In The End, It’s All About Relationships

Date: February 6, 2013
Category: News

CLF’s partnerships with local organizations help to address the economic and community needs facing our community. While CLF provides critical financing, its partners are on the ground constructing and/or rehabilitating affordable housing units, healthy food retail outlets, and community facilities. One of CLF’s longtime partners, Metanoia, recently posted the following letter on their website, recognizing the impact that strong partnerships have on local communities.

In The End, It’s All About Relationships

Here’s a true story of an unfortunate lesson in Asset Based Community Development that occurred in a nearby city here in South Carolina a few years back. I was not there, but I am told by a resident of this city whom I trust that the city really got behind the idea of Asset Based Community Development. They put time and energy behind assessing the strengths of a particular distressed neighborhood within their boundaries. They borrowed from the methodology of the ABCD Institute and its founders John McKnight and Jodi Kretzman. To cap the project off they actually brought McKnight to town all the way from Chicago to speak with those involved in the project (and also to show off their good work).

In speaking to the group McKnight was presented with a listing of skills and assets that individuals in this particular community were discovered as having. To look at the list and its exhaustive nature was to wonder why the neighborhood wasn’t succeeding – they had tons of gifts and abilities that were discovered by the study. McKnight picked just one of those skills and asked someone in the room to tell him about the person who displayed these qualities. There was a long silence in the room followed by some gentle murmuring. Finally, someone mustered the courage to admit that though they had assessed all of these gifts, they had not built a system for keeping attributes attached to those who had them. Though they could confidently say that all these gifts existed in the neighborhood, they could not say just who had any particular gift.

At that point John McKnight, a guy who had built a career on something called “Asset Based Community Development,” spoke humbly to the crowd. “I wish we had never called it asset based community development.” He went on to say that his research was really all about the importance of relationships – real relationships of sharing and mutual giving that produce transformation. I couldn’t agree more. One of the things that frustrates me most about the way many non-profit agencies approach my community is that they see my neighbors as a bucket of needs and don’t see any value in pursuing strong relationships of mutual sharing and learning with them. This approach generates some short term rewards, but over time, it erodes trust and undercuts my neighbors’ self-worth.

But there are exceptions to this trend and those folks are the people I love to work with. Just this week for example, I sat in rooms with Jeff Brown who was brought to town by SC Community Loan Fund. Mr. Brown owns a series of very successful grocery stores located in urban areas in Philadelphia and CLF brought him to town to meet with the City of North Charleston and a local developer who are all working to get a grocery store in our community. Everyone is working together on this because our community has said that a local grocery store would dramatically improve the livability, sustainability, and health of our area.

Now you may have noticed that getting a grocery store doesn’t exactly seem like the work that a group named SC Community Loan Fund might be doing. But, in response to our community’s desires, CLF has been willing to pursue avenues for financing a grocery store that they have available to them as a Community Development Financial Institution. To be clear, they don’t have to do this. There are lots of other agencies that we’ve informed about our community’s desire for a grocery store and they have done what agencies usually do. They have stuck to their own service delivery systems, servicing things the neighborhood may or may not have expressed a desire for.

What CLF is doing is proof of a desire for a relationship with our community. Healthy relationships are characterized by mutual learning and sharing.  CLF has learned from us about the concerns of our neighborhoods and we are learning from them about more advanced financing instruments available to us to get a grocery store in the community. We are all learning from Jeff Brown about how to talk to grocers in a way that works. Relationships make us all better, they produce more value than any individual has by themselves, and they create positive community change.

The same dynamics happen everywhere at Metanoia, whether among our parents and staff, our residents at the community garden, or attendees at our financial literacy classes. This year, Metanoia is engaging in a process of strategic planning to evaluate where we are headed for the next three years. I don’t know exactly what that process will develop, but I do know that authentic relationships will need to be at the center if it is to succeed. Indeed, it is through real mutual relationships of giving and sharing that we all become all that we can be in life.

Bill Stanfield

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