What is a self-sustaining community?

NII_icons_RGB-02A question I often get asked when meeting people in relation our impact investment fund, is what do we mean by ‘self sustaining communities’?  Is there even such a thing as a self-sustaining community, as we now live in an increasingly interconnected world where any given community relies on the inflow and outflow of goods and services to deliver its daily existence? Are we chasing some utopian vision of the future where we will all be expected to grow our own food, generate our own energy, set-up community banks, lend and borrow our underutilised household assets, maybe even spending one day per week helping to care for our frail neighbours? The simple answer is ‘no’. But the more nuanced answer is ‘maybe’.

Through the work we do at Nesta, we are fortunate to meet some amazing people who are pioneering different ways of doing things to the benefit of a broader constituency than themselves and their own bank accounts. People motivated by creating greater equality of access to the goods and services we need to lead our lives. People experimenting and delivering new business models that often turn old value chains on their head. We strongly believe that there are more involving and rewarding models of delivering our daily needs, and that technology can be a great enabler of change if harnessed correctly.

In a series of blogs over the coming months I will look at each of the specific social outcomes we are looking to positively address through the investments we make under the self-sustaining community theme and explore what motivates our focus and what type of innovations we are looking to back. The social outcomes under this theme are:

  • increased energy efficiency by individuals and communities;
  • increased resource efficiency by individuals and communities;
  • increased self-reliance of individuals and communities in materials, energy and social capital;
  • increased access to products and services for individuals and communities experiencing exclusion;
  • increased ownership and/or management of assets by communities experiencing exclusion.

We view sustainability from both an environmental as well as social dimension, with a particularly interest in solutions that are affordable/accessible to the least well off. And although not evident from the list above, we are taking a broader interpretation of ‘community’ than one purely defined by its geographic boundaries.

If you have any comments or suggestions on this subject, or are working on innovations that could scalably address one or more of these outcomes, then I would love to hear from you


By Alex Hook - Nesta Impact Investments