Rethinking Approaches to Development and Sustainability

I was recently asked by one of our participants who travelled with us on our Permaculture design Course in Timor to participate in a number of research questions related to his studies.

The key questions were:

How do you see the role of sustainability in the future practice of community development?
How should someone interested in working as a community development practitioner prepare to deal with the issue of sustainability?
If the development model of the West is obsolete, how can we contribute to the development of poor communities?

I was grateful to be given the opportunity to plunge back into the topic that lead me into this line of work in the first place. I started pulling out and reading over old essays and reports I had written in my masters degree. It reminded me of the importance in reconnecting with the roots of the work we do and how easy it is to get lost in everyday administration and sometimes forgetting why it is we do what we do anyway.

I decided to share these thoughts in this space, perhaps as an apology to myself but also because I would love the contribution of other ideas. If you are so inclined, please feel free to leave a note in the comments below.

Testing earth bricks for our sustainable housing project in India

Testing earth bricks for our sustainable housing project in India

In starting this conversation I want to begin by sharing my favourite definition of sustainability and use it to base the rest of the discussion on. This interpretation is quoted from an Indigenous East Kimberley elder and goes beyond the conventional examples that are open to a wide range of interpretation. It presents a beautiful and holistic image for the future.

Sustainable development

[should] include… the maintenance and continuity of life, from generation to generation, in which human beings do not travel by themselves through time; we travel in community with the seas, rivers, mountains, trees, fish, animals, and our ancestral spirits. They accompany and drive us to the cosmos, the sun, the moon and the stars, which also constitute a whole. From our indigenous perspective, we cannot refer to sustainable development if it is not considered an integral, spiritual, cultural, economic, social, political, territorial, and philosophical process.    

Here human progress is not viewed in isolation; it recognises the integral role culture, spirituality, and the environment play in shaping us. It recognises all things human and non-human as deeply connected.

With this setting the scene, it is my belief that sustainability is inseparable of community development and should be entrenched into every phase of the process including conception, design, implementation and evaluation.

The above quote should also remind us to reflect on what we carry with us from our own cultures when working on community projects. Development work generally comes out of a western ideology and herein lies the root of many of its problems. When working in cross cultural development settings we carry with us our own set of beliefs and assumptions which impact the way we define problems and thus how we resolve them. An important point as they can differ from those of the communities in which we work. Because of this our first step should be to reflect on how we are shaped and limited by our own world views. From here we can actively start working towards understand the ideology of the communities in which we are engaging. We have to be careful of wanting to do good just for the sake of doing good. Development workers need to be open to reassessing their beliefs and value systems if they want to truly be able to implement culturally and socially appropriate change. This is not always easy, and perhaps impossible, but if nothing else it enables us to address our own assumptions and fosters a grassroots bottom up approach to development and sustainability that specifically recognises local cultures, traditions, heritage, geographies and environments.

At CERES Global it is our belief that changing the world starts with building friendships. Through friendships we build a relationship of equality and understanding that lead to discussions for developing projects.

Weaving workshops in Arnhem Land used as a means of building resilience in remote communities, sharing culture and breaking down inter cultural barriers.

Weaving workshops in Arnhem Land used as a means of building resilience in remote communities, sharing culture and breaking down inter cultural barriers.

CERES Global Projects

When we travel to various communities, we identify partners and community groups with which we hope to develop a connection. Returning annually, sharing our stories and experiences, we are able to develop rapport and understanding, and build long term meaningful relationships. With these relationships and ongoing connection, we find we are able to have a greater impact, contributing to a more cohesive global community and address social and environmental challenges from a position of equality.

After a number of visits to a particular community, it is often the case that through community dialogue and engagement, an opportunity to work together on a project or activity is identified. We recognise that the activity must be community driven, seeking to work alongside the community, intending to overcome a social or environmental challenge. Based on the requirements of a particular project, we will recruit participants with a relevant skill set to the project, and in certain circumstances seek funding to meet the costs of undertaking the project. Often it is the CERES Global participants who will lead the way in establishing and playing an ongoing role in completing projects with the community.

We currently travel and work in Arnhem Land, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Samoa and Timor Leste.

Environmental Education activities with school students in India

Environmental Education activities with school students in India.

By | 2016-11-10T10:30:20+00:00 July 27th, 2016|CERES Global|5 Comments


  1. Noel Derbyshire July 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    I’m a member of Sophias Spring and I just received an email from John Ball about Rethinking Approaches to Development and Sustainability
    Would you kindly place me on your email list so I can receive updated info

    Warm regards

    Noel Derbyshire

    • Sophie Edwards July 29, 2016 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Hello Noel,
      This post came from the CERES Global Blog. I have added you to the CERES Global emailing list to continue receiving updates.

  2. Jane August 1, 2016 at 11:17 am - Reply

    Fantastic blog Sophie! I’m in my second year of a Bachelor of International Development, so reading this was so interesting and relevant. That definition of Sustainable Development was particularly awesome – I’ll share it with my class if you don’t mind! I also have done the India and Indonesia trips with CERES and loved the experience. Keep up the amazing work!

    • Sophie Edwards August 3, 2016 at 8:46 am - Reply

      Hey Jane,
      Thanks for the lovely words. Would be more than happy if you share with your class.

  3. Jane Suttle August 3, 2016 at 8:38 am - Reply

    That is such lovely definition of ‘sustainability’. I have sent it to the group of ‘environmental warriors’ I am connected with in Goulburn. This definition brings sustainability in from outside and places it right in the heart of the individual….I love it!
    Thanks Sophie.

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