How the ABCD model is helping communities in Puerto Rico

More than 25 years ago, in Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, John McKnight decided to take a different route when looking to improve disadvantaged communities. He realized the people within the communities where better equipped to identify what was best for their own development. That is how the asset-based community development (ABCD) model came to be. The model essentially seeks to build on the assets already in a community and mobilize individuals, associations, and institutes to work together to realize and develop their strengths.

For Puerto Rico, communities lacked support during the recovery process in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Rather than identifying the deficits within the community, Foundation for Puerto Rico ideated the Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative (Bottom Up) program based on the ABCD model that builds on existing assets with the potential to transform communities.

In December 2017, we launched Bottom Up’s first pilot in Orocovis, where 10 young professionals lived for six months to become intimately acquainted with community members: the municipality, business owners, community leaders, legislators, and residents. During this outreach, the team identified the region’s assets, according to the community, to develop community destination plans.

Thanks to a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration, we were able to expand the program to 12 additional municipalities for the next two years: Cabo Rojo, San Germán, Aguadilla, Isabela, Camuy, Arecibo, Manatí, Barceloneta, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, and Naguabo.

The program’s four components assist in strengthening the communities in the impact regions, by providing numerous tools, workshops and support to individuals, local NGOs, entrepreneurs, small businesses and municipal buildings:

  • Basic Needs and Infrastructure: We have donated more than 2,000 resilience items, such as water cisterns, solar lamps, and photovoltaic systems, among others.
  • Small Business Support: We have worked with more than 632 businesses, providing more than 61,000 hours of entrepreneurial education and incubating more than 24 new businesses.
  • Social Capital: We have supported more than 540 local nonprofits through more than 96 workshops to build organizational and fiscal capacity: proposal writing, fundraising, and emergency preparedness.
  • Destination Planning: We have co-designed 8 plans with the community, comprehensive documents that include proposed projects that reflect both authentic local offerings and additional future experiences that help make the destination more competitive. Find the first two regional plans here.

One of Bottom Up’s most recent accomplishments was the revitalization of the Guajataca Tunnel in the region of Isabela, with a donation of almost $12,000 and a leading role in coordinating an ecosystem of community volunteers. We also gave a substantial donation of $125,000 for the reopening of one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved natural treasures and source of revenues for the region: The Camuy River Cave Park. The Caves were badly damaged after Hurricane María and have been closed ever since. After two years of living and working with the community to advocate for their revitalization, we are elated to finally have a date for the Park’s reopening on March 24, 2021.

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