Community Pioneers

Every city and neighborhood has their pioneers, people who are creating abundance for their neighbors and local citizens. These people have a different vision for their communities. We do not have to train community builders, we only have to give them visibility. When we will see how many there are learn from, our vision for our local communities will shift. This list is a beginning. 

ABCD in Action

ABCD in Action is a website focused on ways to apply the principles and practices of Asset-Based Community Development and related strength-based and commonsense approaches. The site’s members include practitioners from the US, Canada, Australia, England, Wales and Ireland with interest and experience in grass roots practice, health applications, social policy, evaluation and outcomes, education and daily life. 

A Small Group

A Small Group is a network of citizens in Cincinnati engaged in caring for their community. They are shifting the way people gather in the city and shifting the narrative of the city from one of problem to one of possibility. They hold intensive, community conversations, a monthly meeting and a civic engagement series to make this happen.  

Minette Bauer
Youth Advocate Programs

Minette and her group have created a way to circle “youth-at-risk” with a supportive group of neighborhood people. They provide a positive alternative to the criminal justice system. 

Bill Berkowitz
Author of Community Dreams
Community Tool Box

Bill is a pioneer in understanding the power of relationships as community-building tools; his book Community Dreams remains the best eye-opener regarding possibilities for local invention. 

Paul Born
Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement

This group uses community building and cooperative strategies to get at the root causes of poverty in cities across Canada and New Zealand. They are research based and engage people at the lower levels and margins of society to develop new thinking for a difficult and stubborn issue. They are getting some amazing results.

Hear Tamarack president and co-founder Paul Born discuss ways to get people with different backgrounds and roles to blur the lines that divide them in “Why You Should Bring Community to the Table,” a July 2011 interview with Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, in The Chronicle of Philanthrophy.

Gordon Cunningham and Alison Mathie
Coady International Institute

Gordon and Alison, based at St.Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, have become leaders of an international movement focusing on the power of local relationships and assets in the village development process. 

Jim Diers
Neighbor Power

Jim led the City of Seattle’s neighborhood department to support neighborhood invention and problem solving. His book, Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way, describes the diversity of initiatives that neighbors undertake when government supports rather than controls or ignores their efforts. 

Dan Duncan

Since the mid 90’s Dan has been helping communities, funders, nonprofits and governmental entities, both nationally and internationally, create greater community change through the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). He is one of the original faculty of John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann’s Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University and has a long history as a neighborhood organizer, nonprofit agency and United Way CEO, and university adjunct faculty member.

Tim Dutton and April Doner
Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE)

Tim and April are members of a citizen engagement organization in Sarasota, Florida, where their leadership in focusing the community on the importance of local relationships and assets has resulted in a climate of invention. 

Joe Erpenbeck
Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services ABCD Group

Sandra Nahornoff
Project Friendship Society

Joe, in Cincinnati, and Sandra, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, are masters at creating local initiatives that draw marginal and labeled people back into neighborhood relationships. 

Al Etmanski
Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN)


Al is a leading social inventor in Canada who has learned how to create effective associations that support labeled people outside service systems. We can all learn from his explorations of effective new problem-solving networks. 

The Faculty of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute

This is an international group of creative practitioners of an asset-based approach to community building. Their biographies and contact information are on their website. 

Wayne Helgason and Glen Cochrane
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

These two Canadian First Nation leaders have helped renew the traditional knowledge that powerful nations are gift centered. 

Ann Livingston
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)

Ann has learned how to protect a supportive association from lapsing into becoming one more service agency. Her association has provided opportunities for addicted people to create useful, productive neighborhood initiatives and relationships. 

Mike Mather
Broadway United Methodist Church

As the pastor of an inner-city congregation in Indianapolis, Mike has invented and supported new initiatives to create productive neighborhood friendships. 

Allison Pinto
Central-Cocoanut Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters

Allison is leading the way toward new understandings of the creativity and inventiveness of a neighborhood’s young children. The Scavengers are enabling new roles for children to be community builders. 

Jackie Reed
Every Block a Village, Westside Health Authority

Jackie has led the organizing effort of EBV on Chicago’s West Side. The organization creates unique webs of relationships among neighbors whose mutual support creates amazing opportunities. 

Olivia Saunders

If you want to contact Olivia, please let us know (

Olivia is an associate professor of economics at the College of the Bahamas. She is a voice for an economics based on abundance rather than scarcity. Her thinking is grounded in her deep commitment to find an alternative to the modern forms of colonialism. Her efforts are directed to exposing and celebrating the gifts inherent in individuals, communities, and nations. Both are refreshing to find in the academy. 

Lois Smidt
Beyond Welfare

Lois has led a group of neighbors in Ames, Iowa, in creating an open door for people leaving the welfare system. The group understands that their hospitality includes money, friends, and a new meaning for life. 

Judith Snow
Inclusion Network

Judith was a key inventor of Circles of Support, now an international movement creating new community relationships around excluded and marginalized people. 

Dr. Frances Strickland

Frances is innovating new approaches for people in politics. The wife of the former governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, she uses this platform to build cooperation in the human service and educational system world. Her message and way of engaging others always affirms the capacities of citizens and people at the local level. 

Ray Thompson
Thompson Community Relations Group

Ray has fashioned a new institutional role: the school–community connector. His innovative experiments creating new, two-way relationships between a local school and its surrounding neighborhood are groundbreaking. 

Marian Tompson
La Leche League

Marian founded La Leche League, an association of women supporting family life in their own community. The movement is now worldwide and growing in aspiration and influence. 

Paul Uhlig
Project Access

If you want to see the face of authentic health care reform, study the work that Paul is doing. He is a thoracic surgeon in practice but is a force for choosing health over disease. He has demonstrated the healing effects of collaborative care, and the practical and curative effects of focusing on people’s gifts and capacities.          

Brighde Vallely

Brighde is a peace builder in Northern Ireland. She has given her life to becoming a bridge for groups who believed that their history and stories made connection impossible. She completely embodies the power of a door-to-door, patient, persistent, person-to-person strategy for changing the world. 

Sarah van Gelder
Yes! Magazine

This magazine and website cover an elegant scope of wisdom and insight, from large policy questions like the restructuring of our financial system to what individuals and small associations are doing to transform their neighborhoods and thereby the world. An indispensable source for those who care for the well-being of us all. 

Louise van Rhyn

Louise and those around her are engaged in nation building in South Africa. They embody a relationship-based and collaborative stance to creating the future. If there is a country in the world that will show us that a society based on compassion and accountability is possible, it will beSouth Africa. Louise will be in the forefront of creating that possibility.

Louise and her firm, Symphonia, and its flagship project, Partners for Possibility, received the 2013 Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s annual Reconciliation Award for ‘enlivening reconciliation by helping to bridge the social, economic and geographical divides between the business and education sectors.’ See Louise’s note to Peter announcing the honor here and a short video clip of Louise receiving the award below:


Bob Woodson
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

For decades, Bob has led initiatives in low-income minority communities that demonstrate how local community relationships are the ultimate source of power and empowerment.