When Terry Bergdall returned to ICA-USA to serve as CEO in 2009, the organization was in the midst of a missional shift to meet the emerging climate crisis. The City of Chicago was also attempting to respond to climate change, but the government’s approach was to convene expert consultants who crafted environmental programs, and then tried to “sell” them to Chicagoans. ICA believed that this top-down approach to policy-making perpetuated the mentality of treating residents as consumers and in 2011 launched the accelerate77 project to instead show that residents as producers.
A decade later, Terry is continuing to reflect on that paradigm through his work as a board member of the ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) Institute, based at DePaul University in Chicago. ABCD Institute, which has a history of partnership with ICA, has been convening a monthly community of practice since last October. Each meeting is a chance for practitioners to explore a program that uses an asset-based approach through presentation and reflection. On the evening of May 30th, 2019, the community of practice met at ICA GreenRise to learn about accelerate77 and the grassroots network it inspired.
“We started with the assumption that community-led initiatives were happening everywhere, in each of Chicago’s 77 community areas” said Terry of accelerate77. The project aimed to demonstrate the truth of that assumption by sending the students to interview residents and identify assets in each of those community. After cataloguing nearly 1,000 neighborhood-led sustainability initiatives, ICA organized in 2012 a Sharing Approaches that Work Conference to bring them all together.
Howard Rosing, of the Steans Center at DePaul, recalled that conference for the community of practice: “I met a lot of folks who I ended up partnering with”.
The desire for continued partnership in the wake of accelerate77 led to the creation of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN), a coalition of grassroots leaders and activists from across the city. ICA staff member Caitlin Sarro explained how the the bi-monthly group meetings move around the city, each one an opportunity to showcase a local asset. Earlier this year, CSLN member Alvyn Walker hosted the network at Windsor Park Evangelical Lutheran Church in the South Shore community. Next month’s meeting will showcase Plant Chicago, a nonprofit based in The Plant, a “circular economy” of small food businesses inside a refurbished packing facility.