Supporting sustainable livelihoods

Photo - Five people sat around a table with paperwork on it, talking and making notes.

In our sites around the world, we work to ensure that local communities have the skills and assets to benefit from natural resources sustainably. In some cases this might mean providing help switching to alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism. In others it is a case of better management of resources that communities have used for generations, such as establishing 'no-take zones', to enable dwindling fish stocks to recover so that communities can rely on them for years to come.

Community banking is also especially important in areas beyond the reach of mainstream financial services. We are working to help communities set up self-help groups, enabling members to save and invest. We will either invest into a seed fund, or will support the community to build up and manage the fund using entirely their own savings.

Why does ZSL invest in sustainable rural livelihoods and community banking?

Inevitably, some conservation efforts restrict the use of natural resources, such as limiting cattle grazing within a protected area. Ensuring that conservation benefits to communities outweigh any costs not only increases the chances of success for wildlife, but is the right thing to do, protecting local rights and wellbeing, especially where poverty is high and livelihood options are limited.

Community banking groups enable their members to save seasonal income for later investments or household emergencies. Women make up more than 88% of the membership of our community banking groups, and lead many of these savings groups. They use their savings to set up new small enterprises, support their families, and invest in conservation, for example, a group in the Philippines contributed around $500 to upgrade a guardhouse to maintain their marine protected area.

Asian tailor sat at a sewing machine

We’re working for a world where wildlife thrives

With your support we can bring wildlife back from the brink of extinction.


Healthy STEPPE ecosystems underpin the livelihoods and cultural identities of Mongolia's nomadic herders. We're working to bring herder communities together to agree on how best to manage rangelands and forest sustainably. We support communities to set up small cooperatives, including to sell certified high-quality, ethical and sustainable cashmere and dairy. To ensure these cooperatives are economically sustainable, we have helped establish community banking groups, and are working with local government to provide these cooperatives access to local markets to sell local goods such as dairy, non-timber products and wool.


In six vulnerable coastal communities in Cabo Delgado, we helped establish 23 community banking groups. Members from 466 households saved over £20,000, and used this to start new small businesses, and for basics such as larger bags of rice, doors and secure roofing. Diversification of livelihoods included establishing horticulture groups, which sold 550kgs of tomato from their first harvest. The community banks enable a platform for gender-equitable community-based fisheries management, also established by the Our Sea our Life project.


ZSL supports sustainable livelihoods for 21 communities in a key tiger stronghold in Sumatra. Our KELOLA Sendang project has trained 2243 smallholders across the landscape in environmentally friendly farming, including setting up a rubber farming cooperative and facilitating discussions with buyers such as Goodyear. KELOLA Sendang has helped 20 communities come together to plan how they can best use their land, allowing access to improved livelihoods for 85,000 living in the landscape.

Group of people digging in sandy mud with their hands

Philippines and Cameroon

Rising levels of marine plastic and falling fish stocks could spell disaster for marginalised coastal communities in the Philippines and Cameroon. Net-Works supports these communities to establish pro-poor community-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) and supply chains for waste fishing nets that cause ghost fishing. These initiatives are supported by an inclusive business model for seaweed and nylon-6 that incentivise and sustain conservation action. The initiative is underpinned by community banking groups that manage the supply chains. Since 2012 Net-Works has collected 224 metric tonnes of discarded nets, and provided 2,200 families with access to finance and 64,000 people with a healthier environment.


On the northern edge of the Tsavo Conservation Area, two Kamba tribal communities form a gateway into the parks. These subsistence farmers rely heavily on very fragile natural resources, and are vulnerable to increasingly frequent droughts and human-wildlife conflict. Through partnerships with local organisations, at ZSL, we're trying to reduce the burden of living alongside Tsavo. This includes supporting sustainable livelihoods options, such as soap manufacturing, basket weaving and baobab oil production, and increasing farm productivity. We are establishing community-banking groups, so that people can invest in their livelihoods; while promoting techniques to reduce the level of crop-raiding by elephants and livestock loss from carnivores.

Photo - Several shelves filled with many colourful, hand-woven baskets


Tiger in long green grass

We’re working for a world where wildlife thrives

With your support we can bring wildlife back from the brink of extinction.