So…what exactly do we mean by sustainable communities?

housingIn November 2014, Nesta Impact Investments celebrated its second anniversary, with almost half of our fund’s money invested into a portfolio of seven social investments that all fall within our three thematic areas: Children and Young People, the Ageing Population and Sustainable Communities.

Throughout our 2 years of existence, NII has attracted and proactively found hundreds of opportunities that fall within our thematic areas. Under our Sustainable Communities theme, however, people continue to ask us: “What do you really mean by Sustainable Communities?” Given the ambiguity in both the word “sustainable” and the word “communities” we believe it is about time for us to give more clarity to the question.

On one hand, people refer to sustainability as growing without depleting the natural resources in which we depend. But isn’t it also about the development of the local economy, the empowerment of its members and their reliance on each other to prosper?

Communities, on the other hand, can be simply defined as a unified body of individuals in a similar geography or location. But what about virtual communities, ethnic or migrant communities?

Unsustainable Communities

At NII, we define Sustainable Communities as those that enable the well-being and quality of life of ALL their residents, through providing access to resources and services that meet their diverse set of needs.

For us, “Sustainability” is about being able to persist and thrive socially and economically, through “enabling inclusion” of those most excluded and vulnerable members of communities who are suffering from some of the UK’s most pressing social issues.

Communities with the highest number of people that face some form of exclusion are usually those with the highest levels of unemployment, illness and crime. For us, these are unsustainable communities, communities that are not able to thrive economically, socially or in any other aspect.

Ok, so it is about fair access to resources and services, and it is about reducing exclusion. But, it can still be anything, right? Well, technically it can, and we have seen innovative approaches to tackle several social issues that unsustainable communities face. But here at NII we have decided to focus on supporting organisations working in the areas of food poverty, fuel poverty, health inequalities, financial exclusion and social exclusion.

So, why are we focusing on these areas? 

After having researched 12 of the biggest social issues that unsustainable communities face, we have analysed various examples of organisations in the UK that are trying to solve these issues and we have assessed them according to our fund’s investment criteria: how innovative, scalable, commercially viable, inclusive and evidence-based they are. From this, we have chosen 5 priority areas where we think technology and innovation can play a big role in delivering and scaling significant impact. NII’s particular focus in social innovation and technology, places us in a good position to play an active role in supporting organisations that work in these areas. 

If you want to know more about what we mean by sustainable communities and our priority areas of investment, take a look at our recent publication.  Or if you are working in this area or know someone that is, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


By Mireya Alvarez - Nesta Impact Investments