Community Media/IAN PRINGLE/Sustainability Handout

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Sustainability Planning: Handout
Developed by Karma Tshering and Ian Pringle for UNESCO


These materials were developed for the Multimedia Training Kit (MMTK) though they were never formally integrated into the kit. The MMTK provides an integrated set of multimedia training materials and resource to support community media, community multimedia centres, telecentres and other initiatives using information and communications technologies (ICTs) to empower communities and support development work.

About this workshop

This workshop is intended for use by media and ICT initiatives, for example a community radio station, a multimedia centre or a telecentre. The workshop addresses the need for community media and ICT enterprises and initiatives to be sustainable and to plan for sustainability in an engaged and participatory way. By discussing and brainstorming different aspects of sustainability, participants – ideally a representative group of stakeholders – will help to create a plan for a sustainable operation.

We describe an ideal Sustainability Plan and we suggest ways that you can work with stakeholders to develop a plan of your own. Since all of our situations are different, we leave it to you to chart your own path through the workshop and the larger process of planning sustainability, to pick and choose actors and responsibilities in terms of running the workshop, what you will do through participatory exercises and what you will assign to certain stakeholders in order to realize a comprehensive plan for sustainability.

About this document

This document is intended as a handout for workshop participants and as an overall guide for both trainers and trainees to make the most out of the workshop.

Introduction to sustainability

What do we mean by sustainability?

Unless specifically intended to be of only a short-term duration, any kind of community initiative needs to be sustainable. In other words, it needs to keep going as an organisation. It must be able to continue its operations and be successfully maintained by its owners and users. It needs to survive and grow on its own in an organic way.

This is a central difference between a project – which generally has fixed duration and has a dedicated funding source – and a local organisation, like an ICT or multimedia centre, or a radio or TV station, which has a life of its own and needs to be largely self-reliant.

A holistic approach to sustainability

Sustainability is often mistakenly understood only in relation to financial sustainability. There is no doubt that finances are important to the survival and growth of an organisation, but it is equally important, especially for community-based organisations like community media and ICT initiatives to think about and plan for sustainability in a wider perspective, one that includes social, organisational and other types of sustainability as well as financial considerations. The different types of sustainability are essentially interlinked and in part II of this workshop we consider them all in order to help plan how to make your organisation sustainable.

What is a sustainability plan?

Like a business plan for a commercial outfit, a sustainability plan is a comprehensive guide to and strategy for your organisation. Anyone reading it should get a complete picture of the organisation: its purpose and goals, its functions and services, the organisational structure, who is involved and what they do, and of course your strategies for how to survive and grow.

Most importantly, a person reading your sustainability plan should understand how your centre manages to keep going – not just in terms of paying the bills and being enterprising, but by keeping community members involved and ensuring that the organisation is responsive and accountable to the community it serves.

In preparing the different elements of your sustainability plan you will need to ask yourselves questions like the ones in the exercises and below:

  • What is the main purpose of our organisation?
  • How many and what kinds of people do we need to run our programmes and services?

Discussing these questions and brainstorming ideas will help you to put your sustainability plan together. Each area of the sustainability plan has an exercise attached to it that is designed to help you and your group to create your plan.

Developing your plan

Each section of the handout and session of your workshop is designed to be practical; in other words, for each section you will not only discuss the topic and its importance in terms of overall sustainability, but the associated exercises will help you to create the corresponding part of your sustainability plan.

For each section of the plan, you need to describe your current situation, analyse it and consider how to maximise your prospects for sustainability, both in terms of short-term actions and long-term strategies.

Examples and a sample sustainability plan are included as part of the workshop kit.

Part I – Understanding and explaining your organisatio

How do we see ourselves, our role and our relationship to the community we serve?

Any organisation needs to have a clearly defined purpose and set of objectives. Although these things might appear obvious and therefore not worth discussing, you might be surprised to hear that different people have different ideas about your organisation, even things as basic as your purpose. It is hard to get somewhere if you don’t know and agree on what you are doing and where you are going. This section of the workshop is designed to help you create a simple overview of your organisation.


