ABCD: Local empowerment in Ethiopia

Oxfam's ABCD program helps communities focus on what they have, instead of what they don’t have, to inspire confidence and change.

Oxfam helps communities focus on what they have, instead of what they don’t have, to inspire confidence and change.

By focusing on strengths and assets, communities realize they have a wealth of resources to mobilize for action plans to improve their lives.

Oxfam, the Coady International Institute and local Ethiopian partners have worked together since 2003 to empower communities through ABCD, Asset-Based Community Development.

ABCD encourages communities to focus on their existing assets, dwell on previous community-led successes, set goals, establish priorities and create an action plan for improvements.

The process involves women and men, young and old in a detailed mapping of their resources - physical environment, productive assets, social and physical infrastructure, knowledge and capabilities of all community members.

People share past successes. They learn the importance of savings by conducting a 'Leaky Bucket' exercise. Looking at the main flows of money in and out of the community they spot where “leakage” can be reduced.

Examples include composting instead of buying chemical fertilizers; pooling financial assets into savings associations; opening bank accounts; reinvesting in education or oxen; and reducing “extravagant” spending on coffee, alcohol and festivities.

An empowering picture evolves from the inventory of fields, water, woods, livestock, crops, skills, schools, organizations, tools, talents, traditions and experience of community members.

“When we started counting, we saw that what we have is more than what we don’t,” said one participant.

The inventory serves as a foundation for community conversations about how to build on their assets, tap underused resources, apply skills in one area to another, diversify production or start a new venture.

The mapping puts a spotlight on unnoticed, undervalued or unused talent and resources. For women, this can mean their work for the family, the community and the local economy is acknowledged publicly for the first time.



In three powerful videos, Kibnesh, Marta and Abenet tell how ABCD inspired improvements in their lives.

Also read this inspiring 2011 blog by Sol Henson documenting the impact of ABCD in the Ethiopian community of Tebbo.