The asset-based community development (ABCD) approach in action : an analysis of the work of two NGOs in Samoa : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Over decades, top-down development approaches have failed to deliver real and sustainable development outcomes for the masses in developing countries, thus providing an impetus for exploring alternative development approaches. The asset-based community development (ABCD) approach is said to offer not only a ‘people-centred’ but also a ‘citizen-driven’ approach. This thesis investigates two locally-based NGOs in Samoa, Tagiilima Handicrafts Association (THA) and Women in Business Development Inc. (WIBDI) to ascertain whether they use ABCD to promote locally-driven development. Both NGOs administer village-based income generating-projects. The thesis explores in particular how local people access and control existing local assets; including traditional skills and knowledge (social and cultural assets) and natural resources (environmental assets), into useful products and commodities. Using a qualitative method, the researcher collected data through in-depth semi structured interviews with grassroots members, Heads of NGOs and other key stakeholders, and a focus group discussion with community members only.
The results show that participants have improved their livelihoods as evident in financial outcomes, along with their ability to meet cultural and religious obligations. Although most participants had not heard of the ABCD framework, in essence its principles are embedded and reflected in the practices of the organisations being studied. Overall, unlike traditional development interventions, the ABCD approach provides a model that is empowering and can create sustainable outcomes for rural people if used well. Nevertheless, concerns were raised by a minority of participants regarding the issue of the ‘middle-man role’ which can have a disempowering effect on village-based producers.
Three major conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, the use of an asset-based approach offers tremendous potential for Samoans as a strategy to enhance locally-driven community development. Second, NGOs and donor-led projects must find their place and utilise the existing traditional structures, systems and values within a village-setting if they wish to be effective. Thirdly, strengthening collaborations and networks with key development partners is critical for the success of NGOs. The absence of any official (or otherwise substantive) study on the long term effects of donor funding through the work of NGOs on grassroots rural development in Samoa makes this research and its findings timely.