Community-based initiatives and sustainable development around mega-infrastructure projects

New railway line through the mountains north of Kasi, Laos
New railway line through the mountains north of Kasi, Laos. Photo: Albrecht Ehrensperger

Visions for economic development, global connectivity, or “green energy” are driving a boom in mega-infrastructure projects (MIP). MIPs often cross national borders and may include transport routes, special economic zones, oil and natural gas extraction projects, or hydroelectric facilities. The best-known endeavour is China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but there are many others.

The landscapes in which MIPs are implemented are hotspots of development that must be monitored carefully to ensure sustainability. The communities who live around MIPs or are attached emotionally or economically to the area, are caught between hopes and aspirations, pressures and threats.  

This programme therefore aims to support learning and co-create community-based innovations, to ensure that the design and operation of MIPs take into account diverse community and sustainability perspectives. Titled “Engaging with the giant – Community-based initiatives and sustainable development around mega-infrastructure projects”, the programme brings together people and supports the development of action research and implementation projects in various world regions.

In this way it aims to trigger learning processes, capacitate policy engagement, and co-create practical solutions, thus enabling communities to harness potentials in MIP areas in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Switzerland/Europe in the medium to long term.

Approach and objectives

CDE and its partners will run several action research and implementation projects. The programme and projects shall be based on very close collaboration with established and new partners globally. The programme is structured into four modules which are interconnected and reinforce each other.

A) Programme development

In the programme development, CDE and its partners develop a common approach and strategies. Each involved country and project will also have its context-specific elements, accounting for the uniqueness of each MIP and context.

B) Learning module

Transformations are understood as a continuous process of learning. The programme aims at a multiple-directional learning from existing community-based initiatives around MIPs, including good practices and exchange. At the same time, this module also focuses on the learning of change agents, e.g. “champions” from local communities, policy makers, development workers, private sector, academia etc. Moreover, the programme is engaging in and supporting students’ projects and courses from different disciplines and strives for scientific advances through projects and research partnerships.

Dawei Special Economic Zone, Myanmar
Dawei Special Economic Zone, Myanmar, 2016. Photo: Lara Lundsgaard-Hansen

C) Co-creation module

Module C aims to co-create community-based initiatives for sustainable development in MIP regions. Learning Landscapes are at the core of the regional projects. They serve to facilitate pilot community-based actions in MIP regions as well as to facilitate learning for potential change agents. This implies also a scaling beyond single communities, so that other non-participating communities can also strengthen their capabilities and capacities. Therefore, the programme will explore and test (and later apply) promising scaling-up and -out activities and/or projects.

Furthermore, in this module, the team at CDE will explore options to develop an IT-based knowledge platform for community-based initiatives around MIP, building on CDE’s experiences.

D) Policy engagement and outreach module

Based on Modules A, B and C, CDE will act as advocate and knowledge broker for sustainable development around MIPs, engaging in formal and informal policy dialogues nationally as well as internationally. Related knowledge products shall reach and sensitize civil, governmental, private-sector-based and academic target audiences.