What are your approaches to sustainability?

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What are your approaches to sustainability?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • What kinds of approaches are available for sustaining these spaces: exchange of services, individual donations, rent out spaces, partnerships, funding models, revenue, etc?
  • How have you leveraged partnerships with institutions, community, NGOs?  How do you nurture these partnerships?
  • How do you balance community work and the realization that you need money to sustain it?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments! Participants are encouraged to share web images of their spaces!

Corporate Sponsorships

In our bid to set up the Jamlab, we realized that sustainablity is a key element and we brainstormed different ways to achieve this.

We primarily have two ways in which we achieve this:

  1. We institute a monthly fee for members to access the space and participate in the various programs we conduct. This fee helps us cater of operations and utility costs as well as rent.
  2. We also reach out to different corporate bodies who we feel identify with our mission and we work out a corporate partnership for them that they pay for annually. This helps us model programs that both our members and the corporate body can benefit from throught the year.
Member - Partnership benefits


Thank you for sharing this very creative idea building commitment and sustainability within your community. I'm very curious to know:

  • what are the benefits that your members receive in return for their monthly fee? and
  • what benefits the corporate sponsorships receive for the parnerships you've developed with the business community?

I look forward to hearing more about how Jamlab builds community support.

Member Benefits

Thanks Nancy for the quesitons.

The members receive structured and unstructured training in different thematic areas such as entreprenuership, programming and design thinking. This isn't typically offered in colleges and unversities in Kenya but are key resources that shape the success of different initiatives that the members come up with.

The membership fee also provides them with stationery, the occasional snacks and certain resources they may not be able to acquire on their own such as computers.

Corporate Sponsors primarily benefit by having a resource pool they can tap into for talent acquisition.

Setting dues, precedents

Hi Simeon,

Two quick follow up questions, how did you set dues? That is, was it more based on what people can afford or on your costs for providing the benefits and do the dues + the corporate contributions cover everything or do you still need other sources of income? Also is paying membership dues common in your community? Or did you have to introduce that method of raising money?

At SMEX, we've relied on funding since the beginning, but we've never been happy with this situation. We've also provided services for a fee, but we're looking for other models and membership dues is one we've considered. Individual contributions aren't that common in Lebanon and neither are small-scale corporate sponsorships, though I think it is improving quickly.



Find the right balance


Thanks for the question.

For Jamlab, it was really about striking a balance between costs and what people can afford. Our community is mostly made up of young people between the ages of 18 to 21. A number of them are unable to pay the fee out of themsleves as they do not earn their own money. They mostly rely on their parents to support them which is also very instrumental in that their parents then become a part of our community as stakeholders.

The revenues from members mostly cover our costs but we depend mostly on Corporate partners for sustainability.

In Nairobi, a number of similar spaces are charging membership fees to cover costs as well as to provide value for their members. A few spaces rely on funding but the new spaces coming up are shying away from that model. There's a general perception that setting up such spaces as social entreprises is the way to go.


Simeon Oriko

Involvement of Community in Sustainability of Places ?

I was wondering if any of the hosts has experienced involving the community themselves in identifying together the sources required for sustaining their physical places ? 

Groups of Friends

Hi Hala,

In Chile we have been experiencing with that concept. Since late 90s in an important number of libraries, Friends of the Library groups were created based on volunteers. Through them, libraries have been able to apply to funds (of regional governments and national government) designed to promote citizen participation and/or cultural development. In many cases, projects funded with the resources obtained, allowed libraries to develop new services, something almost impossible with their traditionally low budgets.

The biggest challenge for this groups is to mantain their ongoing support for libraries. Nowadays, many of the groups created a decade ago are not working.

Moving with the Community through Challenges ...

Thank you Enzo, the concept of "Friends of the Library Groups" is very interesting ~ it feels like a community support who believe in the Library Groups and their values and vision. thats really Great !

This brings a few questions in relation to the Friends of the Library groups (not in any specific order):

  1. How were the Friends of the Libary groups formed ? 
  2. What is their involvement with the process of the libraries offerings ?
  3. How is their interaction with the libarary attendees?
  4. What is the age group of the members?
  5. what were their main contributions ?
  6. what were their weaknesses ?
  7. Is their a network amongst the Friends of the Library Groups themselves?

and then I read the challenge that you mentioned: 

Enzo Abbagliati wrote:

The biggest challenge for this groups is to mantain their ongoing support for libraries. Nowadays, many of the groups created a decade ago are not working.

and wonder:

  1. what are the conditions that are necessary to maintain the groups?
  2. how can the groups evolve with the changes of time and requirements?

