Sustainable livelihoods approaches: past, present and...future?

Sustainable livelihoods approaches: past, present and...future?

How can sustainable livelihoods approaches be more successfully applied to future development challenges?

How are Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches (SLAs) relevant to current and future development challenges? What has been learnt from the experience of using SLAs to date? This Sustainable Livelihoods Highlights Brief looks at a series of six seminars, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council from 2008-11, which brought together practitioners, policymakers and researchers to reflect on the development and adaptation of SLAs, and debate their value in addressing current development challenges.

The case studies and discussions from the seminar series showed that SLAs have maintained their importance as a poverty reduction approach. They also recognised how SLAs are being applied to current development challenges, including:

  • using a livelihoods approach to identify climate impacts on livelihoods. Livelihoods thinking has been integrated with approaches to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, as a conceptual tool to understand how people can move from a position of vulnerability to resilience
  •  the global economic crisis is forcing a rethink of market institutions. Livelihoods approaches - alongside pro-poor market approaches – are being used to explore how to maximise the power of markets to transform poor people’s livelihoods
  • food security and livelihoods . Improving the resilience and productivity of smallholder’s livelihoods is a priority in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world affecting food availability.

Criticisms that have been levelled against SLAs now require a change in practitioners' methods and areas of work, including:
  • a commitment to changing power relations. These relate to control over assets between men and women, commercial and political actors, and community organisations and local governance structures. How do we ensure that we are accountable to local populations, not just donors? 
  • a need to build on work around complementary development approaches. The seminars showed how complementary approaches are being used to think about certain development issues – the challenge is how to practically apply these concepts and frameworks in tandem 
  • a willingness to engage in changing policy, rather than just changing outcomes - this also requires a linking of micro and macro, including a willingness to engage at the national level 
  • greater emphasis on organisational learning, as well as on how to maximise understanding of cultural and social contexts to improve outcomes 
  • getting better at recognising opportunities arising in different sectors, such as the diffusion of information and communication technologies, and new sources of finance.
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