The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach

Sustainable livelihoodsThe sustainable livelihoods approach ( SLA ) is a way to improve understanding of the livelihoods of poor people. It draws on the main factors that affect poor people's livelihoods and the typical relationships between these factors. It can be used in planning new development activities and in assessing the contribution that existing activities have made to sustaining livelihoods.

The two key components of the SLA are:

  • a framework that helps in understanding the complexities of poverty
  • a set of principles to guide action to address and overcome poverty

The SL framework places people, particularly rural poor people, at the centre of a web of inter-related influences that affect how these people create a livelihood for themselves and their households. Closest to the people at the centre of the framework are the resources and livelihood assets that they have access to and use. These can include natural resources, technologies, their skills, knowledge and capacity, their health, access to education, sources of credit, or their networks of social support. The extent of their access to these assets is strongly influenced by their vulnerability context, which takes account of trends (for example, economic, political, technological), shocks (for example, epidemics, natural disasters, civil strife) and seasonality (for example, prices, production, employment opportunities). Access is also influenced by the prevailing social, institutional and political environment, which affects the ways in which people combine and use their assets to achieve their goals. These are their livelihood strategies.

People are the main concern, rather than the resources they use or their governments. SLA is used to identify the main constraints and opportunities faced by poor people, as expressed by themselves. It builds on these definitions, and then supports poor people as they address the constraints, or take advantage of opportunities. The framework is neither a model that aims to incorporate all the key elements of people's livelihoods, nor a universal solution. Rather, it is a means of stimulating thought and analysis, and it needs to be adapted and elaborated depending on the situation.

SLA has seven guiding principles. They do not prescribe solutions or dictate methods. Instead, they are flexible and adaptable to diverse local conditions.

The guiding principles are:

  • Be people-centred. SLA begins by analysing people's livelihoods and how they change over time. The people themselves actively participate throughout the project cycle.
  • Be holistic. SLA acknowledges that people adopt many strategies to secure their livelihoods, and that many actors are involved; for example the private sector, ministries, community-based organizations and international organizations.
  • Be dynamic. SLA seeks to understand the dynamic nature of livelihoods and what influences them.
  • Build on strengths. SLA builds on people's perceived strengths and opportunities rather than focusing on their problems and needs. It supports existing livelihood strategies.
  • Promote micro-macro links. SLA examines the influence of policies and institutions on livelihood options and highlights the need for policies to be informed by insights from the local level and by the priorities of the poor.
  • Encourage broad partnerships. SLA counts on broad partnerships drawing on both the public and private sectors.
  • Aim for sustainability. Sustainability is important if poverty reduction is to be lasting.

The SLA framework is presented in schematic form below and shows the main components of SLA and how they are linked. It does not work in a linear manner and does not attempt to provide an exact representation of reality. Rather, it seeks to provide a way of thinking about the livelihoods of poor people that will stimulate debate and reflection about the many factors that affect livelihoods, the way they interact and their relative importance within a particular setting. This should help in identifying more effective ways to support livelihoods and reduce poverty.

SLA framework