What is self-sustainability and why is it so important?

Like yourself, millions of individuals, social enterprises, organizations and governments around the globe are coming up with initiatives or projects to improve people’s quality of life by innovating models that seek development  to be more sustainable. 

What's more sustainable?


  • A more comprehensive development: that, in addition to money, guarantees access to a good education, fair working conditions, better health services and an equitable and long-term distribution of natural resources. 
  • A more relevant development for all actors: not just for the lucky few and not only for our generation, but for those to come, too. These projects seek forms of development that respond to the needs of the world but also to those of its different communities; to all sectors, all ethnicities, all genders; paying heed to each different aspiration, interest, priority, need and way of solving problems. 
  • A development that is equitably appropriated: that is, one that confers us all the same right as well as the same responsibility to decide and negotiate the type of development we want and the best ways to achieve it. 
1. Barefoot College Case Photo


In general, sustainability depends on the extent to which development models taken up by different initiatives or projects comply with these three guidelines, because this compliance implies a balance between social, environmental, economic and cultural factors. It implies recognizing that, in order to achieve balance, we – as a global community – must attend to the specific needs and conditions of each context, which obviously differ from one another. And, by the same token, it implies that in the process of global development, everyone –be it individuals or organized individuals with initiatives or projects– ought to have a say. 

So what is the problem?


The problem is that achieving this equitable appropriation of development is an enormous challenge, because the distribution of political, financial and knowledge resources is very unequal. 


Development initiatives often depend on external funding, which, in addition to being scarce, often comes with terms and conditions that limit projects’ ability to adapt to their specific circumstances. These may come in the form of pre-established terms of reference, or budgets that favor certain areas of development but neglect others, etc.

In addition, initiatives often have to adapt to external regulations or policies that, although sometimes share objectives, are not always relevant to their particular situation or context.

In other words, not all development initiatives and projects have the same capacity to decide or negotiate how to respond to problems according to their specific contextual needs. People are not being able to appropriate their own processes of development equitably and, therefore, global development is also failing to be comprehensive and relevant to all.


Why should we increase the Self-Sustainability of our projects?


That is why it is so important for each development initiative or project to strengthen its capacity for self-sustainability. That is to say, its capacity to identify the problems that affect it according to its specific context, to decide what suits its needs and what does not, and to negotiate its local development projects in harmony with the sustainable development needs of the whole world. Greater self-sustainability means greater autonomy, less dependence and, therefore, more equitable negotiations that make it possible to design and build development models that are increasingly sustainable. 


Strengthening self-sustainability in different development initiatives is a practical matter, because democratizing power and broadening and strengthening participation helps build more comprehensive interventions –interventions that are relevant to all actors, where everyone involved participates equitably. But it is also a matter of principle, because everyone has the right to be treated with dignity, to choose the life they want to lead, and to be responsible for their own choices.

This Website is about


The challenge here is how to build that self-sustainability. But we believe that, in fact, some answers are being provided by development initiatives around the world through concrete practices! Individuals and organizations, businesses and governments have been coming up with creative and varied solutions to turn the dependency problem on its head and, as a result, they have been increasing the self-sustainability of their development projects. 


This site is meant to share some of these experiences with you by showing you how some initiatives and development projects we have explored are doing this.


Some of the key ideas and strategies you will find here have to do with the purpose, approach and principles that guide the design of development initiatives, as well as their organizational dynamics and their relationship with participants and beneficiaries. Others have to do with the search for and management of their material and human resources and technical capacities. 

Explore these strategies and see which ones might prove useful for your own project!