I feel like I put so many questions - oops! but they all popped out as I read your response, possible because I strongly feel that this modality of involving the community for sustainability is a key for the future - whereby the energy is coming from them (not from the outside who carry their own motivations and criterias), when this sense of ownership is strong and harnessed, the energy drives them no matter what to continue and find answers for challenges and obstacles that are faced - especially as a collective.

@ncommunity we are working towards setting a financial foundation vision and this conversation and the thread around sustainability/thirvability is insightful.

Once again, thank you.

With respect,



Compensation for Services

A core part of our approach is to look for ways to generate revenue off of various elements of the space, activities, and services, while making sure that we don’t exclude any person or project based on financial limitations.  We are setting up various ways that people can compensate AltCity for the things they need, including volunteering, organizing workshops or events, supporting startups at the space, and basically doing anything that adds value to the community.

Advocacy: using social media

As part of the sustainability strategy, it is important to have a clear advocacy component designed. Although this component should address different stakeholders, there are low-cost and easy-to-do actions that physical spaces can do to create awareness about their role within their communities. Among them, using social media (specially social networking sites -SNS- such as Facebook and Twitter). In Chile, public libraries, telecenters and others are not yet using them intensively, although our country is among those with the highest penetration of SNS. However, people often use SNS to look for information and they are obtaining answers from other people or other kind of organizations. My hypothesis is that if connected people are served by physical spaces on virtual spaces, they will tend to go to their premises, increasing the value they add to their communities and helping on the leverage of resources to mantain them. I know that this may require a cultural change in the way many libraries, telecenters, etc., are managed, but I am convinced that increasing importance of social media for advocacy is a no return road.

An example is what is happening today August 10 in Twitter. Libraries, librarians and library users of Spanish-speaking countries are promoting libraries using the hashtag #biblioteca. This is the fourth year the initiative is done and the goal is to install libraries in the online conversation. You can check it at: https://twitter.com/#!/search/?q=%23biblioteca&src=hash

Good initiative

It is wonderful to see that there are such initiatives as this one on Twitter. The idea to promote libraries on Twitter by bringing together librarians and library users is an example of good practice. Thanks for sharing!

Our public library and village branches use Facebook and the library's websites for promoting our activities and services.And it works!

Sustainability at SMEX

Thanks to Simeon, Hala, and Enzo for your insights in this piece of the thread. They're very useful for us at SMEX as we move forward and make some decisions about who we are.

We have a strong community of support around us but because we started with funding and sustained ourselves in that way for the past few years, we haven't explored modes of sustainability from within the community as much as we would have liked. Part of this is because when we're implementing a grant we're running around like crazy and it seems counterintuitive to spend time and energy generating support you're not sure will be there. But I've learned it's actually counterintuitive not to. As much as we try to make sure everything is connected to our overall mission, as Hala says, when the outside is involved, there are always competing motivations.

And so as we evolve, we're trying to get to a place where SMEX is really owned and operated by the community. This has always been the vision but only now are we beginning to realize it.

We took a different path by creating a community of trainers, where one didn't exist before. There is a big demand for social media training now, but not enough trainers. So we created the MADskills program, a six-month, online/offline TOT in social media for social change. We created a strong brand around the program and recruited 42 participants. 29 of them graduated, 10 of them with certificates of excellence. Now about 8 of these excellent graduates are giving training around the country. Some are referred by us and others are out on their own; others are creating programs of their own now. But they are all still connected and in contact with SMEX. They have access to all our training content and can reuse it as they wish under Creative Commons.

So we like to think we've helped a community of practice to emerge, where part of the currency of belonging is training materials and opportunities for professional development. And our hope is that as the members of this community grow in their careers, etc., that this will also contribute to the sustainability of SMEX.


Leverage-Public Library in Jagodina, Serbia

A lot of rural libraries in Serbia closed and fell into disrepair due to economic crisis in the country. The situation was the same with rural libraries in the municipality of Jagodina. We did not succeed to convince local government representatives that re-opening of these libraries wold bring prosperity and joy to the community. It seemed that in the budget there were never enough funds for libraries, but everything changed when we were awarded an EIFL-PLIP grant for the Agrolib service for farmers in 2010. We actually used the award as leverage.

We informed local self-government that we had won the grant, and they were very impressed with the international attention we were receiving. At first they were reluctant, but when we said it was important for the farmers to have somewhere comfortable to learn, they decided to repaint four village libraries for AgroLib, and equip them with furniture. They also made sure the libraries were properly staffed.

After 12 months, during which the library gathered evidence to show how the farmers’ new computer and Internet skills were improving productivity and how the AgroLib online market was increasing sales of farm produce, the local self-government decided to renovate an additional library to extend the AgroLib service. Soon we will have a fifth rural library for farmers.