The first section of your sustainability plan should give some background on your organisation. This is not your entire history, just a few sentences that tell the reader how your organisation came to exist. We suggest that you ask one of your participants who is familiar with your organisation to prepare something to present to the group by way of an introduction to the workshop.

Mission and Vision

Developing a mission statement for the first time or reviewing and updating an existing one in the context of a participatory workshop like this one helps to ensure that all your stakeholders are a part of the process of articulating your organisation’s mission. Doing it together means that you will have a shared vision. Developing a sense of ownership among your stakeholders over the vision and the larger sustainability plan is crucial for its success.

A mission statement helps to make sure that people, both internally and externally, know the purpose of your organisation – literally its mission. A mission statement is a short, clear statement about your organisation: its purpose and activities. What do you do? How do you do it? It should be a strong statement that also gives some sense of your organisation’s values and principles.

Although it needs to be based in where and what you are today, your mission statement should also share your vision for the future. It should inspire and give strength to all the individuals and groups who give their time, energy and ideas to make your organisation work and succeed.

Mission statements are generally only a couple sentences long and use simple, everyday language. They need to be fairly broad in order to encompass everything that your organisation does and take into consideration that not everything stays the same.

Example 1:

During a sustainability planning workshop in Tansen, Nepal, a group of volunteers, users and staff came up with the following mission statement for their community media centre:

The mission of the Tansen CMC is to speed up community development by empowering young people with skills and facilities that enable them to contribute to local development and by providing access to information and knowledge for the whole community.

What can be learned from this example?

  • The purpose is to speed up community development;
  • The main activities are skills and facilities, local development
  • Key stakeholders are youth, but also the whole community
  • Values: empowerment, enabling, knowledge
Exercise 1: Brainstorming Ideas and Developing a Mission Statement


In this workshop, in addition to coming out with the basis for a concrete mission statement, we suggest that you also spend sometime dreaming and visioning. The results of this process may or may not become part of your sustainability plan, but the process of brainstorming and the ideas generated will certainly help you to develop a more creative and innovative sustainability plan.

As part of thinking about your organisation’s mission it is important to step outside of today’s limitations and look into the future. What would your ideal organisation be if there were no limits? What could you hope to achieve in your community? Where do you see yourselves, say, in two years, five years or even ten years down the road?

Example 2: Outrageous Ideas

As part of a visioning exercise, the management committee and staff of a community multimedia centre in South India came up with list of outrageous ideas of what their centre could achieve:

  • Ram is sending these
Exercise 2: Turning outrageous ideas into a practical vision


To follow the mission and vision statements, your sustainability plan needs to present a clear set of objectives. While your mission statement is fairly general and broad, your objectives are more specific. There is bound to be overlap amongst your mission, vision and objectives; one thing to avoid is getting bogged down worrying about definitions.

Objectives help us to focus on what we are trying to achieve on a day-to-day basis. Objectives need to be action oriented, for example:

    • To train young people in computing and media skills;
    • To provide access to information content and knowledge resources.

Example 3: Objectives

The objectives of the Seelampur ICT Centre for Women

Exercise 3: Developing a clear set of objectives

Programmes and services

As community media and ICT enterprises, programmes and services are the core elements of what we do. They are the practical link between your organisation and your community: radio and TV programmes are why your audience tunes in; training courses, facilities like computer and internet, and services like digital imaging are why many users come to your facility; the opportunity to get experience motivates volunteers and the social mission motivates local civil society groups and community leaders to get involved.

Providing a comprehensive list of your programmes and services is an important part of your organisation’s sustainability plan.

Example 4: Programming

See attached:

  • Radio Lumbini and Namma Dhwani programme schedules
  • List of services
Exercise 4: Inventory of programmes and services

Part II – Understanding and planning sustainability

Social sustainability

Social sustainability is a crucial part of how a community-based organisation functions. Social elements of sustainability like volunteerism and community participation and support are as important and valuable as funds, perhaps even more so. They say a lot about the relevance of your centre to the community you serve and the value that community members and users place on your programmes and services.


