Working with what we’ve got


I’m heading to Fiji for work this weekend (no that isn’t code for a holiday as one of my housemates has suggested). I’ll be at a conference first up, and then heading further afield to a few rural and remote communities to do scoping for potential community enterprise opportunities in a number of cash poor areas.

I’ve worked in Fiji a lot in the past, and can’t wait to get back there. I’m very much looking forward to connecting with a number of very precious people.

Something I’ve been reflecting on prior to our departure though, is the method we (Centre for Social Change) take with our community development work, and how applicable it is at a personal level, across cultures, and levels of experience.

Community knowledge sharing I did at Ware Island in Milne Bay, PNG, early 2013.

Community knowledge sharing I did at Ware Island in Milne Bay, PNG, early 2013.

We use a strengths-based approach in the communities we work in. So rather than going in and pointing out everything a community ‘lacks’ – which tends to be the favoured approach of many agencies – we go in and look for what works – what are the strengths to be built upon?

Also known as Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), this approach places local people in the position of expert. We highly value local knowledge and believe it’s intrinsic to understanding how the local economy works; and seek their help in identifying resources, skills and strengths within a community. We ask, what can be done with what the community already has?

We aim to determine possible solutions to issues with context specific and locally manageable solutions.  Our approach encourages learning by doing (not ‘formal training’ en masse, straight up), experimentation, starting small, and embracing failure with its attendant lessons. Our metrics for success aren’t based on getting it right the first time (although great if it ends up that way!).

Working this way we hope to ensure community resilience to external shocks (severe climate events, crop failure, political turmoil). Community conceived and led initiatives are far more likely to achieve long-term sustainability.


Makes sense doesn’t it? How does it feel in your body when someone goes out of their way to point out your faults, flaws and weaknesses? Not too great, right? But how about when we have our strengths and assets emphasised? It feels a little bit fan-reaking-tastic, that’s right.

I truly think there’s a huge lesson in this approach for us all.

What are your skills and strengths? Do you even know what they are? What can you do with what you already have?

Is there anything you’ve been meaning to do, but you’re convinced you need something else before you can up-level? I call bollocks on that, sweet thing, and insist you already have the ability to take a step towards achieving that feat, your dream, your desire, and most lofty goals, right at this very moment.

Are you nixing your inner photographic genius because you don’t think you can start until you have that delicious looking Digital-SLR and a professional course under your belt? Well, stop. There are plenty of amazing shots to be taken on a smart phone, or a simple point and shoot, and lots of photography lessons available for free on the interwebz, while you save for your treasures.

Okay, so how do I know what my strengths are?

I have a super simple little exercise for you. Take out your fave moleskine and pen, and do a quick stock take of your strongest qualities and attributes. Create three separate pages and label them as follows:

Head – qualifications, experience, what you know.

Heart – what you love doing (what lights you up, beautiful?)

Hand – what skills you have (are you a killer cook? Dress-maker? Stylist? Confidant?)

Now get to scribbling down everything you can think under each one, and don’t let your fear-based ego jump in with its negative Nancy-pants on (hence a bit of speed is key).

If you begin to struggle with this, get your bestie involved and have a mutual love-fest, sharing with one another what’s totally rocking about you both. It absolutely can be difficult at times to be objective about your greatest qualities, particularly as society is so peachy keen to point out what’s so wrong about us at every goddamn turn.

Now, once you’re done, take a good hard look at all of your strengths! Can you see how very capable you are? You rock the kasbah just showing up to life, everyday.

I firmly believe that when we focus more on our strengths, and indeed on one another’s strengths, we all step up to life in ways that we can’t even dream of.

Are you working with what you already have and sharing your strengths with the world? 


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