How does the notion and practice of “community” link with Sustainable Development Goals Introduction

How does the notion and practice of “community”
link with Sustainable Development Goals

“Humanity faces a growing number of systemic challenges, including fractures and failures affecting the environmental, economic, technological and institutional systems on which our future rests”.
The just released World Economic Forum “Global Risks 2018” report ranks 30 global risks in terms of probability of happening in the next ten years and the highest impact if they were to happen. Environmental risks – extreme weather; biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; man-made environmental disasters; and failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation — ranked highly on both dimensions, with extreme weather events deemed to be the single most prominent risk.
Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, explained “that the issue of sustainability is one that belongs to everybody because the issue of our environment and the depletion in resources is one that will affect generations to come, regardless of location…..In order to prevent this, governments and businesses from across the world need to work together to ensure sustainable development – ensuring that economic growth doesn’t come at the expense of the planet”.
Sustainability efforts are ongoing at multiple levels of our society – Nations, cities, communities and industries. Leaders can — at best — set an intention on behalf of their electorate. Manifesting the agenda will require active participation of people and communities around the world.
The publication “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN General Assembly, 2015d) is, according to the United Nations (UN), “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”, that “seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom”, whilst “recognising that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development” (UN, 2015d, p. 3).
The 2030 Agenda comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. They are broader in scope and go further than the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people. The goals cover the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. It was unanimously adopted by the 193 Member States of the United Nations on the 25th of September 2015, for commencement on the 1st of January 2016.
Many United Nations (UN) processes target national governments and businesses, using ‘top-down’ methodologies. Non-government organisations (NGOs) however could be involved, through education and practice, using ‘bottom-up’ community development approaches. Education and facilitation will be key. The International Association for Community Development (IACD) argues that “without community development there is no sustainable development”.
The need for professional development for community development practitioners in many areas, including SDGs, has been proposed and can be seen as one way forward for community workers, both paid and unpaid, across the globe. (ACDA and IACD Community Development) — Conference Proceedings, Unitec 2017 8 agenda to end poverty by 2030 and pursue a sustainable future” (UN, 2015, p. 3).
Top Down versus Bottom Up Community Development
Whilst it is largely recognised amongst scholars of development studies (Aaron, N) that a top-down approach to development is not an adequate approach to sustainable change, bottom-up approaches to community development continue to be a rarity, particularly in poverty-stricken areas.
Community-led development is a term used to describe projects that actively engage beneficiaries in design, implementation and management. Under this framework, community members have control to a greater or lesser extent, over their projects and any decisions that are made including financial investment (Mansuri & Rao, 2004). To be effective community led development requires:
1. a clear description of where we are all headed (the future state)
2. a statement of why (intent) the change is required
3. clarity on actions needed to make the change happen
4. a way to know if goals are being met (measurement)
Sub-national leadership
Even when the “top” doesn’t provide leadership the next layer down can intervene to take up that leadership position. For example, “despite President Trump’s climate change denial position, American organizations defiantly formed “We Are Still In”, a coalition of more than 2,500 cities, states, companies, and educational institutions representing more than 127 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy. They are voluntarily committing to tackle climate change, ensuring a clean energy future, and upholding the Paris Agreement – because they have determined it is in their (and the worlds) self-interest.
World Wild Fund (WWF) project (Warburton et al)
World Wild Fund is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961. It works in the field of the wilderness preservation, and the reduction of human impact on the environment. Community Learning and Action for Sustainable Living (CLASL) was a three year experimental WWF project designed to explore ways of working closely with local communities in order to define and work towards new patterns of sustainable living. The project ran from 2004 to 2008, and worked in-depth with two community groups in Surrey.
Warburton et al based the project on “ideas from the theories and principles of behaviour change for sustainability, community development, action research and action learning”. Through testing, learning cycles and refinement it arrived at a model for working at a local level, that empowered and supported the learning of community groups towards a sustainable living objective. Indeed the process of developing

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The WWF’s process for working with community groups was based on two design frameworks: Bloom’s (Bloom, B) taxonomy and Kolb’s (Kolbe, D) cycle of action learning. This resulted in the CLASL methodology as shown schematically below.

The CLASL project was not a “top down” approach – led by an analysis of local needs, followed by creating a vision, planning, gaining resources and taking action. In contrast it focused on the motivations of the individuals in the groups, and what they wanted to do, depending on what immediate opportunities were available locally, to move towards sustainable living. In this context it was very much a bottom up approach. This way of working requires very sensitive support that inspires and motivates but does not take away from the group members. Providing support in this way is a highly skilled, professional, demanding and resource intensive

Issues and lessons have emerged from the three-year CLASL project that may be relevant to other projects in the field, specifically:

• Long term-ism. It is vital that the desire to show early achievements does not stop actions that have long-term impacts, but may not be apparent or measurable immediately.
• Contribution to cultural change. Bottom-up actions of this sort need to work in close conjunction with wider policy and legislative change to achieve a major shift in culture.
• Appropriate measurement. There are real problems with measuring the changes that can be achieved through community-based initiatives. Problems with inappropriate criteria for sustainability and difficulty in measuring methodologies can undermine a group members’ confidence by making them feel their impacts are too small to be of value.

