Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking Down the ABCDs, Part II

For the backstory of The Episcopal Church of the Philippines coming to adopt Asset-Based Community Development, check out my last blog post here. Read on below to learn more about Asset-Based Community Development and the path of The E-CARE Foundation.

The Development Program Learns ABCD
The Development program, itself, has also learned through experience that ABCD is more effective in sustainably supporting economic development than conventional needs-based models.

One community here in the Cordillera Mountains, before partnering with E-CARE, had a strong self-starter ethic: to secure a water supply, community members pooled their resources to purchase materials and create a system. Whenever there was a challenge, the community used their internal resources to solve it. The community partnered with the PEC’s Development program to build a more permanent water system, with the agreement that after it was built that the community would be responsible for maintenance and repairs. However, after a typhoon damaged the water system, the community returned to the Church, asking that they fix it. What had happened to this once self-reliant community? They began expecting that their needs be provided by an outside source instead of looking within to their own resources.

This project began when E-CARE was just starting to formally use the ABCD model. While this project did first identify the community's assets (during which its self-starter attitude was identified as a strength), the importance of community involvement during the project was a key point learned by the Development program from this instance.

ABCD Process
Now, the program has a structured process through which it orients communities on the program requirements and works with them to identify their assets When a community or community group comes into partnership with E-CARE, they must first participate in the ABCD process, or the exercises that community goes through to identify, appreciate and value local assets and capacities which they can mobilize for sustainable development. While communities that partner with E-CARE are required to participate in the ABCD process before they can receive funds for their projects, the process is not merely a ‘check in the box’ in order to get funding, but a distinct project in itself. One community even withdrew its application for funds after the ABCD process when it realized it could improve its water system using its own resources identified through the process.

The ABCD process enables communities to follow the lead of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines “to stop looking at others and start looking into itself so that it realizes and appreciates what it has and can look into what it can do with these.” The process also makes communities aware of “dependency-creating” development models and invites them to engage in a “glass-half-full” way of addressing challenges, looking at “‘God’s abundance’ within their midst.” One of the assumptions through which ABCD operates is that God has blessed everyone with gifts which can be used to maximize one’s potential. Through the process, communities identify and map their assets using visual aids. Finally, they participate in community visioning exercises to explore and maximize assets to discover the most viable options and create development vision and plans.

The target communities for the E-CARE program are those facing debilitating economic marginalization. In this context where many are searching for their next meal, the rewards of a long-term endeavor like ABCD is difficult to envision and motivate one to act. The tendency here is to favor the dependency, needs-based approach. In this circumstance, E-CARE may then partner with a smaller group within that community which is interested in doing a project. After the community sees their success, others are oftentimes inspired to join in the effort.

Another challenge is overcoming the belief that agriculture can’t lead to a high level of economic development. Communities often underestimate their talents and potential. Most E-CARE communities are small-landholder farmers with inherited traditional agricultural knowledge. However, many undervalue this asset and believe that they cannot improve their economic status through their traditional livelihood.

Here, E-CARE may help the community to add value to their existing product. For example, one farming community up the road in my province here grew so much Chinese Cabbage, which can fluctuate in price and may not yield a high net value. So E-CARE brought in a food production specialist from the local university to train the community to produce kimchi, the delicious Korean fermented cabbage dish, for which the community can earn higher price for their product.

To further overcome the skepticism communities may have about investing in their traditional livelihoods for economic success, E-CARE commits to purchasing their organically grown vegetables and products. That’s where the E-CARE Marketing Centers and Cafe Galilea (the enterprise where I’m based) come in. Cafe Galilea serves organic vegetables, coffee, and meat produced by E-CARE partner communities, increasing the market for their products. And the marketing center (on the first floor of the building, and another E-CARE store in Manila) sells organic chilis, jams, wines, citronella, etc. produced by the local communities as well. Seeing the increased demand for their products through E-CARE’s commitment to market their products has encouraged fellow community members to follow suit.

E-CARE continues to encourage organic agricultural production through offering:

To purchase sustainably-produced rice at higher prices
Lower interest rates through cooperatives to farmers who produce rice sustainably
Advance payments to vegetable producers
Marketing assistance
Access to technology
Carbon-offset payments to agro-forestry development groups

After participating in the ABCD process, what can communities then do? Stay tuned till next week to learn about The E-CARE Foundation’s Receivers to Givers program!

Quotes and stories adapted from The E-CARE Foundation’s Manual of Operations.