John McKnight: A Celebration

Submitted by Paul Born on April 22, 2013 - 12:36pm


We want to celebrate John McKnight, the renowned community organizer and founder of the famed Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute, who will soon be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Waterloo. This honour recognizes John for his lifelong work championing an approach to community-building that incorporates the gifts of marginalized people and celebrates the power of neighbourhoods. I will be reading his citation at this event.

To celebrate John's work and the influence it has had on so many of us, Tamarack is hosting a unique national gathering from June 10-12 in Kitchener Ontario: Neighbors 2013: Policies and Programs. Learn more here.
John's students have included Barack and Michelle Obama as well as social entrepreneur and Ashoka Canada Fellow Al Etmanski. Asked by Al in 2011 what he would like to see become more visible in the year ahead John observed, "…the good life in the 21st century will have to be grown in the local neighborhood. Once we see the need for a strong, connected, productive local community, our basic building blocks are the skills, gifts, passions and knowledge of all our neighbors. It is these neighborly capacities that are most often unknown to us. It is making these capacities visible and connected that will be the basic task of a functioning 21st century."

John believes that the culture of community depends on resources that are in abundance. This challenges many of the assumptions of a market-oriented, consumer society, which teaches that scarcity abounds. The three universal properties that exist within communities of abundance are:

  • Gifts - The gifts - skills, abilities, talents and knowledge - of the people in our neighbourhoods are boundless. The strongest a community can be is when everyone shares their gifts.
  • Associations - A gift is not a gift until it's given. Creating relationships is essential to connect the gifts of individuals together, allowing them to become amplified, magnified, productive, and celebrated. There might be 10 people who can sing, but there won't be a choir until they know about each other.
  • Hospitality - Even a rich, vibrant community has a boundary and will create outsiders. However, strong communities are welcoming and recognize that individuals who were once strangers become community members with new ideas, gifts, and energy. Only weak communities build walls.

There are things that people can do only as families and neighbours that are vital to a good and satisfied life. These things, which John and his colleague Peter Block call the Elements of Satisfaction, grow out of abundant communities. Underpinning the Elements of Satisfaction is a belief that when we link-up our individual qualities with those of others, they are amplified. The Elements of Satisfaction challenge us to acknowledge that many of our current systems, structures and technologies are reaching their limits in terms of their ability to provide us with what we most need. Acting together, these three properties transform our communities and how we live within them.  

Strong communities are more than just a "nice luxury." John's work has demonstrated that strong communities are vital, productive and important. Health, safety, environment, economy, food, children and care are the seven responsibilities of an abundant community and its citizens.

Exploring programs that can advance neighbourhood resilience and capacity is the focus of the upcoming national gathering Neighbours Programs and Policies 2013. Tamarack is pleased to be co-hosting this event with John McKnight, Al Etmanski and Jim Diers. If you share a curiosity and interest in building strong neighbourhoods, this is a learning opportunity you will want to be sure to attend.

Speaking a few years ago about his life's work, John reminded us that, "We have a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us. What we need is each other. And when, we act together, we will find Our Way. The citizen's way: The community way: The democratic way. We are called to nothing less. And it is not so wild a dream."  

Learn More:

So excited!

This event is going to be fabulous- so looking forward to celebrating with John and many others... hoping you can join us!


John McKnight has been a big inspiration for me.  His writing is really simple and down to earth while at the same time the message is deeply profound.  As I get ready to move into a new neighbourhood, I am looking forward to putting into action some of his ideas.  I am really exciting to see him in person in KW :)