“Governments survive on the Urban Poor majority”

by James Tayler

By Louise Cobbett, SDI secretariat

On the final day of discussions at the World Urban Forum, SDI hosted its second networking session entitled People’s Organization and the Struggle for the Inclusive City. The panel included federation representatives from the Philippines, Zambia, Mexico, Brazil and Zimbabwe, and they discussed in detail the challenges faced by the urban poor in their efforts to be active members within their own societies.

Sonia Fadrigo from the Philippines spoke about how the UPFI gives the communities the initial funds to be taken seriously at the negotiation table – “no one will talk to you if you look poor and you look like you are begging for money,” so the Urban Poor Fund International helps to open the door for the communities.

The communities have to save towards the UPFI and Sheela Magara from Zimbabwe highlighted the social benefit of saving. “You collect money, you collect people, you collect problems then you can build people and build houses,” she said.

Other overarching themes to come from the session concerned the importance of information gathering, communities coming to the negotiating table with external actors armed with information and seed money. The chances of the meeting being a fruitful one, are drastically increased. And the reality is that the communities already have the answers to their problems — they know exactly what needs to address and in what order. With their information in hand, they are able to channel the government’s resources to where it is most sorely needed.

As if to emphasize Sheela’s comments on building an individual through savings and financial capacity, the UPFI funds are managed by the communities. UPFI gives communities a sense of self sufficiency and it builds their confidence. Once you have an organized and confident community, they have a voice that cannot be ignored.

The National Movement of Recyclers in Brazil was included in the session, and though not allied to SDI, their experiences were similar. They held a forum of 1800 recyclers in 2001 at which a memorandum was signed, which was the  beginning of the Latin American network of recyclers. 2006, second forum in Columbia, which was an international event. They found that through sharing their experiences, they were able to learn from one another. So in short, community organization is the key, combined with dialogue and sharing of experiences among networks of organized communities.

Finally, the Ugandan Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Michael Werikhe spoke about the importance of the UPFI:

It is special because it is for the people at a global level, at a regional level, and a local level. And it is managed and done by the community themselves. As governments, we need to support the slum dwellers in the efforts for information. It shouldn’t be an exclusionary process. But with information, you know your strengths and weaknesses. Governments survive on the urban poor majority.