Community Development: It takes time!


The title says it all but let me expand:
I feel that the proof of success in asset based community development is not in statistics but in the stories of community transformation.  This is why I have asked a number of colleagues in this work to share their stories of where this is working in Australia and across the globe.

The problem with doing this, however, is that when we hear a great community success story and its easy to get the impression that the program in question was an immediate success!

When we do have success in community development (and I’m talking about good success – not just bums on seats or soup kitchen meals given out but real, life-changing, capacity-building success). Even when we do have that kind of success; then I can guarantee it takes a long time (which is a problem with our current government funding models).

When sharing his story with me, my good friend from World Vision couldn’t emphasis this enough:

“… building the capacity of people takes a long time!….when we read a story it’s easy to get the impression that the turnaround took 6 months….. it is more like a decade and the work is always in progress.”

Truly transformational community development takes a long time.  We often want to rush; to start the program, to get to the success.  The patience to participate fully in the underlying community engagement process (the time to “brew” as Andrew referred to in a previous post) and to trust the process even when it seems to be going at a snail’s pace… it’s a real challenge!

If you have every created something (a cake, a construction) with a child then you may understand this better.  Of course it would be quicker for you to perform the task yourself but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise.  So it is with community development.  It is far simpler for a lead organisation (such as a church) to construct a program of their own design and fruition… but that is not the purpose of community development.  Co-design is inerrantly slower, messier, clumsier but it serves many purposes such as:

  • engaging the whole community in its own renewal
  • using all the assets within the community (especially those most often overlooked)
  • creating a spirit of mutuality, respect and learning
  • creating a more connected community

So when it comes to community development.  Move slowly and put your trust in the PROCESS not the program.

Posted in ABCD Thoughts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Intoxicated Migration (a story of walking alongside)


This story of walking alongside comes from my friend Ben Clark who works for TEAR Australia.



In many parts of Nepal, June to August are known as “Hungry Months”. No matter how hard families farm their land they run out of food before the next harvest. One solution, for those that can, is to leave the food for others and try their luck finding work in India. They might even be able to bring some money back home.

Unfortunately this migration pattern is quite literally killing Nepali.

Around 50,000 people leave Nepal every month (that’s the MCG very 2 months!) On a recent trip to Nepal with TEAR* I could see it happening on the road in front of me. As we sat on plastic chairs in front of an open roller door on the border crossing at Nepalgunj, Banke District, we saw buses, trucks, horse carts and rickshaws loaded with people moving down the road. Just metres away the border swarmed with people and 100 km away Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India beckoned.

Here, at the border crossing, three earnest women and an equally animated young man are busy working to walk alongside those making this journey to navigate the dangers of migration. They work for TEAR’s partner International Nepal Fellowship (INF).

Anju**, one of the INF staff, tells me about one of the dangers, known as “intoxicated migration”. She tells me that workers return home to Nepal are preyed upon. “Fellow travelers” pose as being from the same region as their victim and eventually offer to share food and drink. The drink is spiked and when the laborer wakes up they have been robbed and dumped somewhere.

This is not the only danger people face as they cross back and forth for work. In the long lonely months away from family and village many men buy sex. AIDS awareness is low and “safe sex”, unpopular. Nepali people often call AIDS, HIV and other STDs “Mumbai Disease” with reports of as many as 30% of men in this part of Nepal being infected. Once infected, they return and then often go on to infect their wives who have remained at home.

Anju and her colleagues are motivated by the love of Jesus to help their fellow country folk migrate safely. “I don’t want to see more people getting AIDS,” she tells me. Unfortunately for her and her two female colleagues their work and willingness to talk to strangers about AIDS awareness has meant that they are themselves labeled as sufferers. “Why else would they care?”, muse their communities.

This is a project of equality without the usual power imbalances of traditional service-delivery. When Anju and her colleagues see someone who they recognize as being a “hill person” they fall in and walk alongside them. Through questioning and conversation they are able to share information about how to transfer money electronically so as to avoid “intoxicated migration” on their return. They also share about labour rights and work conditions in India, and they boldly bring up conversations about STDs. They are often shamed for talking about this topic with men they don’t know, yet they are not deterred.

I was challenged by the simple yet profoundly practical work these people are carrying out on behalf of INF and their local church. They may not be changing the underlying situation that sees so many leave for work each year and yet rather than being paralysed by this; they walk alongside those taking this risky journey. And by so doing they are equipping people with the knowledge to positively effect their own lives.

