Village Earth helps reconnect communities to the resources that promote human well-being by enhancing social and political empowerment, community self-reliance and self-determination. We do this by strengthening intermediate and grassroots organizations through fiscal sponsorship, networking, training, research and advocacy.
Village Earth (originally called the Consortium for Sustainable Village-Based Development or CSVBD) was born at The International Conference on Sustainable Village-Based Development hosted by Dr. Maurice Albertson and Dr. Edwin & Miriam Shinn and held from September 28 – October 2 , 1993 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Co. The conference was attended by over 250 delegates from 40 different countries who came together to discuss how to make aid more effective at reaching the grassroots. More than 200 papers were submitted forming five volumes of Proceedings. By the end of the week-long conference, the organizers were given the mandate by the participants to form the CSVBD to promote the strategies developed during the conference. The CSVBD was officially incorporated as a U.S. Federally recognized 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization in 1995 and later renamed Village Earth.
The conference, as well as the roots of the Village Earth approach, were heavily influenced by Agenda 21 which came out of the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro on June 14, 1992. In particular, Village Earth drew from its recognition that poverty is not the problem, rather, lack of access to resources is the primary obstacle to building a better life for the majority of the world’s poor. As such, the the Village Earth Approach emphasizes the role of intermediary organizations who work to mobilize village leadership and planning and from that, develop linkages to resources institutions such as governments, single sector NGOs, universities and the private sector. This type of organization is commonly referred to as a Grassroots Support Organization or GSO.
Village Earth was founded on the belief that poverty is not the problem, but rather, merely a symptom of the larger problem of individuals and communities becoming disconnected from the resources that contribute to human well-being. We believe that the real challenge that we face as a global community is how everyone can have access to the resources needed to live well without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same. Defining the problem in this way refocuses it away from the so-called “third-world” and recognizes the international connections between the consumption of resources, inequality and poverty. To overcome this challenge, we believe that as a global community we must place greater emphasis on sustainable development and the sharing of power and resources with marginalized populations. We believe these two strategies must be interconnected to be truly effective and that we cannot rely on those who benefit from the current system to lead the way forward. Rather, marginalized communities must be empowered to lead the way for us all. Inspired by the concept that all humanity lives in a single global community or village, the Village Earth approach was designed as more holistic, just and equitable model of development that recognizes the right of ALL people to be active participants in that global community. The Approach works by “assisting disadvantaged individuals and groups gain greater control than they presently have over local and national decision-making and resources, and of their ability and right to define collective goals, make decisions and learn from experience” (Edwards & Hulme, 1992, p. 24). In the spirit of Ghandi’s philosophy of swaraj, Village Earth is focused on enhancing the control and management that marginalized communities have over their resources. Doing so not only contributes to their well-being but also increases their capacity for self-determination. This is especially relevant for indigenous communities whose culture is often intimately intertwined with their environment and who oftentimes define progress very differently from Western market-oriented societies.
We believe that the only way to empower grassroots organizations is to… well, empower grassroots organizations. That means creating structures and relationships that ensure that we and our allies are accountable downward and not disproportionately upward to funders. Some of the principles we follow to ensure this include: