De-constructing sustainability: What is it made of? What might impede it?

Community radio stations, with all of the positive connotations and expectations related to them, risk being seen as potential ’quick fixes’ aimed at desired development objectives. That such ’quick fixes’ are usually short-term and not sustainable, ought not to come as a surprise. Still, many ’quick fix’ so-called community radio stations can be found all over. These are built in the context of optimism and lack of experience and genuine understanding of what it takes to facilitate development and change.

Evidence from a multitude of community radio stations has shown that sustainability for
community radio includes a number of areas as it is broken down in the model below:

To do something about it, it is important to bring the concept down-to-earth, and consider it in light of the concrete, practical issues. Sustainability can be grouped in three overriding components: social sustainability, organisational sustainability and financial sustainability:

  • social sustainability including ownership of institutions, processes and ideas, development of local content, language and cultural relevance
  • organisational sustainability building upon adequate legislation and policies, including internal democracy, training and participation, appropriate and democratic structures, management and supervisory bodies, appropriate technologies, and being part of relevant networks
  • financial sustainability covering a variety of aspects from building up realistic budgets, identifying local, national and international financial opportunities and the subsequent funding mix

Above these three elements, however, is a fourth aspect dealing with the overall ‘enabling environment’. It is outside the immediate action range of an individual community radio, at the national (policy) level. The enabling environment includes legislation and related rules and implementation frameworks, which decide which type of community radios can be licensed, whether government funding can be applied for, etc. Also non-governmental parties like a national community radio support forum or network belong in this sphere.