A feature of the People-Centered Development Forum

North American Regional Consultation on Sustainable Livelihoods

January 13-15, 1995

In an era of global social crisis characterized by increasing unemployment,
jobless growth and ecological destruction, we need a broader vision of how
people can meet their needs in a sustainable way. Attempting to solve the
world’s employment crisis using conventional job creation through sustained
economic growth cannot work.

The concept of livelihood – defined as "a means of living or of supporting
life and meeting individual and community needs" – provides new
perspectives on developing healthy sustainable societies that provide people
with secure and satisfying livelihoods. Sustainable livelihoods are based on a
web of functional interrelationships in which every member of the system is
needed and participates. Sustainable livelihoods provide meaningful work that
fulfills the social, economic, cultural and spiritual needs of all members of a
community–human, non-human, present and future–and safeguards cultural and
biological diversity. The following is not an exhaustive listing of the
components of sustainable livelihoods but an attempt to identify the key

Sustainable Livelihoods:

  • Promote equity between and among generations, races, genders, and ethnic
    groups; in the access to and distribution of wealth and resources; in the
    sharing of productive and reproductive roles; and the transfer of knowledge and
  • Nurture a sense of place and connection to the local community, and adapt
    to and restore regional ecosystems.
  • Stimulate local investment in the community and help to retain capital
    within the local economy.
  • Base production on renewable energy and on regenerating local resource
    endowments while reducing intensity of energy use, eliminating over-consumption
    of local and global resources and assuring no net loss of biodiversity.
  • Utilize appropriate technology that is ecologically fitting, socially just
    and humane, and that enhances rather than displaces community knowledge and
  • Reduce as much as possible travel to workplace and the distance between
    producers and users.
  • Generate social as well as economic returns, and value non-monetized as
    well as paid work.
  • Provide secure access to opportunity and meaningful activity in community

These principles encompass a holistic set of values that are non-exploitative,
promote participation in decision-making, emphasize the quality and creative
nature of work, place needs over wants and foster healthy, mutually beneficial
relationships among people and between people and their environment (especially
domesticated animals). It is hoped that these principles and their underlying
values can stimulate further discussion.

Public Policy Sustainable livelihoods are supported by political, economic and
social policies that enable mutually beneficial relationships to develop among
people and the whole community of life. Economic globalization, on the other
hand, primarily advances supranational corporate interests, and is often
inimical to human and environmental well-being. Current policies externalize
social and environmental costs, destroy ecosystems, pit localities into
competition with one another, and lower standards. Current measures ignore many
of the crucial social functions on which all economies depend, in particular
women’s tremendous productive and reproductive roles. Policies are now geared
toward economic growth based on over-consumption by the few while the needs of
the many go unmet. Instead, socio-economic security and equity, meeting the
needs of all and promoting authentic human development should be the overall
goals of policy formulation.

Policy formulation should begin with visioning processes that involve all
sectors of community, as decisions made by all stakeholders better ensure
equity, human rights and effective implementation. Central to a broad policy
framework that supports sustainable livelihoods are:

  • an investment in people and the environment as well as in physical capital;
  • explicit recognition that women’s empowerment is central to the achievement
    of broad-
  • based socio-economic goals;
  • broad public participation in the establishment of research priorities and
    the assessment and selection of technologies consistent with needs of
    sustainable communities; and
  • new resource accounting and institutional mechanisms for resource
    allocation and debt management and relief.

Political Priorities

Sustainable livelihoods require public participation and involvement in policy
making at all levels to keep government agencies and officials responsive and
accountable for their decisions and actions. Political reforms should both limit
and make transparent the influence of corporate lobbies and campaign
contributions. Corporations should be held accountable to a code of conduct
based on principles of social and environmental responsibility. Multilateral
trade agreements, treaties, and conventions should not supersede local, state,
and national sovereignty. Subsidiarity should be an organizing principle of
government, supporting the local rootedness of livelihoods.

Economic Priorities

To promote sustainable livelihoods, power must be rooted in the localized
economies. Economic policy should be based on full-cost accounting which
incorporates social and environmental costs and benefits. Trade agreements and
tax policies should favor local needs over export marketing, encourage
sustainable production and consumption, and support renewable resource
technologies. Such policies will support worker rights, debt relief, and local
control over resources within a framework of broader responsibility to share and
protect resources.

Socio-Cultural Aspects

Socio-cultural policies should support principles of sustainable livelihoods in
education, health, arts and the media, drawing on the wealth of cultural
diversity and encouraging exchange of indigenous and modern knowledge, wisdom
and skills. Special attention must be given to transforming structures that
perpetuate inequity, injustice and intolerance, including those that perpetuate
inequality and injustice toward women.

Consultation Sponsors: Society for International Development (SID), Rome;
International Development Conference (IDC), Washington, DC.; Center for Respect
of Life and Environment (CRLE), A Division of the Humane Society of the United
States, Washington, DC; The People – Centered Development Forum (PCDForum), New

Participating Organizations: Canada: Canadian Council for International
Cooperation (CCIC); Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women;
Oxfam/Canada. Caribbean: Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era
(DAWN). Mexico: Mexican Action Network on Free Trade; Promocion de Desarollo
Popular. United States: American Forum for Global Education; Citizens Network
for Sustainable Development; Lummi Tribe Treaty Protection Task Force; The
Synergos Institute; Why Magazine/World Hunger Year; Women, Food and Agriculture
Working Group; World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSAA)

For Information:

Tom Rogers, Center for Respect of Life and Environment, 2100 L Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20037, U.S.A.. Tel: (1-202) 778-6137; Fax: (1-202) 778-6133

Tina Liamzon, Society for International Development, Palazzo Civilta del Lavoro,
00144, Rome, Italy. Tel: (396) 592-5506; Fax: (396) 591-9836.

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