24 August 2011 ~ 0 Comments

What is this “sustainability” you speak of?

Jargon. NGO’s are full of it. Yesterday our EMC had a meeting in CD with the VCD. This is actually a true statement.

We don’t just acronym-ize everything, we also use regular words which once had a commonly defined meaning and use them in so many varieties of ways that in the end you might as well have said “blah”. Your “sustainability index” could be your “blah index” for all I know. What is this sustainability you speak of? I started a different post a few years ago with the same sentence it seems… I guess I’m still unsure!

I was recently asked how I personally define “sustainability” when talking about our work at PEPY, and here is what I had written. Tear it apart, use it, or throw it away. It doesn’t matter because EGBOK and IYQ and all that stuff. TTFN


We view “sustainability” in two ways at PEPY:

1) Financial sustainability
This is easy to understand. We question if, financially, the program can continue on into the future. Part of the appeal of the Sahakum Apeewat Sala (Communities Developing Schools) program model is that we are working to expand the opportunities for active community members to improve their schools and education systems by connecting them to the tools and knowledge they need to do this on their own. The school development plans are created and enacted by the community, and this part of the system can continue on without PEPY and PEPY’s funding in the future. (That said, this “sustainability” makes the programs take a LOT longer to achieve high levels of impact, though it is more likely that that impact can be “sustained” at that level. This is a debate we are currently having in our strategic planning – higher impact now with lower long term impact in the future, or tiny step by step impact now and long into the future… the right choice we decided, as we often do, is “it depends”.)

2) Investing time in people
We believe that one of the keys to “sustainability” is to invest time in people, rather than buying short-term fixes in the form of material things. In other clichéd words, “Teach a man to fish and he can eat forever.” Yes, some of our programs still “Give a man a fish” in many ways, and we are working to find the right balance that we need for the long-term success of our programs, but we are generally aiming for the “Teach a main to fish” model. Our analysis of the SAS model’s sustainability components rests on the training components of the program. When community members who want to see their local schools improved for their children are empowered with the knowledge of what rights they have to government support for education, how to request support when those commitments are not met, and a system to examine and take action around problems and their root causes, they can continue to use these skills long into the future.

Is this how YOU define sustainability?!