Cormac Russell – Becoming Visible 2011 – Relying on Each Other

Cormac Russell is a colleague of mine at the Asset Based Community Development Institute.  He is Managing Director of Nurture Development, an Irish training and development agency.  He also works internationally advising governments, organizations and communities on how to re-negotiate the Social Contract in a way that strengthens community life and social justice.  Here is his reflection on: What would you like to become more visible in 2011?  You can also Download Becoming Visible  -  the complete collection of 58 essays.

Relying on Each Other

Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture, reminds us that assets can be thought of through the lens of two basic questions:
"What can I get from this land, or person?  Or
What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them?
Of these two approaches, the former leads to war and waste, the latter to peace and plenty."

 The latter quest(ion) – especially if we interpret ʻcooperateʼ to mean ʻshare gifts reciprocallyʼ- offers a useful way to identify and connect community strengths and assets and, as Mollison suggests, leads to sustainability. The former provides-if the combined histories of colonialism, and capitalism were to be written in one sentence and in the form of a question- a concise history of human greed. 
Therefore, the manner in which we identify and respect individual and community assets is critical to the resulting social outcomes. In this sense the supra-asset is being mindful in how one identifies, connects, and mobilizes assets.  The heart of the matter and the key to Asset Based Community Development is our connections and relationships. This is why asset mapping is not the critical action in capacity centred community building, connecting is.  Connections among citizens leads to citizen power – that is the ability of people to address their own needs and to define when they need help from outside agencies.
Institutional and agency ʻasset mappingʼ is on the increase in an era of funding cutbacks.  There is a danger that asset based work will be used by some to legitimate state based global efficiency drives and austerity measures. 
In doing so, albeit unintentionally, agencies are starting with Mollisonʼs first question, which, given the manner in which state funding is typically dispersed – creates competition, duplication and displacement of effort and in many instances reinforces dependency on outside aid as opposed to citizen empowerment.
One of Father Moses Coadyʼs great calls to action as Founder of the Antigonish Cooperative Movement in Nova Scotia was ʻwe will secure what we need, by using what we haveʼ. 
Citizens expect of systems things they can never achieve regardless of how well resourced they are. From church to government to the free market, generation after generation have had to learn that ultimately systems canʼt do our living or dying for us.  At best they can do for us what we canʼt do for ourselves, but as citizens we are at liberty to define so much more of our lives than we currently realize.  More often than not, we have what we need to secure what we have not: bridging the gap calls us into a new relationship with assets.
This is not to say that Governments should be let off the hook as it were, but rather that Governments are more limited than any one person may know, and citizens individually and collectively are more powerful than most proclaim. In the final analysis then democracy is not about casting a vote, which in fact is the act of handing ones power over to another, but about stepping up and taking a powerful place in a community with the audacity to reinvent democracy.


You can download the complete collection of Becoming Visible responses here: Download Becoming Visible.  Or by clicking the Becoming Visible Category on the right hand side of your screen.

Please share and distribute to your friends and through your various networks, websites etc.  I think you will agree – these are too good to keep to ourselves.

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  1. Simon Duffy

    Asset-Based Community Development is being abused by government just as it has abused Personalisation. One response is to build on human connections and develop other robust systems of self-help. However even this will not be enough to defend us from our own governments. Government always tends to be incontinent – it cannot stay within boundaries. Thus we must also work to create the necessary constitutional self-disciplines to enable governments to stay within the bounds of its necessary competence. It is for this reason that some of us think that you cannot sacrifice the notion of entitlements and rights and that we must also design laws and structures that distribute and limit the growth of centralised power.

  2. Al Etmanski

    I agree with your point – ABCD’s emphasis on the power of communities, neighbourhoods and associations is an important dimension but not enough. It is however where they start. Knowing the ABCD folks well – they are not naive about the role of government and likely would agree with you.

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