Sustainability is often defined as creating a balance between social responsibility, economic prosperity and environmental conservation. The term is used as the “ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (University of Kansas Center)
Another way sustainability is defined is by simple being able to “endure” or to develop a long-term plan for balance and well-being.
Sustainability has become an important word in the world of global development, and many organizations focus on development systems of long-term financial stability and call this “sustainability”.
Sustainability is balance, but it’s not only about economy.
I’ve found that sustainability can only happen when there is a leader that has been trained, equipped and empowered to lead, to develop vision and to build an effective team. When this happens, there’s a chance that economic sustainability can happen, but without this, it will never happen.
Sustainability is all about leadership training and organizational development.
Years ago, when I was living in Ecuador, I remember a social foundation approaching the work we were doing with Extreme Response at the dump in Quito. Their approach to the people who lived and gleaned their livelihood from the trash was to relocate a number of families to the jungle of Ecuador, where these families would be given a piece of land to farm, a hut (or house) to live in, and be provided a safe place to raise their families. A number of families were relocated, and they lasted between 2 – 4 weeks, then they made the journey back to Quito to the trash dump where they were able to earn money to support their families.
The idea wasn’t wrong, but there was no training or education involved. The foundation assumed that these people all wanted to get out of the trash, and they were wrong. The people living and working in the trash had community, they knew what they were doing. Many of them had been working there their whole lives.
Today these people in the dump are able to earn a living, their children are provided education and a safe environment, they receive family medical care and many of them have been provided with homes. (For more information, see Extreme Response International).
Had this foundation approached the people in the dump with training, with a process of education, with even a visit to the prospective site, it could have changed everything, however they were more focused on providing a way for these people to earn their own living outside of the trash, but they didn’t help to prepare the people.
We do this all the time.
For the sake of “sustainability”, we often force or encourage global organizations to leave their vision and strategy to focus on creating a better self-funding model. This often results in a lack of effectiveness and efficiency on the part of the organization, and it cause stress and anxiety to the leader.
Instead, sustainability should be about training, about equipping and about developing leaders over time. It should be about helping leaders pursue the call that God has placed on their lives and at the same time, exploring and helping to equip them to consider areas of balance and endurance for the organization that, with the proper training and support, will help the organization have a greater impact with their vision.
Years ago, I did a study on global leadership for Graduate School, and I identified 4 Needs of Global Leaders:
Leaders around the world need: TRAINING, RESOURCES, COACHING and COMMUNITY.
I found this to be true in whatever organization or structure they were in.
Leaders that LAST are the best form of sustainability.
Leaders and Organizations that have a CLEAR PURPOSE and VISION are a great form of sustainability.
Leaders that are GROWING, who have solid CHARACTER and VALUES make sustainability possible.
How are YOU developing SUSTAINABILITY with the leaders around you or the leaders you’re working with?