Why do we use the term “catalyst” to describe the staff positions within the SSP? Because the task of becoming sustainable is one that must be accomplished by a People, not just a few people. The SSP staff (Regional and Community Catalysts) are just a few people who, even as a group, are most likely incapable of making much of a dent in the region’s sustainability. Although it is imperative that we make meaningful and measurable contributions to community sustainability through the work we do, our overarching goal is to catalyze broader engagement in this work, particularly at existing organizations and institutions. This is the essence of “catalytic leadership” and toward that end we are working with communities by partnering with tribal and city governments, village corporations, community-based conservation groups, small businesses, etc. We are also working with regional partners such as the USFS, SEALASKA/Haa Aani’, the Southeast Conference, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, and others.

It is easy to get absorbed in the details of achieving the material objectives of our projects: getting solar panels installed, restoring salmon streams, supporting triple bottom line business development, improving access to locally grown and healthy foods, etc. These are solid goals for “catalysts” because the material outcomes of our work will serve to grow the sustainability movement by demonstrating the mechanics of success. But let’s not forget to keep our eye on the equally, if not more important social goals of relationship building, growing trust, cultivating a sense of optimism and self-reliance, etc.

Sustainable community development may not be so much an engineering problem as it is a process of social transformation. Conscious and diligent work on community engagement should be a core part of almost all the projects we work on. We will know we have begun to make progress on this front when we see more cities, tribes, businesses, state and federal government groups, etc. practicing sustainability thinking – when we hear community self-reliance, prosperity and resilience being discussed in our offices, schools, coffee shops and grocery stores, .

If you are already seeing signs of a sustainable community development movement in Southeast, tell us about it by leaving a comment below.