Volume XV | Issue 2 | Fall 2015
Community Building Approach: Core Practices

Putting a new focus on community efforts

We’re transitioning from individual to community-based development

In July, Ford Institute Director Roque Barros and Associate Director Max Gimbel met with a community action team in Ontario. The group had identified 10 priorities after a Ford Institute partner-led Alumni Celebration. After deliberation, the group decided to move ahead with a family recreation center. They had already drafted a 90-day work plan, which included a pledge to listen to 1,000 community residents. 

they were listening, engaging, and making a plan

Roque asked them: “What role would you like the Institute to play?” Their response: “Come back in October to look at our community-listening results, help us consider next steps, and celebrate the work done to date.”

In the meantime, the community would do the work. 

Eventually, they might submit a grant application to the Foundation or request funding for technical expertise. But for now, they were listening to each other, engaging, and making a plan.

This group action in Ontario serves as a real-life example of Community-Based Change. This approach to community building puts communities at the center by starting with where they are and building on their assets. It focuses on action-driven work while honoring the pace of the community and includes all community segments. More importantly, it focuses on creating the change the community wants, celebrating successes, and remaining flexible enough to adapt as the work progresses. 

As you may have heard, the Ford Institute for Community Building is embracing the Community-Based Change (CBC) approach as we expand our community vitality programs in rural Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif.  

Roque Barros and Max Gimbel based the draft framework of CBC on 25 years of experience and lessons learned from community-building efforts across the country. Then, through dozens of conversations with rural residents and development professionals in Oregon and Siskiyou County, it truly came to life.

And after more than a decade of investing in leadership development, we have an incredible base to build on and support the shift to Community-Based Change.

In 2003, the Foundation launched the Ford Institute Leadership Program. Our goal was to provide leadership training to more than 5,000 rural community residents in 80 rural hubs in our region. It seemed incredibly ambitious, but 12 years later, we exceeded that goal. More than 6,000 people in 88 rural hubs have benefited from the training. So, what’s next? 

Now, we have another goal: to support our region’s talented leaders as they create and lead the change they want in their communities. We will focus more of our resources on supporting community-based efforts that promote rural community vitality and the well-being of children, youth, adults and families. 

It’s a natural transition from investing primarily in individual “leadership development” to investing in broader “community development.” 

We will provide the final Leadership Program classes in Spring 2016; however, we are launching the Community-Based Change work as a way to continue to support people dedicated to their communities.

An even stronger commitment

The next phase of the work will allow us to strengthen our commitment to rural communities. We intend to invest more of our staff time, funding and other resources in Community-Based Change work. The Community-Based Change diagram (below) provides an introduction to its principles and practices.

What will all of this actually look like in rural communities? We don’t have every answer yet because we are taking our lead from community leaders, people who have been through the Leadership Program, Ford Community Fellows, Community Ambassadors, and our key organizational partners: RDI, the Nonprofit Association of Oregon, Community Systems, and Oregon State University. 

Right now, we are listening and learning.


We are looking forward to the expansion of the Community-Based Change work. Of course, we won’t be able to work deeply in every rural community in our region, but we will be able to make grant funds available, or we might help a community connect with technical expertise to help take action on a local priority. 

We encourage you to check out our grant opportunities. We are always on the lookout for high-quality programs that improve outcomes for children, youth and families. 

We are also creating a new grant-making program to support economic vitality and employment in rural communities. We expect it to be in full swing in 2016. And, of course, we maintain scholarship programs to help individuals succeed in postsecondary education. 

Positive change 

We want to build on the investment that has been made in training 6,000 leaders. We want to help you take action and make positive change in your communities.  

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