What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Most development approaches begin by doing a “needs assessment” to define what is lacking, what doesn’t exit in a region. However, there is an alternative to the traditional approach that begins by looking at assets rather than needs or deficiencies. This approach is commonly referred to as Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD (www.abcdinstitute.org) was first introduced by John McKnight and John Kretzmann in the early 1990’s in their book, Building Communities from the Inside Out.
In an asset-based approach, one begins by considering all the assets (resources, knowledge, talent, abilities and capacity) of the community. Then, based on this “asset data,” an investment plan is created that results in citizen-led action in the community. This asset based approach has been successfully used in revitalizing urban and rural communities in the USA. It has been used successfully in Africa and Europe also. Opportunity’s work in Nicaragua brings the methodology, strategies and principles to Latin America.
Identifying the overlap between people’s skills and economic opportunities led us to target tourism and agriculture as the two most promising businesses in the pacific south of Nicaragua. Initially, our methodology focused on business development and income generation activities. However, Opportunity soon realized that any long-term solution required a constant flow of new leaders and employees for the improved industries and businesses. Therefore, education and economic interventions must be intimately tied for lasting economic development. Too often, education initiatives are not aligned with (nor responsive to) good economic analysis of what are the most promising industries and needs of local businesses in poor communities and therefore do not adequately prepare the future workforce for local opportunities.
Utilizing the ABCD approach, Opportunity’s commitment is that any and all interventions in a community become sustainable and locally-led. In this way, community members understand that they are the key ingredient for any successful action. Opportunity’s role is not to solve their problems, but to work and support their efforts.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
Geralyn Sheehan is a consultant providing advice and training on how to effectively mobilize successful community action. Sheehan works in urban and rural settings in the United States and internationally. Sheehan’s consulting is based on the belief that long-term community development only occurs when ideas and solutions are born from community members’ own action and matched with good economic data to assure sustainability. Sheehan works first-hand to identify and mobilize the unique strength of each community always with an emphasis on economic sustainability. Sheehan believes that practical systems must be designed to assure sustainability of any community effort or initiative.
Sheehan has been a faculty member at the Asset Based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University since 1994. As a faculty member, Sheehan has consulted, provided training and authored books for use by community leaders both in the USA and internationally. Sheehan authored the ABCD publication, “Building the Mercado Central: Asset Based Development & Community Entrepreneurship. She also co-authored, “A Guide to Capacity Inventories: Mobilizing the Community Skills of Local Residents”. These books highlight examples of community members using asset-based approaches to lead change and improvements in their community. Sheehan taught asset-based community development and organizing strategies at the Community Leadership Institute at the Center for Non-Profit Management, University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN.
Sheehan received her Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University. Sheehan also has a J.D. degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN. Sheehan was awarded a Fellowship in International Development through the Kellogg Foundation and Partners of the Americas in 1992 and was granted a Bush Leadership Fellowship in 1994 to further her studies in community and economic development at Harvard University.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
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