Stakeholders are exactly that, individuals and groups that have a stake in what your organisation does. Stakeholders include not only people that are part of your inner circle, but also groups in the community with whom you need to work, who share our objectives, who you perceive to be your users or clients, etc.

The level of social investment that your community and stakeholders make in your organisation is a good indication of how much they feel it is really a part of the community itself. This is sometimes referred to as a sense of ‘ownership’. Successful experiences of community media and ICT applications show us that if there is a sense of real community ‘ownership’ then the community – your audience and users – will do whatever it takes to keep the centre open and its programmes operating.

It is sometimes said that community ownership is the key to sustainability. But what does community ownership really mean? Does your community have a sense of ownership over your organisation? Can you think of any examples of how your community might have demonstrated their commitment to your centre? What can your organisation do to encourage and build a sense of community ownership?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider in terms of your organisation’s social sustainability:

  • Build awareness of the importance of information and communication
  • Design centre services based on the needs of the community
  • Play appropriate, valuable roles in the community
  • Mobilise the community and encourage involvement and participation, particularly among your target groups
  • Facilitate community participation in all aspects of your organisation
  • Facilitate collaboration with other social networks, both existing and new ones
  • Value voluntary contributions from individuals and groups in the community whether they are in the form of time, expertise, knowledge or some other form

Community Participation

The process of building social sustainability starts with participation by your key stakeholders in planning and decision-making and should be a part of all aspects of your work. Take a minute to look around you and think whether your main stakeholders are present in this workshop.

You have to know and understand your stakeholders and community if you are going to build and sustain participation. It is essential to think beyond financial sustainability, especially if marginalised groups whose ability to pay for services is probably limited – like poor women or people with disabilities – are part of your mandate. Providing specialised services, engaging appropriate local institutions and including target groups requires thought, research, and dialogue. This workshop is a good place to discuss issues like finding a balance between equitable access and the need for income generation and how to ensure ongoing interaction and dialogue with your audience, users and the community-at-large.

Working with, strengthening and perhaps even establishing community-based organisations that in some way share your centre’s mandate – for instance self-help groups, resource user groups, listener clubs, etc – is an important social strategy for many information and communication initiatives. It is essential to understand why people participate in the centre and above all to value their input in non-financial ways.

Exercise 5: Stakeholder identification and community participation

Human resources: paid and unpaid staff

Your organisation’s human resources, the people that run your programmes and offer services on a day to-day basis are an essential part of your sustainability plan. Your staff and any other groups that are part of your organisational team need to be a central concern in planning, because ultimately community media and ICT initiatives, whatever shape or form they take, are about people.

With limited financial resources, payments to staff are often one of the largest expenditures that community organisations make. Amongst other things, this means that the roles and responsibilities of paid workers need to be well planned and strategic. There are different types of paid staff: some are full-time and permanent, others are full-time, but temporary, often attached to a particular project; for others, payment is less of a wage and more a means of recognition or compensation for costs associated with their contribution.

For many organisations, voluntary or unpaid support and contributions are what really drive programming and operations. Volunteers are a remarkable and unique resource, whether their contributions are in the form programming, providing specialised advice, taking shifts to manage facilities, like a computer room, or offering services like training, or even running a photocopier.

Volunteers must be honoured and respected by your organisation. Their contributions as part of your staff must valued. Although financial payments are perhaps the best-known and easiest way to recognise and validate an individual’s time and efforts, there are many other ways to value contributions to your organisation.

Building capacity, especially training and skills development of your staff and volunteers, should go hand in hand with planning organisation’s human resources. It is the skills and abilities of your staff – be they paid workers or volunteers – that not only keeps your organisation running day-to-day, but that will determine where and how you go in the future.

Exercise 6: Managing human resources

Organisational sustainability

The importance of organisation and governance to sustainability should not be underestimated. It is not enough for you to produce good programming and provide relevant services. It is also essential that you have an effective organisational structure, one that is inclusive and representative of and accountable to your stakeholders, staff and other the segments of your community.