Exchange of community development ideas and best practice for sustainable development.
Governmental initiatives linking social communities and sustainable development are not new. Across the globe countries are at differing stages of geopolitical and social development. The challenges of some countries have invariably been tackled – successfully or otherwise in other countries.

Anne Power (London School of Economics) reviewed sustainable communities and sustainable development plans for the UK in 2003. This review covered a far reaching governmental development plan spanning a 30+ year horizon. Implicit and stated in the plan was regional devolution and regional-level planning and resource allocation, offering a clear step away from central control. Communities and neighbourhoods were stated as being the essential building blocks of successful cities. Communities were to be critical to the success of the Housing Market Renewal Areas, the Growth Areas, rural communities, and social housing areas. Despite the repeated seading of the essential role of community, the plan failed to either encourage or allow for participation – possibly out of fear of opposition to its wider strategic purposes. The same plan could be introduced today – suggesting that despite the good intentions – delivery has at best been lack lustre.

In Stark contrast the European Community Development Network (EuCDN) works on inclusion, participation and democracy through the promotion and development of sustainable community development in Europe. The Eucdn formerly known as the Combined European Bureau for Social Development, EuCDN membership is national-level community development organisations based in Catalunya, Sweden, Flanders Belgium, Hungary, Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic, Scotland, Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania.
Although Europe is recognized mainly as a wealthy democracy where everybody should have guaranteed basic human rights, the reality shows that there are still people being excluded or oppressed. The scope for community development to influence a more sustainable future is as real in Europe as it is third world developing countries.
The following list of initiatives illustrate the breadth, range and impact of community development across 11 European countries – all members of EuCDN. Each of the examples shows how communities have mobilised and advanced their interests or issues, and how government and other agencies have responded. The examples also show the diversity of interests and issues tackled.
1. Oslo, Norway: Democracy Not Only for the Initiated
2. Prague, Czech Republic: Public participation in the process of reconstruction of courtyard
3. Barcelona, Catalunya: Promoting social and economic solidarity in local community development
4. Miskolc, Eastern Hungary: Mobilizing community action in a block of flats
5. Czestochowa, Poland: Reactivating Limanowski Street
6. Plovdiv, Bulgaria: Improving Roma livelihoods
7. Edinburgh, Scotland: Growing Healthy Community Assets
8. Facaeni, Romania: Local culture and traditions and community development
9. Ireland: From Private Homes to Public Action: The Domestic Workers Action Group
10. West Flanders, Belgium: Caring Networks
11. Orebro, Sweden: Managing money: challenging poverty

The Norwegian project in particular has received much attention (and praise). In 2015 Kirsten Paaby (senior advisor to the Ideas Bank) presented at a seminar in Warzawa on the perspectives and learnings from an “Urban regeneration and sustainable community development” project in the City District of Sagene one of Oslo’s 15 urban districts. Sagene is one of the most densely populated areas in Norway comprising approx. 33,000 inhabitants – area around three square kilometres. The district has been rapidly changing as a result of population influx, highly mobility, and highest proportion of municipally owned housing. Former industrial worker areas were transforming into modern, multicultural urban environments

Sharing of expertise is taking place not only within countries at similar stages of economic and political development – but also across continents where there may be perceived to be significant differences – but on closer inspection there are similar issues remaining. This is illustrated by the forthcoming UK-China Urban Regeneration and Sustainable Communities Leadership Workshop, to be held 27-29 June 2018 at the Xi’an Jiaotong University, China. It’s objective is to explore “Integrated strategies for inclusive growth, resource-efficiency and urban resilience”. The urbanisation of China has lifted over 500 million people out of poverty in less than 30 years and let to the rise of China’s middle class. Urban population growth and climate change impact has now shifted the focus on new approaches of regeneration. By 2022, China aims to relocate over 10 mill people out of unhealthy slum areas. China has recently declared to shift from an industrial to an environment-aware civilisation by 2035 and prepares the next 5-Year Plan accordingly to reflect these new strategies and its newly gained leadership role in matters of climate change.

Urban liveability has hereby become an important strategic indicator of the competitiveness of cities. Sustainable urbanisation is a research priority in China and in the UK, and the workshop aims to identify the required research knowledge and expertise to support the transformative process required by Chinese cities.


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