Asset Based Community Development Case Study

ABCD - Case studies of successful asset-based and citizen-led development

From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of their own Development
The thirteen case studies included in this collection provide valuable lessons for outside organizations aiming to identify, promote and support citizen-led development in a way that does not overwhelm or undermine community initiative. They provide insight into how communities mobilize their own assets and leverage external resources for sustained citizen-led development, and how external agencies can support this process.

Asset-Based Development: Success Stories from Egyptian Communities
This collection of ten short cases highlights examples of asset-based community development in Egypt. Produced in collaboration with the Centre for Development Services, Cairo. An Arabic version of this book is available through the Near East Foundation.

Among the ways people identify with a community is through the history they share with others of coping with change and responding to opportunity. Tension and struggle are part of this process of change, but those communities that have been able to move forward tend to be those that define themselves by their assets and capacities, rather than by their problems. The purpose of this manual is to shine the light on these communities, and draw out lessons for development practitioners.

The Jambi Kiwa Story: Mobilizing Assets for Community Development. (Ecuador)
Created by an association of largely indigenous women in Ecuador, Jambi Kiwa is a cooperative business that was set up to grow, process and market medicinal and aromatic plants. To succeed, these women drew on indigenous knowledge, traditional forms of cooperative activity, and the resilience borne out of the struggles of poverty and discrimination. Determined to maintain and build upon local assets, and proceeding to secure trade partnerships in national and international markets, this is the story of Jambi Kiwa's inception. A Spanish version of this publication is also available.

St. Andrews Video and Case Study
Building on the legacy of pioneering Scottish and later, Dutch immigrants, a rural agricultural community in Canada has been able to muster active and enthusiastic volunteers for a series of ambitious community initiatives - the building of a community centre, a curling rink and a senior's housing complex - and has maintained a thriving community into the 21st century.

This video explores some of the reasons why this has been possible. At its base is a set of values that puts a premium on self sufficiency, community spirit, and care for others. By pooling resources, ideas, and talents, St. Andrews has been able to build a variety of new infrastructure and community services. Success has not only motivated community members to continue with new projects, it has inspired other communities in the region to follow suit.

Watch The Video Online

Module 7: ABCD Case Studies

The following case studies are presented to demonstrate how ABCD has been implemented effectively both domestically and internationally. As you read these case studies, see if you can identify some of the lessons that you have learned throughout this course, including:

  • Ultimately, the motivation to start and sustain a community development project must come from within the community itself.
  • If outside organizations or funding agencies become involved, they should merely support and facilitate the process as outlined by community members.
  • Local participation in and ownership of project design and implementation are perhaps the most important means and goals of community building.

Case Study #1: Mercado Central

Based on a chapter from the book From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of their Own Development entitled “Building the Mercado Central: Asset Based Community Development and Community Entrepreneurship in the USA,” by Geralyn Sheehan.


Historically, Lake Street was the center of commerce for Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the 1960s, “older, established businesses began to close down, homeowners fled the city, city taxes were reduced, and city services could no longer keep up with the need to upgrade the aging infrastructure.” By 1970, the area surrounding Lake Street “was known as a ‘seedy’ district with adult sex businesses, pawn shops, bars, and liquor stores.”(1)

While many residents fled throughout the decades of decadence and deterioration, Lake Street did see an influx of Latin American immigrants. The majority were from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Mexico. Renowned political scientist Robert Putnam has pointed out that “increasing ethnic diversity and social heterogeneity [are some] of the greatest challenges currently facing the industrialized world. While immigration and diversity produce important cultural and economic benefits in the long term, in the short term, the impact tends to be a reduced sense of solidarity and social capital.”(2) As he says in his article “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” “[t]rust (even in one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.” He suggests that such fragmentation can only be overcome if immigrant societies create “new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities.”(3)