Organisational sustainability is achieved when structures and processes of governance have the capacity to continue to perform their functions over the long term. There can be no organisational sustainability unless there are effective and transparent mechanisms for management and coordination.

Take some time to consider whether the following elements of a sustainable organisation apply to your organisation:

  • A well-defined organisational structure and a clear understanding of who does what
  • Decentralised and well-delegated authority and work responsibilities
  • Make the most of all of your human resources; there is role for everyone; trust and empower your staff
  • Encourage stakeholders to make a tangible commitment to the organisation, for example, by taking out a membership
  • Accountability to the community-at-large, your stakeholders and your staff: you can ensure accountability through regular, open interactions and democratic processes, like a regular reports and elections
  • Transparent decision-making and financial operations: meetings should be open; reports, financial statements and decisions should be public; there need to be regular forums to ensure that stakeholders’ voices are heard
  • Collective, cooperative decision-making and management: effective committee structures are good way to simultaneously involve different stakeholders and staff and spread workloads and responsibility
  • Regular, well-publicised meetings are a good way to facilitate participation and foster community inputs
  • Regular, constructive evaluations and review of staff performance
Exercise 7: Mapping your organisation and developing governance strategies

Financial sustainability

We have tried hard to emphasise and demonstrate the importance of social and organisational sustainability in the overall planning process and the ‘big picture’ of your organisation, however, there is no escaping the importance of finances to a sustainability plan.

Any initiative or organisation that relies on groups outside their own community to sustain operations is vulnerable because this type of funding is usually temporary, often unpredictable and not directly related to your community, your users, audience or supporters.

In this section of the workshop you will spend time analysing your finances in the larger context of your organisation: its mission and objectives, programmes and services, human resources, etc. Your goal is to chart a path to financial self-reliance, essentially how you can rely on your own resources to sustain your operations and guarantee your organisation’s survival.

However, even financial self-reliance is not just about getting money. There is no doubt that money is an important part, but it is not the whole story. Your plan for financial self-reliance also needs to consider other types of resources that have financial implications such as in-kind support, particularly volunteer inputs, shared resources from other organizations, etc. Your plan might even include convincing another organisation to take on an activity that you started.

Financial self-reliance is intricately linked with the idea of your centre and its programmes as a whole. By creating an effective financial plan, members of your centre will be able to do more to make the organisation’s vision a reality and see more of its mission accomplished.

It is never too early to start planning and hopefully it is not too late. Ideally, sustainability planning should take place when your organisation begins its activities, but even if your organisation has been around for a while and even it if seems to be going strong, it still makes sense to plan and make sure that your operations are viable and that everyone on your team is ‘on the same page’.

Exercise 8: Assessing your organisation’s income and expenditure

There are tools available that will help you to plan your organisation’s finances. At a general level, spreadsheets like Open Office Calc or Mircosoft Excel are remarkable tools for easy planning of income and expenditure. They can also be adapted to help you with specific tasks, for instance calculating the breakeven costs of particular activities.

Exercise 9: Finding the ‘break-even point’ in training programmes

There are many recipes for keeping costs low and for generate income. Perhaps the most important ingredients are creativity and commitment among your staff, stakeholders, and other members of your community. The best ideas and most reliable means to make them work will come from your own team. If you need a little help getting started, why not take a look at the supplementary handout entitled “Forty Ways to Generate Income”.

Exercise 10: Strategies for financial self-reliance

Technological Sustainability

As community media and ICT organisations, technology is obviously a key consideration in our work. Given the investment involved in acquiring much of the hardware, the costs involved in maintaining it, and the capacity required in many cases to use it, technology is also an important consideration in terms of sustainability.

Your technology choices are very important and will have a lot to say about the sustainability of your organisation, not just in terms of what you are able to offer in terms of programmes and services, but also what your maintenance and replacement costs are likely to be.

Exercise 11: Making suitable technologies choices


Your richest resource is not money raised from government or donor agencies. The most important resource is the will of the community people, local organisations such as schools, colleges, listeners, viewers, youth clubs and community-based organisation to contribute or raise funds. This will also assists the community people in gaining a sense of ownership of the centre.