Jackie Perkins, QSA Administrator
QSA works with project partners to assist them and their communities to become self-sustaining and independent of foreign aid as much as possible, i.e. giving them a hand up rather than being dependent on regular handouts, teaching them ‘how to fish rather than simply giving fish to eat’. In some cases, this can require a long term relationship based on the development of mutual accountability and trust, and a commitment to mutual learning and capacity building. This also recognises the dynamic, inter-connected, multi-faceted and complex nature of poverty.
Sustainability for QSA means that it is able to ensure support of its project partners and the communities where they work and to meet commitments made to them and all other stakeholders. This means that the project outcomes, and resources provided, will both respond to the current identified needs, and be self-supported and managed by the community, meeting ongoing needs of members into the future without compromising future generations or resources. It encourages change which is sustainable and in the communities’ best interests. This is in part why QSA is very reluctant to provide resources such as vehicles and buildings without there being a clear means of arranging maintenance for these items, or they very quickly deteriorate, become unfit for purpose, and are not sustainable.
QSA enables communities to become better equipped to identify and address their needs in ways that promote their human rights and dignity while building on existing community strengths and resiliencies, and incrementally adding other skills and resources that are of lasting value and transferable. It is development which is strengthening and investing in local capacity. This alone however is insufficient for sustainability. Sustainability in the context in which QSA works, is often achieved by longer term support and changes to attitudes and behaviour. Built into a model of sustainability therefore are features of deliberation – project design and planning of activities, incremental capacity building to bring about the desired changes of economic development and environmental sustainability and protection. This includes the strengthening of project partners to support and facilitate communities and activities, monitoring to track whether the smaller changes are taking place, and evaluation to assess whether the bigger picture of change has taken place.
In summary, sustainability is not simply about income and finances, but relates to sustainability of the community, of the local environment, of resources, and of the partner organisation to become self-sufficient. An exit plan with project partners is considered depending on a number of different criteria as their sustainability is assessed across economic development for the organisation and individuals, risks of where the project is located, and the social equity and environmental issues which are monitored throughout QSA’s relationship with project partners.
The sustainability of the ideas, perhaps new ways of growing food for example, after the project support has ended is another assessment of sustainability. In Cambodia, in Kampong Thom Province, an assessment of communities trained in permaculture food gardens for increased food security was made. The training, funded by QSA and the Australian Government via Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, involved a number of communities. A survey of those involved over the last six years demonstrated that for most of the participants, the ideas and skills were sustainable, they still had productive food gardens more resilient to climate change threats, and families had been able to increase their income. Some families reported as a result that they had bought motorbikes to take food to the markets, houses had been improved and extended, older students had continued their education, and the family had better health resulting from the improved diet. So yes, sustainability can be measured, and assessed.
Another example of sustainability has been identified in a Lowy Institute article (published 12 Dec 2018), about the true cost of the fast fashion industry, where clothes are cheap to buy, yet costly to make if the true labour and environmental costs are tallied and sustainability considered. This relates to very poor conditions for the workforce, and environmental cost of wastage, which for garment workers in some modern supply chains, the label they often wear is that of “modern slavery”. The article states that “under pressure to become more transparent with respect to its supply chains [and their accountability], consumers have been key instigators for change. Revelations of worker exploitation coupled with a realisation of the immense wastage in the industry were the spark. The success of initiatives such as Oxfam’s ‘What She Makes’ campaign, as well as the devastating collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, killing more than 1000 workers, makes the problems near-impossible to ignore”.
Where do we stand in this matter Friends? Do we swap, borrow, re-use, re-cycle, but also purchase ethically in the first place? Are our Advices and Queries, Numbers 41 and 45 relevant here?
‘If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standards of integrity, are you prepared to resist it? Our responsibilities to God and our neighbour may involve us in taking unpopular stands. Do not let the desire to be sociable, or the fear of seeming peculiar, determine your decisions.’
‘Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment.’
QSA is a member of the Australian Council for International Development and is a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct. The purpose of QSA is to express in a practical way the concern of Australian Quakers for the building of a more peaceful, equitable, just and compassionate world. To this end QSA works with communities in need to improve their quality of life with projects which are culturally sensitive, as well as being economically and environmentally appropriate and sustainable.
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