The Global Sustainability Fellows Program


Now that we’ve had some time to breathe, we wanted to share a number of photos from our most recent Global Sustainability Fellows Program Session–the completion of our two-year pilot–which took place over two weeks this past August. This year’s cohort was made up of interested members from the first cohort, as well as a former Sustainability Laboratory Prizewinner from EARTH University. Professor Irene Alvarado of EARTH University and Dr. Mohammed Nofal of University of Colorado, Boulder, joined the faculty. The group returned to the EARTH University campus in Guanacaste, and to the challenged community of Martina Bustos, in order to finish what they started the previous summer: a comprehensive Sustainable Development Plan, developed with the community.

The group worked with leaders from the Martina Bustos community, an informal settlement of approximately 2,000 people that faces significant social, civic and environmental challenges. After performing both regional and community diagnostics, generating a detailed database and facilitating in-depth dialogue sessions, the Fellows delivered a comprehensive long-term initiative entitled “Project Transition” to the community. We anticipate that this project will continue with the help of The Lab, the Fellows, EARTH University, local NGOs and community leaders.

The community itself, which has a large population of Nicaraguan migrants, is plagued by numerous challenges, including poor infrastructure, lack of land rights/titles, lack of opportunities for skill development and employment, and weak community organization.


An average home in Martina Bustos


Water access is a major issue


Burning is the main solution to trash disposal, as there is no trash collection services in MB


Poor schools contribute to the lack of skills and economic opportunity in the community


Many community members rely on “recycling” from the local dump as a source of income

Over two weeks, the Fellows engaged the community in building a common vision for the community to adopt, mapping critical issues the community faced, and identifying leverage points for “transition.”





Fellow Yam Aisner writes: During this past program session, I feel that we made a real connection with the community and I believe that the seed of change and empowerment has been planted in the community members who took part. Working alongside The Lab, the Fellows and the Martina Bustos community members was a fascinating learning experience. I am inspired and eager to continue this line of work, and to discover more tools to contribute to the transition towards sustainability.




Fellow Therese Bennich writes: The process during this year’s session made use of systems thinking and system dynamics. Carrying out a systems analysis helped identify important dynamics at play in Martina Bustos, explaining the current situation facing the community. One important realization was that many of these dynamics are not unique to Martina Bustos. All over the world, issues related to migration and integration are becoming increasingly severe. Therefore, Project Transition could have the potential to serve as a model for community development, not only in Costa Rica but also for communities in other parts of the world. Throughout the process, we challenged ourselves to understand the situation in the specific context of Martina Bustos, but also to see the bigger picture.




Fellow Conor Meehan writes: This year’s GSF session really helped me to see how The Lab’s approach is focused on long-term and systemic change. That Martina Bustos could become a model community in dealing with migration issues was an inspiring prospect; work done on this project could have far-reaching benefits for other parts of the world, and for the sustainability movement as a whole. During the program, I’ve learned that sustainability cannot apply to any person, community, or nation, but can only apply to the planet as a whole. This was a valuable realization for me, one that has significant meaning given the current talks on climate change negotiations.

On the final day of the program, the Fellows, community members, and representatives from EARTH University gathered to present “Project Transition” to the greater community.






Young members of Martina Bustos talking about their vision for their community


Dr. Michael Ben-Eli of The Lab presenting the “Project Transition” document to Maira Armas, the leader of the Martina Bustos Development Association

For now, we are busy finalizing the “Project Transition” document and putting together an implementation plan. Stay tuned.

For EARTH University’s press release on this year’s GSF session, click here.

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