Village Earth’s Philosophy and Guiding Principles for Sustainable Community Development

Sustainable Community Development Training

Today, humanity faces numerous challenges that threaten our peaceful coexistence on this planet. As competition over the earth’s remaining resources increases, more and more people are pushed to the margins of survival while power and wealth is increasingly concentrated. Despite the over 2.3 trillion dollars spent on aid over the last five decades, the situation has only worsened for the majority of the world’s population as the gulf between the rich and the poor has consistently widened.

Traditionally, the dominant development institutions have defined the problem as “poverty” which they sought to fix through a system of international aid directed at the so-called “third-world” but managed and funded by the rich countries. However, this system has done very little to solve the problems faced by the majority of the world’s poor. Instead, it has largely served as a vehicle to advance the political and economic interests of donor countries. For recipient countries, it has often meant the loss of control over their natural and human resources, fueling an inherently unjust and unsustainable system where 20% percent of the global population consumes over 80% percent of the world’s resources. According to the United Nations, “Under a business-as-usual scenario, 2 planets would be required by 2030 to support the world’s population.” It is abundantly clear that a new model of development is needed.

Village Earth was founded on the belief that poverty is not the problem, rather, it is merely a symptom of the larger problem of individuals and communities becoming disconnected from the resources that contribute to human well-being. We believe that the real challenge that we face as a global community is how everyone can have access to the resources needed to live well without compromising the ability of others and future generations from doing the same. Defining the problem in this way refocuses it away from the so-called “third-world” and recognizes the international connections between the consumption of resources, inequality and poverty. To overcome this challenge, Village Earth believes that as a global community we must place greater emphasis on sustainable development and the sharing of power and resources with marginalized populations. But also, we believe these two strategies must be interconnected to be truly effective and that we cannot rely on those who benefit from current system to lead the way forward. Rather, marginalized communities must be empowered to lead the way.

Inspired by the concept that all humanity lives in a single global community or village, the Village Earth approach was designed as more holistic, just and equitable model of development that recognizes the right of ALL people to be active participants in that global community. The Approach works by “assisting disadvantaged individuals and groups gain greater control than they presently have over local and national decision-making and resources, and of their ability and right to define collective goals, make decisions and learn from experience” (Edwards & Hulme). In the spirit of Ghandi’s philosophy of swaraj, Village Earth is focused on enhancing the control and management that marginalized communities have over their resources. Doing so not only contributes to their well-being but also increases their capacity for self-determination. This is especially relevant for indigenous communities whose culture is often intimately intertwined with their environment and who define progress, oftentimes, very different from Western market-oriented societies.

The Village Earth approach is a bottom-up approach to community empowerment. Rather than carrying out projects directly, Village Earth serves a support structure that enables local grassroots organizations to realize their own strategies and solutions. Traditionally, INGO’s decided what projects they are going to do based on their funding and/or their expertise in a single sector. As a result, the supposed beneficiaries had very little say in the overall goals, reducing their participation to making minor modifications to predetermined strategies and objectives. The usual response by communities is one of passive compliance or “sure you can install that well, latrine, irrigation ditch, etc. but we’re not going to put much effort into helping because we have other, more pressing priorities.” When single-sector organizations do attempt to facilitate general community analysis and planning prior to initiating projects, communities often feel steered in the direction of the organizations priorities or expertise.

The Village Earth approach overcomes this dilemma by supporting local intermediate organization whose sole function is to facilitate community dialogue and planning in an open and non-directive way, honoring the intelligence and creativity of the community members. Once the community or group has developed its own strategies and solutions, the support organization helps to connect them with the resources and expertise that help make it happen. In this way, the community gets the resources it needs, when it needs it. This approach also creates greater efficiency for outside resource institutions and single-sector organizations by creating community-driven demand for their resources vs. those resources being pushed upon disinterested communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Village Earth approach we encourage you to participate in our online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development offered in partnership with Colorado State University.

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