This glimpse into how the Church in Nepal is engaging in “development” work has helped me see things in a clearer light. They are loving people with Jesus love and by walking alongside these people they are literally become a neighbour. That is simple and hard at the same time.

* Ben Clarke Traveled to Nepal as part of TEAR Australias DEEP (Development Education Experience Program). He traveled with a team of Australians and visited projects from various TEAR Partners.

**Anju is not her real name. It has been changed to protect her identity.

Posted in Good Stories, The Church and NFPs | Leave a comment

Never underestimate the power of a good cup of tea


I recently met Andrew Coulson at our Faith in Action workshop with Peter Kenyon.

Andrew shared with me his idea of how the process of making and the ingredients of a cup of tea resemble an easier to understand definition of how community engagement works. And as a Brit. Andrew has an appreciation for a good brew.

There is no trouble so grave that cannot be diminished by a nice cup of tea

-Bernard-Paul Heroux

Andrew is the Community Engagement Officer for he Salisbury Council north of Adelaide. He is passionate about the responsibility of local government in community development:

“Community engagement at a local/state government should be part of culture not an add on… like how a cuppa is part of your morning routine not just an afterthought.”

And the creative way he goes about his work is very clear even from a short conversation with him (for example he told me a great story about engaging children in community planning through simple game play).

So how does Andrew see that community engagement is like a cup of tea?

1. The process of making a cup of tea require simple planning towards a purpose. A good cup of tea has become a culture, it’s in our routines.  Community engagement should be as a much a part of our routines as a morning cuppa. We make our cup of tea (or coffee) first before we make the rest of our plans for our day. So it should be with community engagement.

2. The process requires identification of existing assets towards a felt need: Where are the cups? Who wants one? Who knows how to make the best brew? Who makes a good biscuit?

3. There are some key ingredients:

  • Tea Leaves = Community members: There are lots and many different kinds
  • Sugar = Other stakeholders, organisations, local business: Sometimes needed to change the flavour but only need a few.
  • Hot water = Lead organisation, local authority: Always needed, always present.
  • Milk = Specialists: Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t. (This could include appropriate staff, professionals, legal etc)
  • Tea mug = Facilitator: Holds it all together, encourages and motivates.
  • Tea Spoon = The tools of engagement: Stir it all together with this and you get a good cup of tea.
  • Time = brew, don’t rush

4. We’re working towards an outcome on which we will receive feedback (ie. “nice cuppa!”)

5. People have found that with a good cup of tea other decisions become easier.



So what do you reckon? Is that about on the mark? Anything you would add?

Hit me up in the comments box below


Thanks again for your thoughts Andrew


Posted in The Church and NFPs | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Marina’s Story- When limitations become opportunities




Recently I have been meeting with a small collective of passionate Asset Based Community Development Practitioners from World Vision, Compassion, TEAR Australia, Uniting Communities, Tabor College and the Churches of Christ in SA & NT.

One of the purposes of this gathering has been to get some of the stories of where good asset based community development is already happening.

To that end each of these practitioners has agreed to share at least one story from their own organisation/work here on this blog so we can begin to collect a bit of a storybook.

Today’s story comes to you curtsey of my good friend Simon Duke who is the Church Partnerships Manager SA at World Vision Australia

The following is shared with permission.


Marina’s Story- When limitations become opportunities

ImageMarina sharing how World Vision projects have changed her life at a World Vision press conference in Romania. 

Marina, 21, has never had an easy life. She grew up in a village in southern Romania, where children often become prisoners of a painful routine of survival—fighting poverty daily and letting education take second place. When she was 8 years old, she became part of World Vision’s sponsorship programme. Prior to her engagement with the program Marina remembers that,

“School was merely routine, we couldn’t understand the use of education.”

For many children, it seemed as if their fates were sealed with their birth as they would spend their time helping their parents with household activities or working the field for daily survival.

“We only knew what we had, what we saw, and what the village was offering us. [We didn’t have] any opportunity to see beyond its boundaries,” adds Marina.

Thanks to the sponsorship programme, she also went on a trip for the first time, participated in competitions, felt the emotion of winning prizes, and learnt about technology by attending computer classes.

“World Vision opened new horizons for us,” she remembers.”They gave us the opportunity to see further than the universe of our village, to meet new people, and to develop ourselves. Our expectations about everything have become greater [as a result],”she says, smiling with confidence.

