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Think Local, Be Sustainable

A case for local sourcing. 

Think Local, be sustainable cover

The daily import of materials, products, expertise and ideas in our highly connected world comes along with some challenges we have to face. In this blog, we aim to shift the gaze from global to local and argument why local sourcing can be a sustainable advantage in the long run.

Why buying local? 

Procuring and buying local products, materials and expertise has many advantages over importing from abroad. 

Among them: 
  • short ways of transport are good for the environment 
  • promoting locally made products and businesses generates more income for a community 
  • employing local knowledge and expertise creates jobs, which support families 
  • the materials and solutions are adapted to the local climate and context 
  • easy maintenance is possible without bringing in a team of experts 

Buying local enables little businesses to act more independently. And creating jobs with a steady income gives young people a chance to build up their capacities and sustain themselves.

How we promote it? 

Since 2019, IOM The Gambia has actively contributed to promoting local knowledge, materials and techniques by initiating the Building Together pilot project. 

Over 119 days, the project explored ways to employ artisans, engaging youth in workshops and building with local resources while renovating two Migration Information Centres (MIC), at the youth centres in Soma-Pakalinding and Basse. 

Here are 3 of the many challenges we decided to tackle, and the locally adapted solutions we came up with. 

Challenge 1: The air-conditioning isn’t working 

Air-conditioners often use a lot of electricity (compared to fans or solar energy solutions) and spare parts aren’t always available in local markets. In our case, one of the youth centre’s devices broke down and the service provider in charge of repairs lives in the capital, 400 km away.

  1. Try to incorporate more greens and plants into your environment. Start a garden with some shading trees in front of your window. This cools down the air before it enters. 
  2. Create a natural airflow through the building by opening doors and windows in the mornings and evenings. 
  3. Reduce the amount of concrete in new buildings. Instead, opt for locally made mudbrick or fired brick with its cooling properties. 
  4. If your office needs air-conditioning for at least some months per year, purchase it with a trusted provider who’ll also make sure he has spare parts in stock and can train a local technician close to you in case you encounter a problem. 
Challenge 2: The furniture and equipment are in bad shape 

Lack of maintenance and a humid climate can quickly deteriorate imported furniture and equipment, which was originally designed for another part of this world. 

Locally Made
  1. Buy the equipment and materials you need in local shops whenever possible. 
  2. Employ nearby artisans to build and repair with local materials and its climate-adapted properties. If you need someone for maintenance in the future, they already know how to solve the problem. 
  3. When working in a youth centre, hold a design workshop and build what you need together with local youth on spot. This establishes a sense of ownership and care. 
  4. Employ carpenters who are returned migrants, to give an extra boost to their new businesses and encourage their reintegration process. 
Challenge 3: No electricity, no lights 

In places with an unstable power grid, it can come to regular power-cuts, when many people using electricity at the same time. 

  1. Integrate windows with adjustable blinds to get enough natural light in during the daytime. 
  2. In the evenings, save money and energy by opting for LED lights. They consume up to 80% less energy than traditional halogen bulbs and can last 3-25 times longer than traditional incandescent. 
  3. Track your energy consumption and avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of the month by opting for a rechargeable electricity installation rather than billing. 

How can you make your project more local? 

You won’t always have the chance to purchase locally. Nevertheless, here are a couple of things you can try: 

  • In need of a new desk? Employ a local carpenter to design and produce your office furniture. 
  • Hosting an inauguration? Ask a local caterer or returnee owned businesses to deliver you traditional dishes from the region. 
  • Out of ideas? Provide local migrant association with grants to come up with new awareness raising activities or ideas for community engagement. 
  • Searching for a place to stay at your next meeting? Favour locally owned facilities and cultural centres over big hotel chains. 
  • Looking to buy goodies for your next event? Think about asking local tailors to make these t-shirts and have them printed with serigraphy. 
  • Think about recycling. IOM made camera bags and backpacks out of recycled conference banners with the help of a young Senegalese designer. They’re not only budget and environment friendly, but also super friendly! 
  • Need face masks for staff? Ask returnees to produce them, using local fabrics. Standard sewing patterns can be found online. 
  • Looking for a fancy partner gift? Talk to local artisans and artists to see how they can personalize the items they’re selling, rather than ordering online. Who needs another branded USB or agenda anyway? 

And the side-effects? It’s good for our environment, respects local techniques and aesthetics and creates jobs for the generations to come. 

This article was first written by Simon Meienberg, who also made the pictures and illustrations.


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