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The Livelihoods Approach
Submitted by Karri Goeldner on September 17, 2003 - 12:00am.
Every aid worker sooner or later, has the experience of completing a project and hearing "that's great, but what we really need isï¿½" In our work, we have overlapping and concurrent, sometimes conflicting, priorities that change and grow over time. And addressing just one element does not make the other priorities go away.
The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) looks at all priorities as an interwoven fabric that allows individuals or communities to live healthy, happy, successful lives as well as protecting them in times of unexpected shock.
Meaning of Livelihoods
Livelihoods refer to those things (material and social) that allow a person to live well, or prevent a person from doing so. It includes clean water, shelter, access to health care, access to education, freedom from abuse, access to credit facilities, virtually anything that would contribute to "quality of life".
A Sustainable Livelihoods Strategy
This approach takes into consideration all of the elements that feed into a particular problem (most often the problem is poverty and the conflicts caused by it). It can seem overwhelming, because this approach requires "fixing everything".
In developing a this strategy an organization must start with the community,
The approach then looks at the connection between the priorities, and addresses priorities with interlinked activities, while remembering that a livelihood becomes sustainable when it can handle the normal cyclical as well as occasional and unanticipated shocks to the system.
Sustainable livelihoods grow from people's ability to make choices, access opportunities and resources, and use them for their livelihoods in ways that do not cut off options for others to make their living, either now, or in the future. It is not about survival or meeting basic needs and does not put limits on what people can achieve or to the quality of life they can attain.
It is often difficult for technical experts to find answers beyond their specialization. The challenge then is for practitioners to be willing to take a step back, be collaborative, and bring everyone into the dialog.
Multi-disciplinary teams are important to developing a clear response. But even more important is to listen to the many voices of the community: consider politics, business, the disenfranchised, women, elders, as many sectors of the community as possible.
With conflicting priorities, there will be great lessons about what works in times of crisis and what does not. And this is a good starting point. The most critical concerns are most often how to:
The challenge is to design a program that integrates and augments what local people already do well and the assets to which they have access.
One of the greatest challenges for livelihoods programming is that donors generally want to clean, neat programs in a specific sector that can be easily identified with the appropriate budget line. Because livelihoods programming is cross-sectoral, it is often difficult to get funding for these programs, however well-designed they are.
Since funding is always limited, it may seem to communities not included in the project that other communities are getting everything, while they are getting nothing.
Livelihoods programs require that budgets are written with the flexibility to revise the program as it develops from the field, therefore, it can be difficult to set indicators or budget lines that make both the organization and the donor happy.
For more information about livelihoods strategies:
www.livelihoods.org is an excellent resource sponsored by DfID and IDS that includes distance learning tools and a sustainable livelihoods toolbox.
www.undp.org/sl focuses on the role of sustainable livelihoods programming in poverty reduction, and includes links from many contributing organizations.
www.sdgateway.net/livelihoods a site from DA and ENDA that includes their vision of sustainable livelihoods, including information in French and Spanish.
CARE and Oxfam have also done sustainable livelihoods programming that is frequently used as models and case studies.
Karri Goeldner is currently the Market Development Advisor for USAID in Kabul, and has been working on rural livelihood issues for the past five years in Bosnia, Somalia, and now Afghanistan.
Your say ...
Have you used the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach in your programming?
What lessons did you learn?
Can you offer any advice or suggestions to others?
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