Uncovering and Connecting Individual Gifts
“There is nothing more powerful than a community discovering what it cares about.”
~ Margaret Wheatley
One of the most powerful ways we can change our communities is by weaving together the gifts and talents around the issues or dreams we care about the most. Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) demonstrates that communities are at their strongest and safest when community members are well-connected and actively contributing their skills and talents to the life of their neighborhood.
While the stories collected by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann revealed six key assets neighbors can draw upon to improve their communities, the one asset that appeared consistently in every story was this asset: the gifts of individuals. Therefore, it’s important to always begin your weaving work with a focus on the gifts, talents, and passions of your fellow neighbors.
The heart and engine of ABCD is a twofold practice:
- We intentionally uncover the gifts, talents, passions and contributions of the folks who live in our neighborhood.
- We find ways to connect those gifts so they can be powerful and productive together.
Everyone Has Gifts
An asset-based approach particularly emphasizes the need to discover, lift up and connect the capacities of those folks in our neighborhood who have been labeled in ways that highlight their needs rather than their gifts. These labels suggest that these individuals don’t have much to offer the community.
Some examples of harmful needs labels are:
- “pregnant teens”
Needs or deficiency labels are often given to others by well-meaning agencies and professionals, or even neighbors out of a sincere desire to help them. However, using these labels as the main lens through which we see, interact with, and introduce folks to others can actually do more harm than good. ABCD reminds us that, on a fundamental level, “our greatest need is to be needed.” By focusing first on others’ needs rather than their gifts denies them the joy, pride and fulfillment of giving their gifts, as well as the opportunity to act with others from a place of power around their passions.
Needs labels also have an adverse effect of segregating, stigmatizing and hiding the very real gifts of these individuals from their larger community. For instance, many programs serving folks labeled as “disabled” focus on organizing activities for them with others who share their needs label. In this way, the programs magnify the labels while also blocking participants from connecting meaningfully with other community members or groups. Programs organized in this way also fail to learn or find ways for disabled people to express their unique individual gifts and interests. Both the labeled individuals and the communities suffer as a result.
A similar dynamic shows up within programs and activities aimed to help other people who are labeled for their needs, such as people experiencing poverty, homelessness, mental health challenges, etc.
ABCD seeks to reverse this trend by seeking out, lifting up, and putting to use the gifts, dreams and contributions of all community members, based on the core beliefs that “There is no one we don’t need,” and that “Everyone has gifts.”
Tools for Learning and Connecting Individual Gifts
There are many ways to go about learning, connecting and mobilizing individual gifts. Chances are, you already do this in many creative ways as a natural community weaver.
The following two 4-H Gifts and Know, Teach, Learn tools were developed by community members hoping to build stronger communities from their own existing skills, talents, and capacities. They offer two simple, energizing ways you can experiment with to begin revealing, celebrating and activating the individual capacities within any group.
These are also great activities to help you and your group to practice putting on an “abundance lens” and seeing one’s community through new eyes. By using an asset or abundance lens, we can better utilize the many untapped resources already present in every neighborhood while also cultivating a feeling of pride, hope, and mutual delight among our neighbors.
There may also be cultural practices or habits within your community and culture that serve to uplift and use the gifts of community members. As you read through these tools, we encourage you to take stock of these existing practices and think about how you might use them even more intentionally in your weaving work, or even blend them together with the tools below.
As with all ABCD tools and practices, we suggest you to play with them and find ways that work best for you and your neighbors, and to add your own unique flair!
Test Your Knowledge
Which of the following are considered types of gifts?
- What Brings You Joy?, by Shari Finnell
- Tool: Uncovering Individual Gifts & Skills, from 4H Gifts & Know Teach Learn
Hold a Gifts Conversation!
Invite a friend, neighbor, collaborator or family member who you’d enjoy getting to know a little better and would be up for trying something new with you. Invite them to have a Gifts Conversation. You could do it in any space or set-up that feels most comfortable or inspiring (over coffee or tea, over a meal, or at your favorite local community bumping place)—as long as you can make notes as you go! (Use this worksheet for inspiration.)
- Spend 15-30 minutes asking one another about your gifts of the “Head, Heart, and Hand, and Human Connection.”
- Head: knowledge you have in a particular area (e.g., geography, health care, history of the neighborhood)
- Hand: a skill you possess and enjoy sharing with the community or teaching to others (e.g., carpentry, photography, art, dancing, cooking, etc.)
- Heart: what do you care about passionately that has the power to stir you to action? (e.g., young people, the environment, preserving historic architecture, etc.)
- Human Connection: How are you good at connecting with people or connecting people to each other? What are the things you do to stay connected to your community? (e.g., starting conversations, keeping in touch with / checking on people, remembering peoples’ names or details, throwing parties, joining an interest group, or working behind the scenes to support events or gatherings.)
- After your conversation, spend 5-10 minutes reflecting together on:
- Post your reflections on this exercise in the forum.
Inspired? Energized? Here are some ways to take this exercise deeper, if you’d like to:
- Now that you know the gifts of this person, find a way to share, connect, or celebrate it in the life of the community. For example: Tell someone about it; connect them with someone who can use that gift; write a story about it and, with that person’s permission, share the story in a group forum; or any other creative way you can think of!
- Reflect on and write down: What was it like to find a way to use or make others aware of someone’s gift, talent or passion? What did you have to overcome, if anything, to do it? What was rewarding about it?
- Read this list of 20 Things You Can Do When You Know Someone’s Gifts (Bruce Anderson)
- Video: Beautiful Justice, by Beth Mount (21:26)
- Article: How residents of the Paschalville neighborhood in Philadelphia used Gifts Conversations to uncover, celebrate and connect their neighbors’ gifts in partnership with their local library, by April Doner
- Book: Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, by Mike Mather