Durable Assets

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University

Poor peoples dependent upon day labor and other forms of hourly employment can find it difficult to ensure livability for themselves and their families. They have little to support themselves in the event that employment becomes scarce or food prices skyrocket undermining their capacity to feed their families. Similarly, the assetless peoples often find it impossible to acquire credit for the creation of small businesses becuase they are dependent upon fluctuating levels of income.


Development that purses an emphasis towards building the durable assets people have such as land, machinery, or livestock can empower peoples to be self-sufficient even in times of hardship, as they posses the materials necessary for ensuring their livelihood regardless of the larger economic climate.


Durable assets in sustainable development can be summarized within four sections: natural capital (natural resource assets), reproducible capital (durable structures or equipment produced by human beings), human capital (the productive potential of human beings), and social capital (norms and institutions that influence the interactions among humans). The idea of durable assets is that they are capable of generating flows of goods and services (Rust, 1985).

Here is a simple list of some concrete examples of Durable Assets in which peoples can acquire to support their overall economic security:

  • Automobiles
  • Land for cultivation
  • Computers
  • Sewing Machines
  • Tools
  • Livestock

This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive but rather meant to illuminate the types of durable assets that can be acquired to provide peoples and families greater means of supporting their livelihoods, both in times of relative prosperity, as well as in those times that prove to be not so prosperous.

Overall, this pattern emphasizes both a focus (and approach) and concrete goal of engendering livelihood development for peoples left without the means to ensure their own survival. The foundation of a durable assets approach follows from the understandings that fully relying upon one's own labor can be problematic in regions in which the economy is vulnerable to dramatic transitions. By giving peoples the power of ownership over their own lives in the good times as well as the bad yet another layer of protection can be added to avoid situations of furthered "hardcore poverty".

For example, throughout South Asia there is a movement of development driven by the creation of women's Self-Help Groups. In these groups people collectively save in order to acquire loans or assets to acquire the tools to initiate income generating activities. Many start-up shops as seamstresses, or begin poultry farming, some go on to open small stores and others as in the case of the Graemeen Bank's cell phone program, provide cell service to local people. In each of these examples, a common thread is the tools used. The seamstress must posses a sewing machine to pursue her business, just as the poultry farmer needs the livestock and the land. The cell phone ladies in Bangladesh would not be if it weren't for their ownership of the cell phones they use to run their businesses; just as the fisher would go hungry without his tools, so too would farmer without his land, and taxi driver without her taxi.

This isn't meant to negate the role of creativity of individual or group creativity to generate income, but it the pattern highlights a useful view on how to facilitate the inherent creativity of people for pursuing livelihoods for themselves and their families.

However, as long as there exists any durable asset, it is capable of possessing monetary attributes and, therefore, of giving rise to the characteristic problems of a monetary economy (Keynes, 1936). Therefore this pattern could be perceived to reinforce oppressive or unfair economic systems. Yet, despite this issue the reality remains that over a billion people live in extreme poverty without the means to feed or protect their families in times of greater economic hardship; to ignore this fact based upon arguments against the current economic system is perhaps to make a bad situation worse, and only perpetuate socio-economic inequalities.


Development practitioners, community members and individuals can participate in ways to consciously pursue the acquisition and sustainability of durable assets to promote income generation activities and support a greater level of economic security to the most vulnerable populations. Such approaches could conceivable be achieved through the linkage of other patterns such as self-help groups, co-operatives and collectives or a variety of other relevant patterns. Ultimately as a policy, officials in government could, through pressure from social change advocates, develop initiatives to enable individuals and communities to both acquire durable goods, and assist in protecting those assets that they do possess, such as land from external threats.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Durable Assets can empower people and communities to be self-sufficient even in times of hardship. Development practitioners, community members, and individuals can consciously pursue the acquisition and sustainability of Durable Assets. Government should develop initiatives to enable individuals and communities to acquire Durable Assets and to protect those they already own.

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