The Beginning

The story behind Mercado Central begins in 1990, when five Salvadoran immigrants asked Mexican Catholic Charities social worker Juan Linares for extended access to St. Stephen’s. Similar to other inner-city churches, St. Stephen’s was locked during the day, “depriving families in the neighborhood of a space to pray together.”(4) With the assistance Isaiah, “a multi-denominational, congregation-based community organizing coalition,” this simple request for a prayerful space evolved into a campaign for Spanish Masses, which eventually garnered a regular church following of 750 Latino families.(5)

Seeing the potential for even more initiatives, Juan Linares and Isaiah community organizer Salvador Miranda created a “Community Talent Inventory” (CTI) in order to identify entrepreneurial skills within the community. Several themes, based on 75 completed inventories, emerged: “confirmation of wide-ranging business expertise and entrepreneurial talent; a desire for targeted entrepreneurial training; and an interest in addressing immigration issues collectively as a community.” With the results publicized, local organizations specializing in entrepreneurial and business advice (including the Whittier Community Development Corporation and the Neighborhood Development Center) expressed investment interest.(6) The community had key actors, and they just needed to pool their resources and establish a common vision.

Mercado Central's Development

With the help of these local organizations and the start-up power of local leaders, a 16-week entrepreneurial training course in Spanish began.

“At the individual level, the curriculum provided entrepreneurs with the technical information required to develop viable business and marketing plans. At the community-building level, the group talked about how to effect broader change in the community and play a role in revitalizing the local economy.”(7)

Gradually, a spirit of cooperation, combined with “growing confidence and business acumen,” led to the “idea of a cooperative, a vehicle that would enable each business owner to achieve financial success while simultaneously working together and supporting others’ efforts.”(8) Ideas for this cooperative took shape through community members’ realization of their common familiarity with the traditionally Latin American concept of a central marketplace. In many nations throughout Central and South America, mercados are informal gathering places at which a community gathers to socialize, shop, celebrate, and grieve.(9) To make this common dream a reality, community members who had completed the entrepreneurial training formed a coordinating committee under the motto, “El pueblo vive como sujeto de su propia historia, no viva ya como objetos de una historia que otros han escrito” (translation: People live as the subjects of their own history and no longer objects of a history defined for them by others).(10) From the outset, the group decided that they wanted to preserve local control over the project instead of “allowing well-intentioned external professionals to take on key roles.” This decision indicates a deviation from the typical business incubator model, in which an initiative is operated by a not-for-profit business developer.(11)

The Business Plan

To get their expansive vision off the ground, community planners launched a three-phase, multi-pronged community economic development plan.

“First, it would be a real estate development project, with a building to house the Mercado Central. Second, it would be a business development project, with support for 30 business start-ups, plus several expanding businesses occupying vendor space in the Mercado Central. Third, it would be a member-owned cooperative development project, with the establishment of a board of directors, an operating structure and the formulation of the Mercado Central Cooperativa as a legal entity.”(12)

To fulfill these three phases, Mercado Central planners attracted $3 million in investments from 25 sources—banks, foundations, non-profit organizations, the City of Minneapolis, neighborhood corporations, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

First and foremost, planners envisioned Mercado Central as a concept that would largely appeal to Lake Street Latino residents.

“The typical Latino shopper lives in the neighborhood and may stop in at the Mercado Central to send a package to relatives in Mexico through one vendor, buy fresh tortillas from another, a dozen tamales from a third, and a bag of dried peppers from another ... Most conversations will be in Spanish with people the shopper knows, and most shoppers will also make new acquaintances through the Mercado Central shopping experience.”(13)

Planners also anticipated that Mercado Central would cater to Latinos in the larger metropolitan area, as well as non-Latinos seeking an international experience.

