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Lessons learned from the Ontario East co-sponsored Creative Rural Economy: From Theory to Practice Conference

Ontario East

Mark Hanley, Regional Enterprise Facilitation Project Manager, Kingston Economic Development Corporation

Communities and entrepreneurs in Ontario East can benefit from Asset Based Community Development

Mark Hanley is putting the theories he learned at the Creative Rural Economy conference into practice. The Regional Enterprise Facilitation Project Manager with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation took in Peter Kenyon’s presentation on the first day of the conference. Kenyon is Director of Bank of IDEAS (Initiatives for the Development of Enterprising Action and Strategies) in Perth, Australia. As noted on its web site, The Bank of I.D.E.A.S. is motivated by two passions:

  • the development of healthy, inclusive, sustainable and enterprising communities and local economies; and
  • the active participation and leadership by young men and women in the creation of such communities and economies.

After hearing Kenyon on the first day of the conference, Hanley signed up for his workshop on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) the next day in Picton.  The next step was meeting Kenyon during a vacation in Australia. What he learned there, he is putting into practice today.

The ABCD approach looks for connections and where collaboration in a community can start. Although every community has things that need to change, most of the negative things can be described in a very short period of time. It often takes longer to describe the positive aspects of a community, but these aspects should be identified because they are the starting points in building a healthy community.

Hanley says communities can be found in both rural and urban settings, and they are not restricted to geography. There are also communities of interest. The key, he says, is to concentrate on the positive.

A visit to an isolated town in Australia gave him inspiration. Wave Rock in Hyden is one of Australia’s most famous landforms. It is a giant surf wave of multicoloured granite that looks like it is about crash onto the bush below. Hanley says local farmers decided to leverage this, and after a photograph appeared in National Geographic magazine, throngs of tourist inquires started to pour in. Now there is a resort complete with an artificial lake and cottages. “This town was developed from a field with a giant rock,” says Hanley. “Farmers even used a bulldozer to plow 100 kilometres of road through nowhere to try and connect to a town, until the government said ‘you can’t do that.’ “

Wave Rock is Hyden’s “vein of gold”. He thinks Ontario East can learn from this. “We should take a look and find out what assets there are in a community, be they human assets or physical assets and how to we leverage these and build an economy around them.” Co-operation among communities is important. They can use individual assets to help each other. Kingston and Prince Edward County is an example.

“What does Kingston have? It has the hotel rooms. What does Prince Edward County have? It has the vineyards and wineries? Maybe Kingston can use their vineyards and wineries and Sandbanks and attractions, but when they don’t have the capacity in hotel rooms, people can come to Kingston, stay the night and see what Kingston has to offer. The question is, how do we partner to use those different resources?”

Hanley says the ABCD method also applies to supporting entrepreneurs.

“When people come in with an idea but may be over their heads, we don’t say, ‘This isn’t going to work, we say what’s the value in it?’ ” In other words, what assets are the entrepreneurs bringing to the business? Then, using the ABCD strategy, along with methods developed by the Sirolli Institute, he looks for others who have their own assets to grow the idea.

Hanley says there are three main aspects of running a business; marketing, finance and operations. Traditionally, business management has taught that entrepreneurs must be able to do all three. However, the Sirolli method advocates getting others involved. Hanley agrees. “I meet those who are not great financial people, but they do something very well.“ Now when he meets people, he looks at what they do very well, and tries to find others who have the skills in other areas that the business requires.

He admits it is a bit of a tough sell for a new entrepreneur who is trying to do everything on a shoestring budget. However, there are ways of bringing others in, such as equity in the businesses, bartering services, or a fee for service.

For those who have been in business for awhile, Hanley says it’s not as difficult to convince them of the benefits of the combined ABCD Sirolli method. “It’s a very easy sell. They say, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me about this when I started!’”

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