Sustainable livelihood

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Sustainable livelihood emerges at the intersection of development and environmental studies to offer a new way to think about work, especially the work of vulnerable populations (e.g., low income population living in the bottom of the pyramid, indigenous communities, etc.). The term reflects a concern with extending the focus of poverty studies beyond the physical manifestations of poverty to include also vulnerability and social exclusion.[1]

The term sustainable refers to an individual's ability to provide for themselves in such a manner that is viable long term. Sustainability also refers to the ability to undergo external shocks or stresses and recover from such traumas through maintaining or improving one's livelihood.[2] The sustainable livelihood framework provides a structure for holistic poverty alleviation action.[3] Common adaptations of a sustainable livelihood framework focus on dynamic, human-centered programs aimed at reducing poverty.[4]


Stemming from theory regarding sustainable development, a sustainable livelihood approach incorporates the collective concerns for environmental and economic resources and individual focus.[5] The term Sustainable Livelihood was first proposed in a rural context,[6] and was later amended by the Brundtland Commission. Authors Gibson-Graham, Cameron, and Healy highlight the measure of well-being and how an individual's well-being contributes to their ability to survive well.[7]

Brundtland commissionEdit

The sustainable livelihoods idea was first introduced by the Brundtland Commission on Environment and Development, and the 1992 United Nation’s Conference on Environment and Development expanded the concept, advocating for the achievement of sustainable livelihoods as a broad goal for poverty eradication.

In 1992 Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway[8] proposed the following composite definition of a sustainable rural livelihood, which is applied most commonly at the household level: "A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term."[9]

Individual well-beingEdit

In an analysis of various 24 hour clocks, Gibson-Graham et al. synthesize five categories for overall well-being: Material, Occupational, Social, Community, and Physical [10]. Holistic interventions prove to be challenging to measure, furthermore, quantitative data on qualitative phenomena (such as well-being) is similarly challenging to record.

Models for a sustainable livelihood approachEdit

There are several organizations incorporating a Sustainable Livelihood approach into their ongoing poverty alleviation efforts [1]; the models by which they adapt the Sustainable Livelihood approach are discussed below.


The United Nations Development Programme utilizes a sustainable livelihood approach to development through the evaluation of different types of capital [11]. The UNDP identifies five key types of capital: human, social, natural, physical, and financial. The access individuals have to these assets determines how the UNDP designs initiatives to directly or indirectly facilitate development. The UNDP also uses an asset based approach to poverty alleviation, examining how individuals leverage assets and cope with external sources of shock or stress.[1]


CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) focuses on emergency relief administration and long term development programs.[12] In 1994, CARE developed a Household Livelihood Security framework to better monitor, evaluate, and track the work they conduct.[1] CARE's application of a sustainable livelihood framework moves away from a sectorial approach and focuses on holistic development techniques.[13]


The Department for International Development is the United Kingdom's department dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty and administering foreign aid.[14] The DFID leverages a sustainable livelihoods framework to focus holistically on activities directly related to improving an individual's livelihood.[1] Human-centered, multi-leveled, sustainable, and dynamic initiatives are all incorporated into the DFID's measures.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e Krantz, Lasse (February 2001). "The Sustainable Livelihood Approach to Poverty Reduction". Sida.
  2. ^ Serrat, Olivier (May 23, 2017). The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach. In: Knowledge Solutions. Singapore: Springer. pp. 21–26. ISBN 978-981-10-0983-9.
  3. ^ Holland, Jeremy and James Blackburn. Whose Voice? Participatory Research and Policy Change. IT Publications, London, 1998.
  4. ^ Serrat O. (2017) The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach. In: Knowledge Solutions. Springer, Singapore.
  5. ^ missing source - look at SD page
  6. ^ WCED 1987a: 2-5 (source from IDS Disc paper 296)
  7. ^ “Take Back Work.” Take Back the Economy: an Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities, by J. K. Gibson-Graham et al., University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  8. ^ WCED 1987a: 2-5 are (source from IDS Disc paper 296)
  9. ^ (source needs to be vetted ~~~~)
  10. ^ Take back the Economy, Ch: Take Back Work, page 21-22
  11. ^ "Guidance Note" (PDF). Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  12. ^ careadmin (August 29, 2013). "CARE Humanitarian | Home". CARE. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  13. ^ "Application of CARE's Livelihoods Approach | Eldis". Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  14. ^ "About us". GOV.UK. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  15. ^ "DFID's Sustainable Livelihoods Approach and its Framework" (PDF). GLOPP. Retrieved December 20, 2019.