Results and Conclusions

To bring Mercado Central to fruition, the pioneering leaders knew they “needed to create a mechanism to continuously draw potential entrepreneurs into the project while also attracting outside resources … Marketing the unique assets of the Latino community became the mechanism to bring both elements together.”(14)

Once Lake Street residents were trained in the principles of effective entrepreneurship, they were invited to buy shares in the Mercado Central cooperative. Currently, 44 businesses and services employ 125 to 150 people in a variety of specialized trades—flower arrangements, music, sporting goods, Christian books and gifts, Latin American traditional crafts and clothing, natural products, clothing design and alterations, Spanish language translation, beauty services, and custom embroidery, to name a few.(15), (16)

Much of the consumer cash is recycled in the community—reconstruction efforts have featured “sidewalks with improved lighting, benches, signage, cameras along Bloomington Avenue to deter crime, and community murals in places of graffiti.”(17) Mercado Central’s well-planned and well-managed financial success has attracted reinvestment in the district that is slowly being revitalized to its former glory.

Mercado Central is a good example of not only how “participatory involvement” and “ownership” look when properly put into practice, but also how external agencies and neighborhood associations—community non-profits, churches, investment corporations, funding and training groups—can contribute greatly without controlling the process. Despite cultural disparities, the residents of Lake Street were able to generate a communal purpose—one that incorporated plans for both economic stimulation, as well as a safe space for dialogue about the neglected and under-recognized needs of marginalized community members. And all of this, as ABCD mandates, resulted from the planners’ emphasis on appreciating the assets and cultivating the capacities of community members.

“The story of the Mercado Central is one of Latino immigrants who believed in their capacity to realize a collective vision of home and neighborhood. [It] offers an alternative vision for other inner-city neighborhoods, where recent immigrants are often marginalized and faced with serious challenges to integration with the wider American population.”(18)

Case Study #2: Jambi Kiwa

Based on a chapter from the book From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of their Own Development entitled “The Jambi Kiwa Story: Mobilizing Assets for Community Development in Ecuador,” by Gordon Cunningham.


The contemporary history of the villagers of Ecuador’s mountainous region of Chimborazo has been one of “building on natural assets, reclaiming and valuing traditional culture, knowledge, and practices, and in the process, redefining what it means to be an indigenous people in Ecuador today.”(19) Up until the 1960s, large, semi-feudal plantation systems called haciendas—infrastructural residue from the Spanish occupation—perpetuated “the exploitative service tenure structure in which the indigenous peasantry were employed.”(20) Organizing under the umbrella of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador to campaign for, among other things, equitable land rights, agrarian reform, and the removal of pejorative nationality labels from the country’s vocabulary, indigenous Ecuadorians now have “a growing sense of self-identification, and of pride in belonging to a people.”(21)

A history of disenfranchisement and ostracism has still contributed, however, to an internalized hopelessness, inferiority, and dependence. As Rosa Guamán, an indigenous community leader, explains,

“In our traditional culture, women had great knowledge, but after the conquest of our people, this has changed. Instead of using their knowledge and natural resources to provide for their families, women now relied on donations of milk, semolina, oil, and flour from NGOs. It was humiliating to live in a country with many resources and not be able to provide for ourselves.”(22)

It was out of this context that the idea for Jambi Kiwa emerged.

The Beginning

The Catholic bishop of Riobamba, professing the powerful philosophy of liberation theology, supported indigenous leaders in rural villages throughout the province “by training pastoral workers to work closely at the community level, keeping people informed and supporting their efforts to improve their livelihood.”(23) One of his pastoral workers, Rosa (from above), discovered that a women’s group in Guayllabamba—an association which had developed a portfolio of small-scale income-generating projects, such as growing fruit trees and raising Andean guinea pigs, through the help of an agronomist from the Canadian Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI)—had attempted to grow and sell traditional medicinal plants but eventually surrendered the idea because it was unprofitable and time-consuming.(24) Instead of seeing this attempt as a failure, Rosa viewed it as an opportunity to allow women like those of this group to become “the protagonists of [their] own development.”(25)

