The view from inside outwards appreciates possibility that starts within.

Touchstone Seven: Implementation

What are the things you care about enough to take action on?

Which of those things might benefit the community you live in? And of those community building options, which of them could you implement using local resources that are within your sphere of influence? Are there neighbours who’d be prepared to help, if asked?

If you were able to see behind the activities and projects that foreground so much community action, you’d discover background processes that enable communities to be impactful. These processes are also inclusive and powerful. Momentum gathers as community deepens and those relationships bond through small group conversations and choices around what to take action on.

Touchstone seven recognizes that civic actions can start with either an external or internal orientation. External orientations tend to put collective effort into influencing/leveraging assets that are not local and that are outside community control. Internal orientation by contrast tends to seek to discover, connect and mobilise resources that are local and within community control. The choice is where to start. Some, it has to be said are not even aware they have a choice.

Those that are aware and understand the importance of the sequence, also understand the inherent dangers of starting from outside in (external orientation) and the hidden potential of starting from inside out (internal orientation). When we start with the assumption that development is unilaterally resourced using external assets and that the best use of internal assets is in pursuing those ‘outside in’ investments, we are making a choice about power. The story is that the power to initiate development is scarce, distant and in the hands of others not like us. That story casts residents as ‘effect’, and funders, policy makers and subject experts as ‘cause’. This narrative assumes that outside institutions have the power, we as local residents have to try to get it from them and convince them to share or bequest/grant it to us.

Community work when the orientation is external is limited to funding applications, lobbying, establishing panels, community campaigns etc. to leverage in funding, expertise, and policy changes. In this sequencing Citizen-led community action is seen as nice to have, but of secondary importance, to securing said external resources.

The hidden trap in this conversation is that residents spend their valuable time and energy demonstrating what is wrong with their communities in an effort to prove their worthiness to outside agencies. Such citizen activity has a pernicious side effect, in the very act of proving the need for outside help, the arrival of that help (in form of professionals) often causes citizens to retreat, while the experts take charge.

The internal approach does not foreclose on external resources, but recognizes that if citizenship is to be strengthened and be a real match for external resources then local residents must start to:

A) name their own challenges and possibilities
B) commit/contribute their own assets and resources to the solution
C) take action together to implement those solution.

In Rwanda this is the process the Wellspring Foundation have using to great affect.

Here is their story:

Rwanda: stories of community action: How The Wellspring Foundation embarked on the process of ABCD

A compilation of stories shared by Rachel Mahuku, Education Sector Program Manager at The Wellspring Foundation for Education.

The Wellspring Foundation had a week of ABCD training in ABCD with Cormac Russell in August 2012. Since then, they have been using ABCD principles within the school communities they work with, starting in 4 nursery school communities. In 2014 they expanded their work to primary and secondary school communities. By August 2015, the intervention had covered all the 48 schools (both primary and secondary) they work with.

After their ABCD training, The Wellspring Foundation developed a training material and came up with 5 steps:

  1. People share their successful stories.
  2. People choose among themselves who they think can be connectors.
  3. Asset Mapping exercise: discovering the gift-giving opportunity through the “We Can Game” and mapping assets identified in communities.
  4. Vision setting and Action Plan.
  5. The community put the action plan into practice, thereafter celebrating their successes.

This material was used as a pilot of ABCD approach in 4 nursery school communities (2 in semi-urban area and 2 in rural area). Nursery schools were their first platform for gaining expertise in ABCD by doing ABCD.

These are some of the stories that came out of this journey.

ABCD Stories

After covering the five steps of ABCD, each community identified what they mostly care about, to start with.
In one school, parents decided to look for teaching aids found in their local surrounding and these should be used in teaching their children.

This lady made two balls using newspapers and strings found locally and brought them to the nursery school. Children enjoyed playing with these balls.


