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Sustainable Livelihoods
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Shomirion Bibi working alongside her husband embroidering textiles.

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach is a holistic and flexible framework for understanding, measuring, and analyzing poverty and poverty alleviation. Unlike many traditional models which measure poverty by a single factor like low income, a Sustainable Livelihoods approach takes into account a variety of economic, social, political, and ecological factors that impact a person's ability to sustain a livelihood.

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach puts poor people themselves at the center of any analysis. It takes into account the complexities of poverty: what level of skills or knowledge an individual has, whether or not they have access to education, sources of credit, networks of social support, and how vulnerable they are to economic stressors like natural disasters or fluctuations in food prices. Using a Sustainable Livelihoods approach involves recognizing not just what assets a poor person lacksfinancial, human, social, physical, and natural assetsbut also what assets they do have, and builds interventions based on both their capacities and needs.

Trickle Up believes in people and their capacity to make a difference in their own lives. That's why we use the Sustainable Livelihoods framework to help guide all of our programs. The approach identifies the main constraints and also the opportunities that are a part of life for poor people. It builds on everyday realities, and then supports poor people as they address their constraints and take advantage of opportunities.

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach (SLA) has seven guiding principles:

  • Hachatou Izeboncana displays the millet that she will sell at the market and feed her family.
  • People-centered: SLA starts by looking at a person's livelihood assets, how they change over time, and the specific vulnerabilities they face.

  • Holistic: SLA understands that people adopt many strategies to secure their livelihoods and draw on a range of “assets” to do so. These are influenced by an array of external factors, including government policies and institutions, the private sector, and local organizations.

  • Dynamic: SLA seeks to understand the dynamic nature of livelihoods and what influences them.

  • Build on strengths: SLA builds on people's perceived strengths and opportunities rather than focusing on their problems and needs.

  • Promote micro-macro links: SLA looks at the influence of policies and institutions on livelihood options and highlights the need for policies to be informed by insights from the local level and by the priorities of the poor.

  • Encourage partnerships: SLA counts on partnerships drawing on both the public and private sectors.

  • Aim for sustainability: Sustainability is important if poverty reduction is to be lasting.

To learn more about the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, click here.

Trickle Up and many other organizations whose focus is poverty alleviation use these principles to help guide the development of their programs.

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