Our library made good use of media in our advocacy strategy: ‘We did not need to put pressure on the local self-government through meetings and explanations. Instead, the project spoke for itself. Whatever we did was in the media all the time. People talked about the project, and the town representatives soon realized that our village libraries are valuable for the local community.

On their own initiative, farmers started advocating for better library services. People from other villages visited the Mayor several times. They put pressure on him to renovate the libraries which had closed long ago in their villages – and the Mayor is considering their request.  



Int'l attention can help spaces get initial local support

jelenar wrote:

It seemed that in the budget there were never enough funds for libraries, but everything changed when we were awarded an EIFL-PLIP grant for the Agrolib service for farmers in 2010. We actually used the award as leverage.

We informed local self-government that we had won the grant, and they were very impressed with the international attention we were receiving.

Thanks for sharing this, Jelena!  It sounds like in this example, the international attention really helped you get the initial support from the local governments to move forward with your efforts.  In this case, the international attention was in the form of EIFL-PLIP funding (and international organization), but I'm curious about other kinds of international attention that libraries (and other spaces) could receive in order to motivate and persuade local officials to become allies.  Are there any international awards that might be useful for this?  International journals on public libraries?  Conferences?  It would be great to learn about other ways that spaces could gain international attention and recognition - or ideas of what this could be.  Thanks!

Community and Local Governments, two pillars for sustainability

The main requisites to implement a Riecken Library are that the local government agrees to provide the space for the library, the salary of at least one librarian and to cover basic services; and that the community has organized a volunteer local board to oversee the management of the library.  Our first library was open in 2002 and despite economical crisis all have remained open thanks to this model and all the benefits/services that the libraries offer and the positive impact they have in local development.

It takes three: Community, Government, and a Champion.

Thanks for shaing the Riecken model, Romeo! I think this is a great example of community, non-profit, and government working together to meet a common goal. I find that many libraries rely on one of these three pillars, but without the support of both the community and the government, this is where many projects fall short of meeting their long-term strategic goals.

By triangulating the approach to sustainability, no single support body (local community, non-profits or champions, and the government) bears the full weight of establishing and sustaining the library. Many public libraries throughout the world are funded and managed by governments (municipal, regional, national). This classic top-down approach works in certain environments. But it can also result in a lack of innovation or forward-thinking in the library. Similarly, there are many ICT programs, telecenters, etc. that offer a refined mission and direction, but lack long-term financial support.

The Riecken model highlights an exciting new approach to the "21st century library": A bottom-up and needs-driven. The approach ensures three tiers of support and mutual understanding of the library's vision. 

Crowd-funding, Anyone?

Has any of you tried to launch a crowd-funding campaign? If so, can you share your experience with us?


For those spaces that may not receive public funding or associated with a more established organization, sometimes renting a building or space is the only alternative. However, here in Bolivia there exists a system called "anticrético"

"An anticrético is a contract to rent property whereby the renter pays the landlord a fixed sum at the start of the rental period in lieu of paying monthly rent. The interesting part is that at the end of the rental period, the tenant receives the sum back, in full, from the landlord, giving him in effect rent-free living."


It seems a little too good to be true, but a group of friends can pool their money and not take on the commitment of buying real estate or paying monthly rent. Just thought I'd share..

Examples of rent-free spaces?

This does sound "too good to be true" Eddie!  Do you know any organizations in Bolivia utilizing this system?  Do you think there might be comparable systems in other countries?

Anyone else out there found a way to have their community space without having to pay rent? (perhaps an in-kind donation from a company?)  Share your rent-free examples!


What's the benefit for the landlord?

Indeed, hard to wrap my head around. What's the benefit to the landlord? Why would he or she want to do this? And how much might that initial sum be? Is it a function of what the rent would be? For example, if the rent would normally be $500/month and you want to occupy the space for 2 years? Very curious to understand more.

Partners and local support

The prime partner of Public library Radislav Nikcevic is local self-government. 


Network for rural support is also our partner. Their role was to encourage farmers attend the lectures. Thee \network's representative also was a kind of intermediary between farmers and the Agrolib team for creating profiles on the Agrolib market. 


Agency for small and medium enterprises and registered households provided assistance in registering farms and in farmers' trainings. \the representative of the Agency was a mediator between local self-government and farmers. The director of the Agency helped a beekeeping association Pcelar to get transport to the International Beekeeping fair in Belgrade. It was their first time to visit  this manifestation. 


During the Agency's participation in the Agrolib project, the number of farmers who started using local self-government's services increased significantly.


The Ministry of Culture recognized the values of Agrolib service and contribution to the whole community and decided to fund the project for one more year. 

In our case, actions speak louder than words. Our struggle to promote Agrolib service and encourage farmers coming to the libraries was visible. 

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