ABCD: A Fundamental Philosophy in the Service-Learning Program

By Jordan Perras

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Northeastern is uniquely situated at the intersection of four incredibly diverse neighborhoods. As residents of Roxbury, the South End, Back Bay and Fenway, we have an opportunity to leave a positive impact in each of those communities. With the best of intentions, many students, myself included, come to Northeastern with preconceived notions about the neighborhoods and what our roles will be within them. To counteract some of these preconceived notions (and to be a better neighbor), Northeastern uses Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) as it develops service relationships
around the city.

What is it? Asset based community development focuses on using what already exists within a community to help spark positive change. The concept of ABCD teaches that development and change come from within a community and are not driven primarily fom people outside of it. On the other hand, the deficit perspective, a more traditional idea of community service, looks at what is lacking within the community. It is the idea that the only way to make improvements is if someone else comes in from outside and makes it better. These two perspectives can lead to drastically different feelings of efficacy within a community. Think about it this way: If we ask people to look for deficits, they will usually find them, and their view of situations will be coloured by this. If we ask people to look for successes, they will usually find them, and their view of situations will be coloured by this (Kral, 1989).

While understanding deficits is important, the focus should be on the community’s strengths and then looking at how those strengths can meet the community’s needs.

So what is an example of an asset?

  • People – skills, experiences, knowledge
  • Buildings – community centers, playgrounds, religious structures
  • Natural Resources – green spaces, rivers

Why do we use it? ABCD is used to ensure that decisions, ideas and positive results stem from community members, the people who will be impacted the most by change. It is a way of empowering people and communities to believe in their own power, abilities and strengths.

assetbasedcommunitydevelopmentThe next time you head off to your service site, look for assets along the way. Do you see schools, playgrounds, health centers, nonprofits? How does your service site contribute to the neighborhood? How are you contributing to your service site?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, or share a photo of an asset on social media using #NUServiceLearning!


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