Assets: Much More than a Bunch of Things

\’It’s no longer our resources that limit our decisions.

It’s our decisions that limit our resources.’

— U. Thant

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘asset’? If you’re like me, you’ll think of the words ‘resource’, ‘capital’, ‘benefit’ or ‘positive feature’. And maybe, an asset entails more than that. I discovered that in two instances: first, facilitating a workshop of leaders of various local non-governmental organizations, who were exploring different ways of mobilizing local resources for community development; second, with a group of new young community facilitators who were discovering their personal and community assets.

Learning so much from this experience, this blog will discover how much more there is to an asset than we think.

What’s an Asset?

We usually think of physical and financial assets. Financial assets however, are only as useful as one’s expertise to use them wisely!

An asset can be considered as something of value, anything useful. At a personal level, we have many assets. A mother who cares for many children for example has the ability to juggle a lot of needs and priorities, probably has budgeting and time management skills, and the ability to influence, to get her children to get along with others, and play together.

If we think of a farmer who needs to come to Addis Ababa to sell his products in the marketplace, may have the ability to walk for many miles to get to the market. This may require the ability to pace himself to accomplish the long task, and maybe plan a route that is the fastest path between two points.

A business manager may have the following assets: the skills and expertise to manage a business, knowledge on how the local legal and fiscal requirements are, connections to a network to draw relevant support and information, and the culture inherited from her parents, of service and hospitality, which is required with clients and customers too.

Discovering one’s Personal Assets

My invitation here is that, as you read this, you make a mental note of the assets you identify in yourself. Writing them down as you do so would be even better. To identify them, think of assets that enabled you to survive and thrive during challenging times.

Think of the following categories of assets:

.Expertise: what are the knowledge and experience that are available to you?

.Commitments: what are the things we stand for? What are the promises we make, or have made to each other? This could be an unstated promise, like that of being a parent.

.Cultural: there are so many assets handed down in history. This could include knowledge of local stories, cultural language, dance, art, theatre and ceremonies. A cultural asset could also include the practices of sharing resources with needy people in a community, or those that make a community grow.

.Networks: who are the people you are connected to or have partnerships with?

.Services: what are the services you can deliver, and are willing to barter or trade? You may be good at designing web pages, or looking after children, or have mechanic skills. For example, childcare or mechanic or construction skills. These are the services that, so far, you may have given for free.

.Businesses: what formal and informal businesses, as well as household businesses you know of?

.Financial: what sources of saving do you have, or grants or loans that you can use?

.Physical: what non-financial assets do you have? These could include tools at a personal level, vacant land or buildings.

I’m curious, what did you discover from this exercise? What assets did you discover that you hadn’t considered before? When I went through it, I discovered that I had many more assets than I had assumed! I also realized that all assets are valuable: while we may see different experiences and abilities as more valuable or less valuable, we need a variety of assets in our different engagements in life and at work.

When carrying out this exercise with the Community Facilitators at Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT-Ethiopia), the participants got very excited. They mentioned how they felt affirmed. This is maybe because asset mapping shifts the perspective from focusing on one’s needs, to one’s strengths. It is an empowering approach that identifies what exists, rather than what is missing. I felt it enabled the participants to be placed in a starring role, realizing how much they can contribute (what we appreciate appreciates!). They realized how they could use their abilities to do great work, and to even produce an income.

The excitement in the room mounted when the participants found out what assets other people in the room had: ‘If there is an asset I don’t have,’ one said, ‘I know I can rely on someone else in the room, and who has that.’ In fact, we may feel we have some assets in some categories, and maybe not in others.

Community Assets

Indeed, all the individual assets we may have in the room can make up our community assets! Indeed, when one considers the richness around us, we can draw on it to better target and achieve our aspirations. We can also discover what services we can offer each other. Thinking of it, this is why networking associations (like AWiB) are so important, because one can draw from so much richness around us, increasing possibilities in our work, and increasing our chance for impact, with less effort. Nobody is an island, nobody can do it alone, and people are such a positive asset!

Therefore, to draw from community assets:

.Think of something you wish to accomplish, a project you wish to embark on right now

.What is stopping you?

.What asset do you think is missing for you to accomplish this?

.What assets do others have in your community that you may be able to draw from?

Going through this exercise may inspire you to connect with someone, and a possible cooperation or partnership may emerge, where both parties can share something of value.

The Resource we need may be right behind the Corner

When we feel we are running out of options, cannot find answers, and hopelessness and resignation sets in, we may just need to reconsider what assets we have, or our community has. That single action may inspire us to move back into action.

I’m curious, what are the assets you are proud of having, and what are the assets out there that you are looking for?

.This blog was inspired by work carried out with DOT-Ethiopia, in delivering an ‘Interns Learning Experience Skills Development’ training. Grateful for the learning.

.Image: from Nelson Carvajal’s blog.