Rosa and the women did some market research to feel out the community’s interest in purchasing medicinal plants. Finding that, in fact, many expressed interest, Rosa and her fellow pioneers got to work gathering sponsorships and donations for their project, which they named the “Association of Producers of Medicinal Plants,” or Jambi Kiwa. A local church offered its attic for drying and storing plants. With grants from the United Nations Development Program, Rosa and her colleagues mobilized many women to collect wild plants for a year. Many were sold in local markets initially. In addition, a reliable company from Ambato purchased their herbs for tea production.(26)

At the foundation of their organization’s mission, though, was a commitment to providing women the opportunity to gain confidence in various trades so as to eliminate, out of their own volition, the social injustices faced by indigenous women. This mission manifested in literacy classes; courses in cutting, sewing, knitting, and traditional craftwork; and training in entrepreneurial tactics.

Jambi Kiwa's Development

In order to generate a larger profit margin and create more jobs, Jambi Kiwa needed to scale-up. Rosa asked the Centre de Solidarité Internationale (CSI) from Quebec to partner with CECI to assist Jambi Kiwa in submitting a proposal to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The grant provided the money to purchase a used mill and plant dryers to expedite Jambi Kiwa’s process.(27)

While its application to be a legally sanctioned association under Ecuadorian law was under consideration, Jambi Kiwa began producing shampoos, expectorants, diuretics, and slimming formulas. With legal approval and the inauguration of a makeshift factory, Jambi Kiwa began striking substantial deals. “Recognizing the growing national and international markets for herbal tea,” the national tea company in Quito, CETCA, drew up a large contract with Jambi Kiwa. Through this partnership, Jambi Kiwa began supplying medicinal herbal teas throughout Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia.(28)

To add an educational component to their vision of a more culturally and environmentally sensitive populace, Jambi Kiwa teamed up with the School of Andean Medicine to train traditional healers and midwives how to implement medicinal gardens into their healing practices.(29) They also attracted funding from EcoCiencia, an organization that aims “to train its producer members in environmentally sustainable methods for the collection … and cultivation of plants that, until then, had only grown in the wild.”(30)

The Business Plan

Throughout the process of developing their business model, Jambi Kiwa made several strategic moves that have enhanced their financial success. Ever since the organization eliminated intermediary negotiators, Jambi Kiwa’s producers earn more for each batch of plants sold (the price in 2001 was 8 cents per kilogram, and in 2003, the price jumped to 20 cents).(31) Also, growing medicinal plants has allowed harvesters to diversify their crop portfolios, an alluring incentive for farmers with fluctuating yields and precarious security. Take, for example, Salvador Toltora, who “had been experiencing losses because of low prices for his crops of broad beans and potatoes.”

“Now I grow medicinal plants … [and] each month we harvest about 200 kg of artichoke leaves. As well, each month we harvest between 180-200 kg of chamomile. This represents an additional US$30-35 each month and helps us to cover our family costs … I would like to increase production.”(32)

As added enticement, medicinal plants can also be harvested year-round and provide permanent partnerships with clinics and medical schools, so that villagers’ health can perpetually (instead of seasonally) improve.(33)

The success of Jambi Kiwa’s business model, however, lies ultimately in the dispositions and attitudes of its members. The leaders of Jambi Kiwa have nurtured a strong sense of internal agency—or “the ability of the community to determine and maintain control over the development agenda”—in its producers and staff in 3 discrete ways(34):

  • “First, they have clearly articulated a vision to address the issues facing the indigenous campesinos of Chimborazo. They have been able to convince people that cultural assimilation, the environmental degradation of their lands, the exploitation by middlemen and the loss of their young people to the cities of Ecuador, North America, and Europe will only be overcome if they organize themselves.”
  • “Second, they have drawn on indigenous cultural belief systems of the area—the Andean cosmo-vision of being at one with the earth and sharing responsibility for the welfare of future generations—and the region’s long history of community mobilization and action.”
  • “Third, they have identified concrete opportunities for members to contribute to the growth of a ‘social enterprise’ that tries like any other business to make a profit but which also aims to restore the land and preserve indigenous knowledge, culture, traditions, and values.”

