaving the community together relationship by relationship, asset by asset. An Asset Based Community Builder knows that durable leadership, connection, participation, and action grow from a community of people who care about each and their relationships. Community Builders do not measure themselves by what they have done for or on behalf of local people or the causes they represent, that is a different model for effecting change. Nor do they count their victories by battles won, they are interested in creation not demonstration, in progress not protest, though they understand that at times peaceful assertion is an important part of civic life, but they also understand that this is not their role, this falls to another kind of practitioners working to a different theory of change. They understand that most communities are places overflowing with assets, and that their job is to issue an invitation to citizens to enter into conversations that matter, with each other. These conversations matter because they deepen relationships and lead to actionable change.

What is a Community Builder, Cormac Russell, Nurture Development. August 2011.


Nurture Development, Email Qualities

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Relationship builder- natural easy going connector- before an interview for a job as a Community Builder, the person you’ll want to rate highly will be the one who will remember the person at reception, and may even know them by name, more than likely the receptionists will remember them also. Peace builder- they are not invested in a conflict or control model of change, they believe in building change from inside out, and see power not as a finite resource but an infinite resource that grows the more people you bring into relationship to build community. Not the leader- but an excellent motivator, they understand how to motivate people to act on their own terms, and from their own personal agency. They are not controlling or domineering. Theirs is a quiet confidence. Teacher- they are comfortable teaching practical community building skills, have a good presentation style, and have a convincing public voice, without being loud or brash. Theirs is a quiet confidence; they are always ready to give up their place to a citizen voice since they know the citizen voice matters most. They will never attend a meeting or speak on behalf of the community; they always attend meetings and events with citizens and promote citizen voice. Critical thinker-they are not mindlessly positive, they understand that life is not always fair and that people are not always as they seem and they factor that in to how they support people to work to their respective strengths. That said they will never stop encouraging people to seek out the assets and resources in communities, so that citizens can see them (assets) in themselves, their neighbours and the place they call home. They are focused self-starters while always holding themselves to account, and accountable to the community. They are organised and systematic in their approach to work, but this is balanced with huge creativity and flexibility. They are collaborative but also discerning, and do not try to impose collaboration on those who are not ready. They can be challenging and supportive, they are powerful communicators who value listening above all else, and see themselves as the bringers of ‘questions’ not ‘answers’. They activity work to build agency and understand deeply how dependency builds up, they will never do for another, what that person can do for themselves. Reflective- they are deep learners, constantly reflecting on their own practice and will therefore need a learning circle of thoughtful residents and fellow community builders through which they can unpack their learning and seek ongoing feedback and support. Results- they care about results but are not obsessive about targets, instead they are faithful to the principles of Community

What is a Community Builder, Cormac Russell, Nurture Development. August 2011.


Nurture Development, Email Building and so keep a watchful eye to ensure that greater numbers of citizens are participating and creating in civic space. They are also watchful of the numbers of labelled people who are contributing their gifts, if those numbers are not increasing they will want to understand why and figure out with their initiating group of residents how to improve on those results.

Learning to be a Community Builder Community Building is an art that combines many practices, Community Builders can be found therefore in every walk of life (professional and civic), ironically, some practitioners can have the word ‘Community’ in their job title and not be a Community Builder. Since Community Building is made up of a bundle of techniques it cannot be learned in a classroom, there is no ‘dummies guide to community building’ and hopefully there never will be. Community Builders have to have ‘done the miles’, in actual communities, where they have honed their skills through practice and reflection on their practice, or at least they must be willing to do so. Established Community Builders have been wise enough to watch closely and learn from those with more experience and allowed them be their guides. When interviewing for a Community Builder, ask them who has guided their practice, if they can not answer with a name and an explanation, they are not a Community Builder, at least not yet. Many people have the potential to be great Community Builders but have not had the life opportunities which would have allowed them to nurture those skills; even still they will demonstrate a strong willingness to learn and strong instincts for the work. For example they will immediately see the importance of door knocking in neighbourhood work and will be excited by the prospect. A Community Builder is also aware, of their personal strengths and sees it as a privilege to share them; they are often active in sharing those gifts within their own communities (where they live). They are completely convinced that everyone without exception is as gifted as they are albeit in different ways. They believe deeply that Community Building requires the contribution of everyone within the neighbourhood.

What is a Community Builder, Cormac Russell, Nurture Development. August 2011.


Nurture Development, Email What does a Community Builder do on Monday morning? In the neighbourhood context the Community Builder working for a Community either directly or in partnership with an outside agency will: 1. Conduct Learning Conversations: these are one-to-one, and group based conversations that last between 30-60 minutes. At least half the time of a Community Builder will be given over to these conversations (15-20 hours). These conversations are aimed at: a) developing stronger relationships with and between residents; b) discovering individual and collective motivation to act towards the common good; c) understanding what supports would be needed to support people to work with others who share their passions d) exploring mutual interests, passions and creative ideas for community building and clarifying possible next steps, e) discovering more prospects for citizen led action, f) cross fertilising stories from within the community and sharing inspiring stories from other communities. 2. Developing Initiating Groups: at the beginning of every community building effort it is important to nurture a group of connectors and leaders from the community who are prepared to commit to continually widening the circle of participation. This is something that happens week by week and is feed by the learning conversations, which reveal those who are passionate about community building and inclusion. 3. Building a bridge to the edge and back again: the Community Builder will have their antennae up for people who are usually left out of community life and not seen as having a contribution to make. They will take clear steps on a daily/weekly basis to reach such individuals and groups (e.g. young people, people with disabilities) and invite them to identify, connect and contribute their knowledge, skills and talents. 4. Steward of citizen-led action: the Community Builder works to support citizens to ensure that the agenda is being set by a growing community partnership between citizens rather than being lead by funders, government, donors or development professionals. 5. To support Citizen-led action: the Community Builder will support the introduction of a matching grant scheme into the neighbourhoods they work in to support citizen led action, they will also use a range of facilitation methodologies to continue to bring residents into creative, collaborative conversations. 6. Moving toward a resident-led neighbourhood vision: the Community Builder will work with residents through the initiating group to support them to increase their impact and effectiveness:

What is a Community Builder, Cormac Russell, Nurture Development. August 2011.


Nurture Development, Email • • • • • •

in reaching out to new members and making connections including neighbours in action around the things they care about and want to work on using people power Setting project goals and building individual and community agency Doing research, mapping and connecting assets Producing results, projects Once the agency of the community reaches a critical mass of support the Community Builder will support the community to develop a neighbourhood vision/plan that is clear about what citizens can do with people power, what actions require outside support, and what outside agencies must do alone.

The Six Principles of Community Building: 1. Start with people’s strengths 2. Start with relationship building 3. Place based work is vitally important since most things come together in the neighbourhood 4. Citizen-led action is more durable and sustainable than professional intervention 5. Social justice is at the heart of every community building effort. 6. When the conversation shifts from ‘isn’t it awful?’ to ‘what’s possible?’ real community building begins.

Cormac Russell, Nurture Development, 2011.

What is a Community Builder, Cormac Russell, Nurture Development. August 2011.


The Anatomy of an Asset Based Community Builder  

Here Cormac Russell, of the Asset Based Community Development Institute, described exactly what a Community Builder does, and how they behav...

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