November 26, 2020

The Building Blocks of Sustainable Communities


Throughout the world, people want the same things - access to clean air and water; economic opportunities; a safe and healthy place to raise their kids; shelter and a say in the decisions that affect their lives. But in reality this is often not the case. We live in a world where our natural resources are diminishing at an alarming rate and the benefits of economic progress have not been shared equitably. Economic and social disparities between people are widening every day -just 20% of the world's population, uses 80% of the resources available.

The concept of Sustainable Development has been a key part of the planning of all significant economic activities, since the 90's. However In recent times the idea of sustainable development at the community level has taken centre stage to ensure that the world is a more just, fair and equal place for everyone. A key focus of this is in encouraging local communities, be they urban or rural, to become self-sufficient in fulfilling their needs and offering citizens the means to a decent life. Since inception, building sustainable communities has always been at the core of all of ACF's work. Our mission is to  energise, involve and enable communities to realise their potential.

So what does a Sustainable Community look like? 

Sustainable communities can broadly be described as places where:

  • The needs of everyone in the community are met and people feel safe, healthy and ultimately happy;
  • The natural environment is appreciated, protected and enhanced and damage to the environment is minimised;
  • The local economy is vibrant, employment opportunities are improved and working lives are more rewarding;
  • Where every stakeholder has a seat at the decision-making table, and where prosperity is shared.  


Over the years we have learnt,  that to build sustainable communities, we must address 4 key areas:

-     Protect & Enhance the Environment by using water and other natural resources efficiently and with care. Sustainable communities strive to minimize waste, sustainably dispose of what is left, reduce consumption and preserve open spaces. Ideally, they don't use resources faster than they can be replenished, and they don't produce waste faster than it can be assimilated back into the environment. Instead of treating normally perceived waste products such as sewage as pollution to be gotten rid of, residents turn them into resources such as compost that fertilizes plants and increases soil productivity. Organic and natural farming is native to India. Many Rural communities are reviving these techniques as a path to sustainability. Rather than relying heavily on outside nutrients and artificial chemicals which can destroy the soil fertility, several rural communities are leading the way in natural farming - or 'do nothing' farming- techniques yielding healthier crops and enhanced soil fertility.

-     Meet Social Needs -Sustainable communities ensure adequate health services both preventative and curative , safe and healthy housing, and high quality education for all members of the community. Such communities  ensure access to food that optimizes local production and adequate supply of potable water, housing and fuel at reasonable costs. They also undertake their own efforts to maintain law and order and take responsibility to protect and enhance public spaces such as community gardens. It's not all work and no play ! Sustainable communities also provide opportunities for culture, leisure and recreation to all within the community.

-     Promote Economic Success & Security - by creating a vibrant local economy. Such communities aim to maximise  access to the skills and knowledge and meaningful employment opportunities for all its citizens to play a full part in society. Creating a vibrant local economy also requires a focused effort to encourage local ownership of businesses and reinvestment of resources back into the local economy.

-     Leadership & Civic Engagement - by empowering all individuals to participate in, and influence decisions that affect each of their lives. Such communities consider the social and community aspects of every decision. Such actions are possible through an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints and through the development of social networks as well as a shared vision for the community that every individual works towards.

ACF's approach to building sustainable communities takes a three pronged approach to Energise, Involve and Enable local people. This approach is the underpinning of all work across the 6 thematic areas we work in.

1.     The first and most critical step in building sustainable communities is to Energise a community and help its members understand their role in development. This is achieved through several entry point and rapport building activities and, by working together with the community, to identify their priority issues and probable solutions.

2.     Our next step is to Involvethe community in the developmental work which is  being carried out. The involvement is achieved through the promotion of  community level institutions and building their capacity to take initiative and ownership of  the development work.

3.     To build long term sustainability, we Enable the community by providing constant guidance and moral support and strengthening the community level capacity and institutions created.

Sustainability has always been a core component of Indian culture and philosophy. Interestingly, many of these forgotten values and knowledge are being revived in rural India. For building sustainable communities, is no longer a choice we have! It is perhaps the only way forward to ensure a better future for the generations to come.

November 26, 2020

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