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Project Transition

A holistic sustainable development initiative of The Sustainability Laboratory with the migrant community of Martina Bustos in Costa Rica

Photo of Alissa Murray
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Project Transition aims to demonstrate an innovative, comprehensive approach to sustainable development with the community of Martina Bustos in Costa Rica, which comprises largely of Nicaraguan migrants. Members of Martina Bustos initially left their home communities due to adverse conditions, such as political oppression and lack of economic opportunities, to then settle in Martina Bustos, where due to their migrant status, substandard conditions that impede growth continue to prevail. The community faces a number of challenges, including issues related to legal status, land rights, and titles; weak community organization; limited access to education, skill development, and economic opportunities; poor infrastructure; a highly degraded environment; and more. These issues are multifaceted, interrelated, and self-amplifying, leaving the community in a self-perpetuating trap of poverty and marginalization. Project Transition is a joint initiative of The Sustainability Laboratory and the Martina Bustos community that aims to create a complete transformation within the community. The project will incorporate the holistic sustainability framework of The Sustainability Laboratory with the community’s vision for the future, while integrating the participation and expertise of various key players, such as legal experts, government agencies, local academic institutions, and others, to address the many specific and complex issues faced by the Martina Bustos community in a way that will create lasting change. While Project Transition will work specifically with the Martina Bustos community, the project’s underlying, systemic approach will be applicable with other similar groups. Project Transition will thus provide a general, replicable, and scalable model for community and economic development with migrant communities in Costa Rica and other places around the world, which is particularly relevant and essential in this age of increasing migration throughout the globe.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The Martina Bustos community is located near the city of Liberia in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, and comprises of approximately 2,000 individuals, most of whom are migrants from Nicaragua. The Sustainability Laboratory and its partners from EARTH University in Costa Rica have been involved with the Martina Bustos community since 2014. We worked collaboratively with community members to help them project a vision for their future, and have since engaged in ongoing planning exercises.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Project Transition will help build a regional bridge between the Martina Bustos community and the Guanacaste region, particularly strengthening the relationship between the community and the nearby city of Liberia. Furthermore, the successful implementation of Project Transition will have a broader impact not only in Costa Rica. By serving as a replicable and scalable model, the project would inspire bridge-building between other migrant and host communities throughout the world.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Project Transition will address the critical issues that challenge the Martina Bustos community, transforming a reality of poverty and marginalization into a dynamic, productive, and fully integrated presence, while fulfilling the community’s own vision for change. Furthermore, Project Transition will serve as a general demonstration of sustainable development, and will provide a model that will be exportable to other vulnerable migrant communities in Costa Rica and other places. Thus, the project will meet the broader need for a holistic strategy by which to integrate migrant communities into host countries, fostering a well-functioning alignment between individuals, their surrounding community, the local environment, economy, and their host countries, anywhere in the world.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We will work to create a complete transformation within the Martina Bustos community by holistically addressing its interrelated challenges: 1) Resolving issues of legal status and land titles will allow community members full integration into Costa Rican society, with ability to own property and access greater economic opportunities, 2) Improving the physical infrastructure, such as housing stock, roads, and utilities, will improve quality of life and equitable access to resources, 3) Regenerating the local environment will foster environmental stewardship, education, and open up new opportunities through eco-activities, 4) Developing economic capacity and opportunities through skills workshops, microfinancing facilities, and organizing small business owners will increase prosperity and strengthen the local economy, and 5) Working with the community to develop leadership capacity, skills sharing, and access to education will strengthen human capital and sense of community identity.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The deeply adverse conditions in the Martina Bustos community inspired the idea, coupled with the vision created by the community for its future. In this vision, all community members live in harmony and work together to meet their needs while fostering equality, equity, and dignity. Members envision a future with equal access to education, modern and reliable infrastructure, and increased professional development opportunities. In this vision, all community members are active contributors to Costa Rican society and achieve economic stability and prosperity. Members hope that the transformation of Martina Bustos can become a model for community empowerment for others in Costa Rica. Project Transition will combine this vision with The Sustainability Laboratory’s holistic approach to sustainable development, contributing to resolving the specific issues in this community while providing a model for community and economic development within migrant groups throughout the world.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Despite its transient origins, the Martina Bustos community maintains a degree of permanence; various community members have lived there for years, children have been born there, and members have made strides to improve various aspects of community life, such as through the creation of a Community Development Association. However, the current conditions in Martina Bustos destabilize the community and impede its development. All members of the community lack property rights and many have ambiguous legal statuses; limited access to education and skills development hinders economic progress; substandard infrastructure results in low quality of life and poor health conditions; low socialization and trust among community members, along with neglect by government agencies, has resulted in a weak sense of community identity; and others. These conditions trap the community in a vicious cycle of poverty, crime, and degraded conditions, while producing stress on the surrounding region.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Members of the Martina Bustos community are greatly resilient, having lived through adverse conditions both in Nicaragua and in Costa Rica. Instead of inspiring hopelessness or apathy, members of the community maintain the capacity to envision a better future, and are actively working to understand and improve conditions in their community. Through collaborative sessions with The Sustainability Laboratory and its partners, community members have developed a systems-based analysis of the current conditions, and have identified critical areas for change. Project Transition will leverage the community’s resolve for change by creating the innovative space in which a variety of key players and stakeholders can collaborate with the community. By aligning visions and sharing resources, the Martina Bustos community will be able to embark on the radical transformation that it envisions.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Project Transition will be implemented as a joint initiative of The Sustainability Laboratory and leadership from the Martina Bustos community. We will collaborate with faculty from EARTH University in Costa Rica in the design and implementation of the project, and we have obtained strong expression of support for the project from the office of the Costa Rican vice president, the national bank of Costa Rica, and others. Under the oversight and coordination of The Sustainability Laboratory, we foresee Project Transition involving a multi-stakeholder consortium consisting of members of the Martina Bustos community, local academic and research institutions, relevant province and federal agencies, private sector entities, NGOs, past fellows of The Sustainability Laboratory, and others.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

The Sustainability Laboratory

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The Sustainability Laboratory, a U.S.-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 2008 by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli in order to research, develop, demonstrate, and facilitate the adoption of breakthrough sustainability practices, with the goal of expanding prospects and producing positive, life-affirming impacts on people and ecosystems in all parts of the world. The Lab engages in research, development, and educational activities focused on key sustainability related issues. To guide its activities, The Lab has developed a unique, design-based, and action-oriented conceptual framework, which combines a holistic systems perspective, a pioneering theory of change, and a rigorous set of sustainability principles. In its development projects, The Lab works collaboratively with its partner communities to initiate, design, and implement projects that integrate the many dimensions of sustainability in a holistic and practical manner.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

New York, New York

Attachments (1)


Letter from the office of the Vice President of Costa Rica expressing support of Project Transition


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gaspard

Hola desde La Paz, Bolivia,
Una idea innovadora. Me pareció bien interesante su enfoque holístico. Existe alguna literatura acerca su metodología?


Le agradecemos por sus comentarios/observación sobre nuestro proyecto:

Photo of Alissa Murray

Thank you very much for your positive feedback and your interest in our work! Our methodology combines a systems-oriented design strategy, a pioneering theory of change, and a rigorous set of sustainability principles, created by our founder. We apply this framework to all of our work and projects. For more information about our approach, please see our website: (you can also find our sustainability principles in Spanish: Please feel free to get in touch with us directly, should you wish to learn more.