When parents saw how children were happy using these balls, they decided to bring other balls and some other items like, small empty water bottles, beans to put in the bottles, bottle tops, toilet tissues, scissors and ropes, balls made out of dry banana leaves, etc. Teachers could use these items in teaching things like colours, shape, counting, etc.


In another community, parents decided to prepare porridge for their children at school and all the children share the porridge around 9.00am.

Many children used to come hungry to school and could hardly follow in the class or keep awake until the end of the classes. But since they started taking porridge at school, children are strong, they are happy to go to school and they enjoy learning, as testified by parents and teachers.

 Rwanda_13 Rwanda_12Rwanda_14

Having seen how successful ABCD had been in nursery school communities and how receptive the communities were, Wellspring Foundation decided to expand this initiative to all the school communities they work with in Gasabo District. They felt how ABCD approach can be a solution to help people focus more on what they have and not on what they need in order to solve their own problems.

This has been an innovative solution to address poverty in all its form in these communities.

Gasabo District




Gasabo District is a second-order administrative division and is located in Kigali Province, Rwanda. It has got 15 Sectors (a third-order administrative division). In these 15 Sectors we work with 48 public schools found in 14 Sectors of the District. ABCD was conducted with only school communities.

During the 2nd step of the process, parents could identify connectors among themselves who have these characteristics:

  • Connectors are people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.
  • They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.
  • They are people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”
  • They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary skill/ ability for making friends.
  • The social success of connectors is due to the fact that; “their ability to include/ connect many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”
  • They are gift-centred people, trusted, well-connected, and they believe they are welcome.
  • They are good at discovering what people care about and where their assets can be used.

What they did

During asset mapping, many people were amazed by the fact that they discovered that they have many assets in their communities that they ignored or took for granted but were not making use of them. Another thing that they discovered is that when they come together as a community they can achieve much – this was mostly discovered during the ‘we can game’ activity and the assets mapping exercises.

People started realising that they need to come together and each one bring their talents, put them together, share experience, etc. and this has indeed worked; actions are there to testify.

Assets mapping done in communities by community members themselves:

Rwanda_02 Rwanda_03


In some communities, poverty is the major problem that prevents children to go to school. Some parents cannot afford getting the requirement asked by schools. Other children are born from single parents who are not able to send them to school. Many others are orphans who live alone and do not have any income that can help them go to school.

Rwanda_01Most of these children are homeless and live in the streets. Local leaders were trying to do their best to take care of these children but it was not easy. During ABCD sessions, people could themselves highlight some of those challenges and they tried to find out what to do to help those children to go to school.


Parents in meetings; they are sharing what they care about and planning actions.

All worked together: connectors identified the children in the cities; school administration allowed those children to attend classes without paying the school fees and local leaders tried to sensitise parents and provide school uniforms and materials.

Connectors played a considerable role in identifying the children and finding out why they are not attending school. Then they talked to parents and to local leaders. When all came together they managed to bring back some of the kids to school.


Children who were living in streets are now at school.



Parents working in the playground of their children in the school compound.

Before training parents in ABCD approach, many of them could not bother at all about following up the learning process of their children. Once they had provided school materials, many thought that this was enough. With ABCD they discovered that they need to invest more in the development of schools in order to create a good and conducive learning environment for their children.

For example, some actions that were taken include: putting fences to the school compound for the security of children; bring water and/or electricity to the school; making school garden in order to beautify the school environment; etc. examples are just many… This has also help in creating good relationship between parents and teachers together with the school administration; when before they were suspicious to one another. With all this, one can imagine how it has improved the teaching and learning process.

Some people had already started working together to improve their living like this experience told by a lady from one community:

‘Immediately after the genocide, we found ourselves helpless widows. In the village where I lived we were almost 10 women in bad living situation. It was hard to get school fees for our children, among many other things we needed. One day we came together and decided to find ways of putting our efforts together in order to solve our problems. We started putting some little money together 500Rwf every week (this is less than 1US Dollars).