Marina’s involvement and devotion for studying were increasingly obvious. She passed the entrance exams at a good high school in town and which she was able to attend on a part scholarship with World Vision.

In addition to her financial difficulties, life as a student in the town brought Marina more concerns. Coming from the village, she was afraid to be seen as different by her schoolmates. It was difficult for her to socialise with the other students and integrate with other students.

Marina went to camps and meetings for personal development with other World Vision beneficiaries where she learnt to take initiative, to speak in public and to work as part of a team.

“I began to develop as a person, to know myself better, to have friends,” she recalls. “I became more self-confident and soon the differences between me and the children in the town were no longer felt.”

Marina passed the exams at the Faculty of Law and Administration. She is currently in the second year at the university where she is appreciated by teachers and colleagues. She continues to live in her village and together with other former World Vision beneficiaries (and with support from World Vision), she founded the association “Just like You” aimed at helping other children in her community.



Marina’s quote “World Vision opened new horizons for us,” she remembers. They gave us the opportunity to see further than the universe of our village, to meet new people, and to develop the assts and strengths already within them.

World’s Vision’s work with Marina consisted more of developing and building her capacity than ‘giving her things’

Marina is an example of how people with existing assets (personal drive, a vision for their future, a willingness to work, a concern for others in her community) are vital agents in Assets Based Community Development.

Marina was then given the opportunity to re-invest in others in similar situations in a way that matched her assets not a World Vision Performa.


For more stories like this one from World Vision, Compassion, TEAR and local Churches please be sure to subscribe to this blog through the link in the top right hand corner.

Posted in Good Stories | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s talk about FAILURE


I’m currently in rainy Melbourne having just shared at the Surrender Conference. I was given the privilege to lead three sessions at the conference and then to share about the conference on ABC radio tonight (tune in to Sunday nights with John Cleary to hear my tired voice)

So what did I share? Well I started with one of my favourite blog topics “how do we stop just trying to ‘care for the poor’ and start trying to ‘love our neighbour’” (more on that HERE) and then launched into my favourite diatribe about “the problem with ‘sexy-volunteering‘” (my husband, James, thinks I should just get this one on a t-shirt and save my breath) but my third talk I wanted to focus on failure.

Conferences like Surrender can be inspiring places.  One thing I love about them is how they can inspire some real out-of-the-box thinking; which is exactly what we need in community ministry.

The hard thing, about really innovative social enterprises and collective actions is that they have an 80% fail rate.  True story.  It does depend a little on how you define failure but anyway you look at it it isn’t a great strike rate.

And this sense of failure can be doubly hard at events like Surrender when all you hear about are they incredible successes others are having. In someways these success stories be really inspiring but they can also magnify our sense of inadequacy in our own work.

One of my favourite TED talks is by a guy called Myshkin Ingawale.  Myshkin saw a need to create some technology to test for anemia because the tests available at the time were invasive and slow and so people were dying unnecessarily.  He says, “I saw this need and so you know what I did- I made it”.  And the whole TED crowd burst into spontaneous applause and when the applause had died away Myshkin quietly says, “and it didn’t work… and so I made it 32 more times and then it worked.”  

And that’s the truth about me and the truth about Community Development more broadly.  For every successful story you hear there will be 8 (or perhaps 32) others that did not meet the mark.  

How do we deal with that? How are we okay with that?  How do we keep the momentum and the energy to keep going forward in the face of those 32 failed attempts? How do we tell those stories?  

Because the truth of the matter is that we all have and will continue to fail. I believe that failure is not only okay but that that is very very good. We have to learn how to fail, fail well, fail often and to talk about our failures.

We have the amazing opportunity to partner with God in reclaiming the beauty of the people in our community. But God’s way of partnering is inclusive, is participatory. Therefore our ways should also be inclusive and participatory. But participation is a messy and complicated works. It’s involves a lot of stumbling and fumbling and… yes failing.

Nobody ever learned much from constant success. And I’m not just talking about needing to fail in the way I might say “make the best of a bad situation”. I think failure is far more important than that. In fact I think it can even be something that is planned and celebrated.

But we’re so scared of failure. If, as a Church, we fail- how does this reflect on us, on our prayer lives and our devotion- worse that that- how does this reflect on GOD! And this crippling fear of failure completely stifles our creativity.

