Asset-based Community Development

Jennifer Hirsch
Jennifer Hirsch
Adjunct Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning
Director, Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain

How would you define this Big Idea?

Most community development efforts start by looking at the problems of communities and then identify outside resources to bring in to solve them. In contract, asset-based community development, commonly referred to by practitioners as ABCD, starts by looking at community strengths, or assets, including what communities are already doing well, and uses these as building blocks for change. ABCD has become popular in the community development field largely thanks to the work of the Asset-based Community Development Institute. They describe ABCD as follows: "The Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD) at the center of a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future."

How is this Big Idea included in your work?

As an applied cultural anthropologist, I have focused my work on creating and implementing ABCD approaches to creating sustainable communities. Since sustainability has largely been a top-down field, led by government, policymakers, and industry, I have focused on integrate ABCD--with its bias towards community-directed work, largely carried out by voluntary associations--into institutional work involving government and nonprofits. Specifically, with teams of environmental and visual anthropologists, communication specialists, ecologists, and environmental educators, I have developed a model that I call "Big Plans, Community Action" that demonstrates how to work with communities to identify assets and concerns, and then develop actions plans that building on the assets to address the concerns in ways that also advance broader plans for local and regional change (such as climate action plans). At Georgia Tech, as the Director of the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, I am using an asset-based approach to engage faculty, students, staff, and partners in our work. In fact, this BIG IDEAS tool is one example of what that approach looks like in action. Instead of determining the BIG IDEAS by ourselves, we are working with faculty to have them determine what we, as a Center, should be focusing on. I am also on the ABCD Institute faculty (, and in that role, I focus on mentoring young professionals interested in ABCD and connecting them to the ABCD Institute's work.

Learn more:

ABCD Institute

Here are some of my publications and talks on taking ABCD approaches to sustainability:

“Engaging Diverse Communities in Climate Action: Lessons from Chicago,” with Alexis Winter. Solutions, January-February 2014, Vol.5, Issue 1. Special issue edited by David Orr and colleagues at Oberlin College. (

“What’s Culture Got to Do With It? Engaging Chicago Communities in Climate Action.” Climate, Mind, and Behavior Conference, Garrison Institute (Garrison, NY). February 2012. (