Community-Led Initiatives and SDG9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Community-led initiatives have long-been recognised as active sites of innovation that by changing infrastructures at a local scale can increase the scope for overcoming lock-in to centralised infrastructures that are carbon-intensive and/or otherwise environmentally and socially damaging. As what are known as Grassroots Innovations, they operate as experimental niches where innovation can take place largely free of the technological, social and cultural constraints of existing infrastructures and the various institutions that support them. Results from the EU-funded PATHWAYS research project showed the great potential for grassroots innovations to help overcome path dependencies that currently hinder transitions towards sustainable infrastructure: early and substantial report for sustainable innovation niches would enable far deeper long-term cuts in carbon emissions and other environmental impacts than the current focus on greening existing forms of infrastructure.
The EU-funded TRANSIT research project approached community-led initiatives as examples of transformative social innovations: changes in social relations, involving ‘new ways of doing, organising, knowing and framing’  Social innovations are transformative when they ‘challenge, alter or replace the dominant ways of doing, thinking and organizing in society. The TRANSIT project investigated 20 transnational networks and over 100 local initiatives across 27 countries, including community-led initiatives like Transition Towns and Ecovillages, social enterprise-oriented initiatives like Impact Hubs and Ashoka, education-focused initiatives like Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) and the Living Knowledge Network, peer-to-peer production initiatives like Hackerspaces and Fablabs, or policy-oriented initiatives like basic income and participatory budgeting. These promote more socially and environmentally responsible, ethical, solidarity and collaboration-based models of the economy, banking, agriculture, material production, design, education and community life.
Specific innovations developed and implemented by CLIs are often based on permaculture, and involve identifying and adapting design patterns from nature in order to create infrastructural systems that maximise their capacity for self-maintenance, regeneration and flexible adaptation to changing circumstances at the same time as they minimise their reliance on external inputs of materials and energy. Ecovillages and other intentional communities develop residential infrastructures that are both highly sustainable in their direct operations and supportive of social innovation for more sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods. Wider infrastructural innovations include networks of cooperative banks that promote investment in the community-centred and regenerative activity, community-owned renewable energy projects and networks, and Community Land Trusts dedicated to holding land in community ownership and control in order to ensure that infrastructural development both serves community needs and has positive social and environmental impacts. Deeper transformation at a regional scale becomes possible when multiple such initiatives converge such that each provides infrastructural services for the others, and the wider region, creating a more sustainable and resilient infrastructure that becomes increasingly accessible as a default.
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