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Module 3: Sustainable Development

Global Partners Mission Statement: To develop long-term, sustainable relationships and community-to-community partnerships that focus on healthcare, education, and community development.

Key Concepts:

  • Never do for others what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Keep in mind that you are contributing to long-term work.

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development is defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2012).

In order to create sustainability within community development, it is important to focus on the community, assets, and 'front burner' issues. It is important to not get ahead of the people.

When creating sustainable development, it is important to create a mutual relationship and avoid a "giver-recipient" relationship. A giver-recipient relationship occurs when a giver has control of the resources and determines the rules. The recipient must figure out rules of system, and then determine what kind of appeal is most likely to secure maximum benefit, which ultimately results in "working the system, not joining a community." Global Partners strives to avoid this situation by working with the host community to create a mutually beneficial relationship instead of one-way giving.

Why focus on sustainability?

Sustainability allows meaningful impact and change to occur within our host communities. Focusing on sustainability allows for a mutually beneficial relationship to form between Global Partners and the members of the host community. Unite for Sight (2013) states that Global health organizations must partner with locals in order to create sustainability. "The balance of evidence from published literature and case study accounts is clear…The greater the level of local community involvement in setting agendas for action and in the practice of health promotion, the larger the impact" (Unite for Sight, 2013). It is also important to work with the local clinics, doctors, and health care providers of the host community. Not only will established relationship building help with continuity of care and continuation of projects, but will also legitimize and build trust between the community members and Global Partners volunteers.

Unite For Sight (2013) encourages non-governmental agencies (NGOs) to implement a bottom-up, grassroots approach. "By working with local partners in this way, global health organizations encourage communities to invest in and take ownership of their healthcare systems, which ultimately leads to sustainable improvements" (Unite for Sight, 2013).

How does Global Partners practice sustainability?

Needs Assessment: Global Partners prides itself on making sustainability the core of the program. An article by Jan Van Engen titled "The Cost of Short Term Missions" states that a problem with short-term missions (experiences), is that groups "almost always do work that could be done (and usually better) by people of the country they visit." Global Partners begins the process of designing a sustainable project by determining the assets a community possess to address their own challenges. Global Partners has teamed local academic institutions to provide services such as public health assessments. These needs assessments interviewed community members as well as members of leadership in order to best determine the needs of the population. Another way Global Partners tries to develop sustainable projects is by focusing on education. Global Partners brought a team of teachers to Nicaragua from the Spanish Immersion program at Northwoods International School in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The teachers from La Crosse worked with the teachers in Nicaragua and they exchanged teaching strategies and ideas, with teachers from both countries leaving the experience with new tools for effectively teaching students. This shared experience allowed for skills transfer and professional development for both the volunteers and the host community, while simultaneously providing a service. Global Partners ascribes to the "train the trainer" approach.

When determining (through needs assessment) what services and skills could be useful, bear in mind the following excerpt from Unite for Sight (2013):

"Remember also that even though people are generally poor they still want to preserve their dignity. Valuable/expensive things offered on a silver platter tend to lose their value and have the tendency to be abused. Thus it is always advisable to let people bear some responsibility. This is why some communities have to pay a token fee for some of the services or medications. No matter how meager a fee paid, it is enough to let one value whatever is offered. In the same vein, minimize or, if possible, avoid the use of the word 'free.' Better to say someone is paying for it or Unite For Sight is paying the difference. If something very expensive is being offered for free, the notion is that it is meant to be thrown away; and that is why it is being given to them. They may even feel belittled by the totally free offer."

Long-Term Solutions: Global Partners focuses on long-term solutions with the host countries. The groups that share an experience with our host countries may only be physically present for a short period of time, but leave lasting change. Jo Ann Van Engen (2000) suggests that "we stop thinking about short-term missions (experiences) as a service to perform and start thinking of them as a responsibility to learn. Let’s raise money to send representatives to find out what our brothers and sisters are facing, what we can do to help, and how we can build long-term relationships with them." We are looking to recognize the strengths of our host communities, to support those strengths, and to identify the areas that could use improvement and focus our energies into a shared experience that will help turn areas of improvement into strengths. Each experience is a stepping stone to a bigger goal. The small steps that each group makes during an experience contributes to the long-term solution.

Unite for Sight (2013) states that one of the worst practices in global health care is the idea that providing some care is better than providing none at all. This ideology can cause practitioners to practice outside his or her scope of knowledge and experience, potentially causing harm to the community members of the host. Without creating a long-term solution for sustainability, "medical outreach may contribute to a sense of false hope in Western medicine…[and] foster dependency on foreign aid or disenfranchisement with the local health system" (Unite for Sight, 2013).

Another avenue in which Global Partners practices sustainable development within its host communities is by creating jobs within the local community, thereby contributing to the local economy. In Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, Global Partners, in partnership with the Tribal Health Administration, have hired an outreach worker to market the mammograms to women in the community. In Nicaragua, Global Partners, in partnership with Rainbow Network, have supported a public health nurse to serve 17 rural communities, including the village of Santa Celia.

Take Home Message:

  1. Avoid short term solutions
  2. Small steps are required to create lasting change
  3. Strive to empower our local partners


International Institute for Sustainable Development. (2013). Sustainable development definition. Retrieved from

Lupton, R.D. (2011). Toxic charity: how churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it). HarperOne.

Unite for Sight. (2013). Unite for sight cultural competency module.  Retrieved from

Unite for Sight. (2013). Unite for sight: ethics, quality, and equality: online global health course. Retrieved from

Van Engen, J. (2000). The cost of short term missions. The Other Side, January & February 2000.

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