Sustaining People

31 05 2011

Inspiring and fascinating discussions are happening throughout the field of philanthropy about new and value-added ways that donors might support sustainability in their chosen areas of giving. A good example is the dialogue taking place around philanthropic support for the farm-to-table movement. Leaders in the “slow food” arena, agricultural innovation, charitable foundations, and others are talking about this sustainability challenge and attempting to address questions like the one posed by Slow Food USA president, Josh Viertel: “why do we live in a world where it’s cheaper to buy Froot Loops than it is real fruit?”

What if we applied this sustainability challenge to other areas of community benefit? Could we apply our collective thinking, differently, to local issues in the pursuit of sustainable communities? If we can debate farm-to-table, how about considering birth-to-grave in the context of sustainability? After all, eating is but one of the requirements for survival. Should we be shifting our thinking about other essentials, as well, in order to consider the sustainability of communities?

Think about families, for instance. What does it take to sustain a family? What would it take for communities to strengthen families, to invest in their wellness and improve their odds of sustainability? Do we start with investments in young children? How about parenting and supports for the family unit? We could be thinking in this way, or we could continue to define things more narrowly and within lines drawn not around human beings but around “issues” or “problems”. We can direct our energies and resources towards disease, poverty, unemployment, or crime, for example. But could we instead direct our efforts towards people throughout their lives? What would that look like? A focus on babies, on children, on youth, on new parents, workers, neighbours, community leaders, grandparents, extended family members, mentors, and volunteers might result in different thinking about how to tackle the challenges and threats facing these individuals (our community members) as they move through life. Thinking about these people in the context of the families they form, the neighbourhoods they create, the communities in which they live…well that’s another layer of consideration. But it starts with asking different kinds of questions.