Metanoia is a movement of people focused on building capacities and developing communities rather than just offering services. This approach is based heavily in the Asset Based Community Development research of John McKnight and Jodi Kretzmann of Northwestern University. These two sociologists understood that traditional charity models can very often increase dependence on agencies and destabilize communities by only focusing on problems.
We believe that merely identifying a problem and then spending resources on problem alleviation is an inefficient way to actually solve the problem. We are working to pioneer a new approach that takes the problems of our community seriously, but then engages in a very important second step on our way to finding a solution. Rather than just identifying the problem and attacking the problem itself, we identify a problem and then take the time to look around the problem for what ASSETS might be available within the community that could solve the problem itself. Such assets might be human (students showing leadership potential or residents with gardening skills who can teach others how to grow their own food) or physical (a local school that can be mobilized to continue learning opportunities during the summer months or a vacant house where we can put a first time homebuyer). These assets, and not the problem itself, are where we choose to invest our resources. We find that as we invest in neighborhood assets, the assets not only gain the capacity to solve an immediate problem, they also make sustainable progress more reliable. We engage in a holistic range of opportunities that are all intended to maximize our resources and generate measurable outcomes. Whereas the old needs-based model of helping people solely defined them according to their problems and saw the agency as the ‘hero’ that had the responsibility for ‘fixing’ people, we see our community as a glass half full that merely needs targeted investment in its assets to see the community recover.
We seek to discover and grow the assets of our community and this leads to an aspirational rise for those involved in our programs. Focusing on assets allows formerly negatively labeled people and communities to redefine themselves and begin the process of community healing and renewal. The initiatives we offer are better understood as ‘opportunities’ rather than ‘services.’ Generally a service is an investment people receive for presenting something that is broken in their lives. An opportunity is an investment that people receive for presenting some capacity that they have in their own lives for growth.