“Perhaps the most significant societal level impact that Jambi Kiwa may achieve is the creation of a new economic model for indigenous and campesino communities in rural Ecuador. Integrated into the larger economy, these communities have experienced dramatic changes in lifestyles and aspirations over the past 30 years. Indigenous and campesino communities are simultaneously looking for ways to maintain autonomous cultural space, build their economic assets, and make claims on the state on the basis of their citizenship. If Jambi Kiwa can compete in a globalized economy while also fulfilling its cultural, environmental, and asset building ambitions, it may help to redefine what it means to be indigenous in Ecuador today.”(35)

Results and Conclusion

“Jambi Kiwa's success was created through the mobilization of a wide range of community assets that were, in turn, used to lever considerable outside resources. Jambi Kiwa's members combined their indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants with traditional skills in cultivation, their access to individual and communal land, their history of communal labor, a cadre of strong indigenous women leaders and their savings to start the enterprise. The commitment they demonstrated impressed a number of external agencies that agreed to become stakeholders; from government agencies that had a shared interest in promoting exports or preventing the depletion of wild plants, to non-government organizations that shared their social, economic or environmental vision, and to private businesses that welcomed a new supplier of medicinal plants.”(36)

Before Jambi Kiwa and other associations like it ushered in a new era of self-determination and empowerment, many Ecuadorians had an inferiority complex. A past of palliative NGOs had made people complacent—“like beggars,” said Rosa.(37) By exposing indigenous Ecuadorians to the power of social enterprise, encouraging ownership of the development process, and establishing partnerships that RESPOND rather than DRIVE, Jambi Kiwa has generated much optimism and hope for the residents of Chimborazo. Self-starting associational groups and external agencies can learn much from their story: the importance of preserving culture; bringing the marginalized back into mainstream acceptance; innovating with limited resources; seeking partnerships that add an empowering, rather than parasitic or paternalistic, dynamic; utilizing the shrewd expertise of key community agents; and recognizing the capacity of all individuals to give life and color to an organization.

Go To Module 8: Critiques of ABCD >>


(1) Sheehan, G. “Building the Mercado Central: Asset Based Community Development and Community Entrepreneurship in the USA.” From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of their Own Development. Ed. Cunningham, G., and Mathie, A. (UK: Practical Action Publishing, 2008): 64.

(2) Ibid, 65.

(3) Putnam, R. “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century—The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.” Nordic Political Science Association, 30.2 (2007): 1.

(4) Sheehan (2008), 66.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid, 67.

(7) Ibid, 68.

(8) Ibid, 68-69.

(9) Ibid, 69.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid, 70.

(12) Ibid, 71.

(13) Ibid, 73-74.

(14) Ibid, 76.

(15) Ibid, 73.

(16) Ibid, 78.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Ibid, 63.

(19) Cunningham, G. “The Jambi Kiwa Story: Mobilizing Assets for Community Development in Ecuador.” From Clients to Citizens: Communities Changing the Course of their Own Development. Ed. Cunningham, G., and Mathie, A. (UK: Practical Action Publishing, 2008): 85.

(20) Ibid, 86-87.

(21) “CONAIE: A Brief History.” Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador. 1992. Accessed on 16 June 2010.

(22) Cunningham (2008), 86.

(23) Ibid, 87.

(24) Ibid, 88.

(25) Ibid, 86.

(26) Ibid, 88.

(27) Ibid, 89.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Ibid, 92.

(30) Ibid, 94.

(31) Ibid, 95.

(32) Ibid, 96.

(33) Ibid, 97.

(34) Ibid, 99-100.

(35) Ibid, 99.

(36) Ibid, 95.

(37) Ibid, 102.

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