After the first month we managed to pay school fees for one child; the second week we paid for a 2nd child, etc. until we had paid school fees for each child. We continued putting the small amount of money together; some months later, we opened a bank account to keep our money in. When a member needs money she could borrow from what we had saved and was given a period of time to pay back that money with a small interest. This has help many of us to start small income generating activities and improve our living. Recently we decided that each member should be bringing 2000Rwf weekly as a contribution.

New members who want to join us are welcome but they have to bring the amount equal to what each member has already contributed so that they have the same amount like others. Now we have enough money and we have built a very big oven for baking bread that we sell and the revenues are put in our bank account. This is still going on and we hope to achieve much more’.

In fact, the community sustained the activity because it was their initiative as testified by one of them in these terms:

Our community managed to overcome extreme poverty by putting our effort together. One individual could not achieve alone what we have achieved.

By coming together and working together we have achieved much and we are still continuing and we hope that our activity is going to last for a long period of time, especially because we have young people joining us.

We are sure that if it was someone else, from outside, who had initiated the activity we could not have put in much effort and it could have failed as many other initiatives started by some people from outside and once those people are gone the activity dies out. But because this initiative is ours, there is a chance for it to last for a long period of time because we value what we have initiated.”

Stories from parents

Parents from Rutunga community (Rutunga is one of the schools they work with) came together and connect their efforts to support the education of their children.

It has been after the completion of ABCD steps that parents identified that they have assets in their community that they could use to improve their living conditions.


Rwanda_16Among the assets they have, they discovered that they have a big uncultivated garden in the school compound, among others. They asked the school to allow them to use the garden and plant vegetables (cabbages and carrots) in order to support the school feeding program introduced in schools (students have to get lunch at school and parents have to contribute money for that purpose; but some parents could not afford).

The school allowed parents to use the garden and all members of the community took place in the action. Even the sector officer in charge of agriculture provided fertilisers to put in the garden. Agriculture is one of the main activities of the area.

Parents were happy to work together in order to help their children get a balanced diet.

One parent testified that this is a great occasion to meet other parents and share constructive ideas.

Parents, PTAs, connectors and the school administration, all share about what can be done in order to promote quality education of their children, how to improve their living conditions and many other ideas. The school garden has become a bumping place for the surrounding community.

Parents decided to contribute each one a small amount of money and save it. This money could, time to time, assist children whose parents may face a problem of school fees. Parents could borrow from this money and then pay back slowly.



Citizens investing their gifts in a process of shared accountability, is what grows power from inside out, and what enables institutions to show up thereafter in a genuinely collaborative way. The notion that citizens have work to do and if it does not get done by them, then there is no governmental alternative, may well offend some, especially in a time of such stinging and often illogical cuts to essential services. But even a moments critical thought around civic freedoms and community power, will find acceptable the argument that social democracies can flourish and prevail only when citizens, families and communities are recognized as having irreplaceable functions, that the state must support, not replace.

The work of citizenship is unpaid and non-contractual, not because it is worthless and clandestine, but because it is priceless and covenantal. A society obsessed with the alienating ideal that paid work is the only route to securing a valid sense of identity, will struggle with the right to meaningful unemployment, but beyond the world of paid work and the white noise of the factory, is a life of abundance, family and community. And when we think about life and work this way, four things become apparent, at least in my mind:

  1. shadow work (as described by Ivan Illich: is essential to modern life and wellbeing and
  2. unconditional basic citizen income is an important accelerant to enabling that work to happen and civic creativity to be released. For a balanced discussion on Unconditional Basic (Citizen) Income (UBI) Checkout:
  3. Production of the masses within planetary boundaries is what will define the future, not mass production.
  4. Well done is better than well said, if we can do it with near neighbours and in a way that enhances our ecology and respects diversity.


Cormac Russell

Click here for the complete series: The Eight Touchstones of Community Building


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