Complex social problems are not going to be overcome by the same reasoning that created them and so in order to overcome complex issues we have got to CREATE and to create is to make something that has never existed before- and you simply can not do that without failure! If you’re not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert Kennedy

So I want to encourage you to go out there and to be bravely creative- to try greatly and to fail greatly.

Posted in ABCD Thoughts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Colleen – The world’s largest tea pot

colleen 1

Recently I have been meeting with a small collective of passionate Asset Based Community Development Practitioners from World Vision, Compassion, TEAR Australia, Uniting Communities, Tabor College and the Churches of Christ in SA & NT.

One of the purposes of this gathering has been to get some of the stories of where good asset based community development is already happening.

To that end each of these practitioners has agreed to share at least one story from their own organisation/work here on this blog so we can begin to collect a bit of a storybook.

I am really excited to share the first of those stories (and I might add one of my personal favourites from South Australia) today.

This story comes to you curtesy of my good friend Rev. Peter McDonald who is the Minister on placement at Uniting Communities.

I chose this story today also because I will be sharing Colleen’s story in one of my study sessions at the Surrender Conference this weekend.

The following is reblogged with permission 

Colleen – The world’s largest tea pot

Tea Party 2

The two things that some seniors worry about is 1) pushing out the wheelie bin on bin night and 2) not knowing the name of a close by neighbour – with whom they can say hi a couple of times a week.  So if they pop your clogs someone notices!We at Uniting Communities have a group of imaginative staff who want to help senior stay at home (and out of aged care) for as long as possible.We thought that the local community is best placed to help with wheelie bins and knowing each others names.  What we have to do is find a creative reason to get locals to have a chat to each other.

1403 Colleen Rotary

Imagine you receive an invitation to a morning tea and scones at the world’s largest tea pot.  Would you walk down you street to see the sight?You arrive and to your surprise you discover the worlds largest tea pot.  A lovingly restored 1950s caravan has come to your street.You have a close look at her shape and design and all the work that has gone into restoring her to her former glory.  You chat with your neighbours about Colleen and her tea cosies.  After a while conversations moves from Colleen to who and what is going on in your street.

Tea Party 1

Andwhen the questions gets asked

“Is anyone willing to help a neighbour by saying hi and rolling out her wheelie bin?”

There are always plenty of volunteers!

Locals often make a commitment to catch up more often and we move on – leaving behind folk who now know their neighbours. This makes the community safer for seniors and better connected for all.

Love Colleen?  Faith in Action is a group which discusses the principles behind Colleen and how they might be applied to your place.  Please consider coming to one of our monthly workshops

.1403 TeaCosiesColleen cakesColleen selfie with Flamingos1309 Teapots on tree lge - Copy

Colleen the Tea Pot is a collaborative project between Uniting Communities, Campbelltown Council and The Eastern Regions Men’s Shed of Rotary and wide a group of supporters.

For the full story about Colleen, her restoration and her visits go to her website

UPDATE: Colleen’s story has recently been taken up by the ABC here

For more stories like this one from World Vision, Compassion, TEAR and local Churches please be sure to subscribe to this blog through the link in the top right hand corner.

Posted in ABCD Thoughts, Good Stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Community Champions

joanna hubbard:


Congratulations to my friend Kevin Cassanego winner of the Bank of I.D.E.A.S, “Global Community Builder Giraffe Award”. This Award honours people who have taken risk, stepped up and “Stuck out their heads, and made a difference at the community level”. Kevin (and the Lighthouse Church and the Illawarra Community in general) certainly fits that description! Kevin is also a real believer and worker for TRUE collaboration over competition in the community sector.

Kevin was the instigator of the Illawarra ABCD Network, a network of over 30 organisations committed to asset based approaches to community development.

Below is an example of their excellent work from their blog.
Be sure to click through.

Congrats Kevin and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

Originally posted on ABCD Illawarra:

Community Champions
I attended a local Council’s Community Strategic Plan review the other week. Each of us were allocated to work on a particular theme and lucky me, I got Community! At my table were all men who were probably about 20-30 years older than me. Our task was to spend Council’s budget..well not the real budget, but as a group of strangers we had to negotiate what services, resources, facilities we were willing to increase, keep the same or decrease.
The first item we had was crime & safety programs, and to my delight this is when I met Frank* a local Community Champion! We discussed if we should increase, decrease or maintain the budget for crime & safety and then Frank shared with us his view. Frank is involved with a local sporting club, and when the sheds gets tagged with graffiti he simply gets out there as…

View original 248 more words

Posted in Good Stories | Leave a comment