Category: Reflections and Ideas

I have worked in international aid and development for a long time and about 10 years ago I started using the ABCD approach along with other such methods to engage and work with communities.  Since then I have applied this approach in a number of developing countries, especially in Africa. 

I am just back from Nigeria where I worked for a few months in areas of Kano State.  Although I fully appreciate the impact the ABCD method can have, I was nevertheless amazed at the results gained in such a short time.  They included:-

  • 15,000 people were engaged by 12 trained community organizers
  • 141 Associations worked with – of these 69 were revived having been dormant and 72 were newly established. Total number of association members 13,950 of which close to 5,000 are women.
  • Income generating activities include – Clothes making and selling; food production and selling; production of metal goods – e.g. knives, hair pins; furniture making; production of leather goods for retail; and much more
  • 48 savings and loans schemes commenced – loans given by local small loans agency for expanding food production businesses and buying livestock
  • 657 people linked with local financial institutions of which 210 have received loans
  • Construction of classrooms by communities
  • Employment of 4 teachers – paid by community
  • Contribution of 2 shops by local community members – used as retail outlets for animal feed
  • Women making clothes opened a retail shop
  • School furniture repaired by local carpenters without payment
  • 6 young people trained in carpentry through contributions made by the community

This all took place with 14 weeks!  It got me thinking that while the tangible results are impressive, what was the motivation behind the success?   Why was it embraced so wholeheartedly?   I came to the following conclusions: -

  1. I have found that all too often ABCD as an approach is not always adopted due to fear and scepticism. Many International NGOs for example, are very wary of adopting such an approach which would require a fundamental change to the way they do things.  Many NGO staff have stated that if communities did so much more for themselves, they would be out of jobs!  My response is always, ‘ABCD does not necessarily do away with NGOs, but it does require them to work in a different way.’ 

In the Nigerian example, the company I was contracted by, the donor, the local government and the communities all took it on in full.  The freedom to express the approach makes the process so much easier for everyone.  So, it is important before embarking on community engagement through ABCD that you know who is on board and who is not.

  1. My main starting point when conducting training programs is to ascertain what the mindset of communities is.  Are they expecting free ‘hand-outs’ through direct aid?  Are they assuming the ‘outsider’ knows more and are therefore reluctant to take responsibility?  Have they received aid for years to a point that their hitherto independence has been replaced by apathy and dependence on others?

Mindsets require serious tweaking in most instances and there are a number of ways to do this, which I won’t describe here, but once this is done, the energy and interest of people shifts extensively.

  1. Training, engagement, planning and communication must always be done in a positive manner. Positivity is crucial because it is infectious, the more you are positive the more people adopt the same demeanour.  This makes progress all the easier and faster.  There are training modules available for this to ensure it takes place and I would recommend people approach communities or/and training programs with these in mind.
  2. Listening and really hearing what people are saying is also essential if you want serious and lasting impact. All too often you see people from agencies, governments, donors etc. lecturing to communities about what they MUST do, in order to achieve x and y.  Listening is a skill, the purpose of your engagement with communities is to learn and learning is done through listening. Hearing and learning are influenced by how you set the conversation, which is another key element of engagement. 


My time with communities in Nigeria was a fantastic learning experience for all concerned, including me!   A previous experience in Ethiopia with a UN agency and Government Department was like pushing an elephant up a hill!  Their apparent view of change, losing control and more independent communities was an anathema to their ways of operating.  And, while communities responded really well to ABCD their successes where short lived, as things reverted back to the ‘old ways’ of working with such communities.  

Brian Nugent