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Representatives from the Coady, GRCF, and Comart discuss ABCD

Representatives from the Coady and GRCF discuss ABCD.

With last week’s conference in Pretoria now behind us, the GRCF is happy to report that the event was a very successful one with a lot of useful information exchanged and engaging dialogue stimulated.  It was great to see representatives from varying backgrounds — inlucding the non-profit, government and private sectors — interacting with the aim of real constructive cross-sector solutions to poverty in South Africa.  We wish to thank UNISA for hosting this event, co-hosted by the Coady Institute and GRCF.  Below is a summary of the conference from the UNISA website.

Geography – the human element

Can rural communities in South Africa better themselves without large sums of money? The answer is “yes” and the Mathopestat community in the North West province is proof thereof.

Using the theme “Back to the ABCDs: creating an enabling environment for sustainable socioeconomic development at grassroots level through community driven initiatives” as a basis, the story of Mathopestat was shared this week at a symposium held by the Department of Geography in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

ABCD is an Asset Based Community Driven (ABCD) approach to development. It espouses the belief that communities

Melanie Nicolau of UNISA chairs the ABCD session.

can take the lead in identifying their own problems and the solutions to those same problems. ABCD is community based development, based on the principle that each community already has a tremendous number of assets and, if properly accessed and channelled, will ensure success in sustainable development.

The Mathopestat community has been selected as the pilot project of the ABCD approach in South Africa. While Unisa began their involvement with the project in February this year, the project was initiated in October 2009 by the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation (GRCF), a pioneering grassroots grant maker in South Africa which has supported the activities of community based organisations across Rustenburg. Unisa’s Department of Geography joined forces with the GRCF as part of their community engagement initiative.

Mathopestat community members at the conference.

The ABCD approach was introduced to the GRCF after the Chairman of its Board, Sebastian Mathews, attended a workshop at the Coady International Institute at the St Xavier University in Canada. The Coady Institute is one of the world research leaders in community driven development, conducting action research pilots across the world and two large-scale pilots in Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Kenya.

Intrigued by the possibility of using this approach in Rustenburg, the GRCF knew that ABCD would be a natural fit and therefore adapted the approach for the North West context to change the way of thinking so that communities can begin intentionally looking at their assets first. In six months, as a result of ABCD, the Mathopestat community has realised the many assets and potential they have to better themselves.

In her opening address, Dr Maggi Linington, Executive Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said the theme of the symposium was close to Unisa and the college, as it coincided with the university’s vision to be the African university in the service of humanity. She said Unisa chose not to be a university that was viewed as an ivory tower, but rather one that was relevant and responded to the needs of society. She also indicated that environmental sciences were very important in ensuring sustainability in communities and the environment itself.

Chair of the Geography Department, Melanie Nicolau, said it was an honour for Unisa’s Geography Department to

Candles are lit for women living with HIV/Aids.

partner with the Coady Institute and the GRCF to work with the Mathopestat community. She said the symposium marked the launch of a very exciting community engagement project for the Department of Geography, and they hoped the project would grow in strength and ensure that their work as academics in the discipline of Geography is relevant to the communities they live in.

The symposium comprised four sessions. Session one introduced the fundamentals of ABCD. Gord Cunningham and Dr Alison Mathie from the Coady Institute – who have been instrumental in developing the Institute’s ABCD area – illustrated how conventional approaches to community development have inadvertently undermined people’s capacity to take action. The session then centred on the premise of focusing on assets and helping people to recognise the skills, strengths and resources they could use to take action and transform the way in which they interact with others. There were also examples of cases from the around the world, as well as Kenya and Ethiopia, where citizen-led or community driven developments have had a significant impact. Cunningham also commended Unisa on the wonderful work they have done in collaboration with the GRCF.

There is not a dry eye in the house as Sanah finishes her moving story.

Session two focused on building community capital. It was argued that aid is dead and that it has made the poor poorer and growth slower. However, aid remains a centrepiece of today’s development policies and one of the “biggest ideas of our time”. Although aid might be dead, it is only as dead as the community spirit and capital where it is dumped. Building community capital from the inside out sets the stage for effective aid to come alive. The session was concluded with an HIV/Aids candle lighting ceremony honouring those who, despite their disease, remain active drivers in the development of their communities’ assets. Some of the speakers in this session included Christine Delport, COO of GRCF; Sana Nhlapo a Mathopestat community member; and David Martin, a board member of the COMART Foundation in Canada.

Session three discussed strategic corporate social investment and the business case for real community development initiatives. Session four centred on micro franchising and examined how it can enhance the fight against poverty.

Mathews thanked Unisa and stressed how wonderful Unisa staff are. He said it was amazing to see academics work hand-in-hand with the community and gave the example of Melanie Nicolau working in the gardens in Mathopestat. “This is truly a proudly South African institution. The technical and intellectual capacity of the Department of Geography has been very impressive, but more so than that what has really struck us it how forward thinking and visionary they are as a Department.” He also said as a result of the partnership, there would be higher quality action research to inform policy makers and practitioners about what actually works, for the betterment of South Africans.

Unisa 2010

Download a copy of the opening address by Dr. MJ Linington: Opening address – ABCD Symposium


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”
– Margaret Mead

The Asset Based Community Driven (ABCD) approach to development espouses the belief that communities can take the lead in identifying their own problems and the solutions to those same problems. Put simply, the approach argues that little is achieved by identifying needs and rather the emphasis should be on the assets in any given community. While the needs based approach tends to prescribe solutions by creating agencies that deliver services to clients, the ABCD approach focuses on empowering citizens.  One of the basic theses of ABCD is that over reliance on services creates a dependency culture which limits people’s potential and ability to exercise control over their lives. One of the key difficulties within the community development sector today is that many service driven institutions espouse community involvement but somehow still manage to engage the community on their terms only. For example they may manage their relationship with the community by setting funding criteria that focus on their own needs and not necessarily on those of the community. For organizations that truly wish to engage in community participation they must step back and enable the community to decide what the priorities are.

The Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation together with the Coady International Institute at St Francis Xavier University in Canada, the world research leader in community driven development, have formulated a practical Community Asset Mapping Programme (CAMP) approach of combining ABCD with the notion of Philanthropy of Community (PoC) or horizontal philanthropy to facilitate development in the community.  PoC is an approach to grantmaking and community interventions that acknowledges the fact that there are assets in communities, that people do share and help one another and that communities do have the ability to find solutions to their own problems as identified by them. Development agencies and grantmakers play a facilitating role in community development while the community themselves take the lead role in driving their own development, thus truly becoming empowered.