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Sustainable development has become a widespread buzzword often heard in development planning, politics, business, aid agencies, and NPOs. Although it has become popular to acknowledge sustainable development (SD) and its importance, it seems that as it gained momentum, people left behind a clear definition of the core concepts and principles.

Of course, many people have the gist of what sustainable development is – developing countries in such a way that the Earth’s resources aren’t used up while still maintaining growth. However, this brief description leads to ambiguity, often allowing programs of development to wear the badge of SD while colouring it with their own aspirations and interests.

Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that SD is more profound than a simplified definition, especially for those who want to get involved with community development or NPOs, such as Amava Oluntu. Sustainable development is not always a cliché catchphrase thrown around for the sake of trendiness.

Linda’s artwork reflects on sustainable development in our COVID-19 response.

One could start understanding SD by breaking it down into two concepts – the concept of development and the concept of sustainability. “Development” has been given a wide variety of definitions. A widely accepted meaning states that development is a process whereby the human capacity grows with regard to adapting to change, dealing with problems, and aspiring to new goals. 1 Another interpretation describes “development” as a comprehensive approach involving a huge redesign in social structures, institutions, attitudes, economic growth, and a decrease in inequality and poverty.

Sustainability, simply, means the ability to maintain something over time. In terms of development, Mensah (2019) states many people use this term to convey the improvement of social, economic, and ecological systems for humans to progress. 1 Others view sustainability as a careful balancing act between us and the carrying capacity of our environments in such a way that we don’t tip the scale in favour of reaching our potential and cause irreversible damage to the environment. 1However, it has also been reasoned that sustainability needs to highlight “cross-generation equity”, so that the distribution of resources is still available for future generations. 1 This is a vital concern yet challenging to determine – the needs of the next generation won’t be easy to establish.

Christian enjoys a cup of Fynbos tea in our environmental project.

Promoting sustainable development and biodiversity conservation: Christian enjoys a cup of Fynbos tea in our environmental project Pollinating Pride in People.

Just like “sustainable” and “development”, SD has been defined from multiple perspectives, leading to many interpretations. The most popular definition of SD was published in 1987 in what is commonly known as the Brundtland Commission Report: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.”2 In other words, SD provides ways in which we can interact with the environment while still allowing resources to exist for others, both presently and in the future.

Often, SD and sustainability are used interchangeably. Although very alike, there is an important and distinguishable characteristic between the two concepts. Sustainability is the target many of us are aiming for, while SD is the process used to reach that target. 1 And every day, the need for SD grows increasingly noticeable. As our population numbers rise, so does our need for natural resources. Yet, we are not allowing these natural resources to grow with us. Challenges such as deforestation, global warming, species extinction, and pollution create a much longer and harder journey to reach SD’s endpoint.

The majority of what was mentioned above outlines SD on a relatively large scale, which often lends to a feeling of SD being unattainable and unrelatable to many individuals. However, it doesn’t have to be this way and can always start with us and our communities. Organisations and NPOs all over South Africa are facilitating the progress of sustainable development. A bit closer to home, Amava Oluntu encourages people to collectively find sustainable solutions to the social problems our communities face. Through youth empowerment and entrepreneurship, networking, and training in people-led development, Amava Oluntu aims to build strong and resilient communities who can develop sustainably, now for the future.

  1. Mensah, Justice. 2019. “Sustainable Development: Meaning, History, Principles, Pillars, and Implications for Human Action: Literature Review.” Cogent Social Sciences.[][][][][]
  2. Robert, Kates W, Thomas M Parris, and Anthony A Leiserowitz. 2012. “What is Sustainable Development? Goals, Indicators, Values, and Practice.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 8-21. []
Joanne du Randt

After earning her Postgrad in Public Health, Joanne was thrilled to join Amava Oluntu as a Public Health intern to explore her passion for health and social equality.

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