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John McKnight, an national expert on “asset-based community development”, states that the first principle of community development is to start with what is present in the community, the capacity of its residents, workers, associations, and institutional base - not with what is absent, problematic, or needed.
An asset based development process requires participants to look within. It calls on the local experts for advice and input, not the would- be external helper. This requires a change in the mind set of most health professionals and students. One can not assume that they are coming to a community to cure their ills. Faculty, students, and practitioners are not viewed as experts until they are granted admission into the community. This acceptance can only be earned by building trust and proving worth to the community. Too many health providers and health professions students have entered communities as the saviors only to leave when the academic term or outreach funding ends. Communities are not specimens in a laboratory, and feel quite strongly that those who would make them so are not welcome.
So where do you begin? Where are the assets?