UPFI board meets in Stockholm


Pictured above: SDI President Jockin Arputham speaks while Ugandan Housing Minister Michael Werikhe, and Mats Odell, Swedish Minister for Finance, Local Government and Housing, look on.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The Board of Governors for SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) held its second and last meeting of the year last week in Stockholm, Sweden. Such gatherings are a unique chance to mobilize political support for a people-centered agenda for urban development. High-ranking government officials from countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America, joined slum community leaders to discuss how to support initiatives of locally-rooted community organizations in cities throughout the Global South.

The UPFI provides seed funding to local urban poor funds of national federations affiliated to SDI. The idea is that the money provided by UPFI catalyzes local initiatives that can leverage further resources, have an impact on urban policy, demonstrate possibilities for reaching further scale, and increase sustainable financial practices of the poor through savings.

“I see it as a tool that supports the SDI affiliates in upscaling their development,” says Rose Molokoane, member of a savings scheme of the Federation of the Urban Poor in Oukasie, South Africa, and deputy president of SDI. “For us to have one basket of funds draws the funders to come closer together to create space for the poor and strengthens our self-reliance.”

The Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF) is an instructive example of the ways in which the poor control their developmental future through the UPFI. The ZHPF has used the funding to build “eco-san” toilets in cities such as Bulawayo and Chinhoyi. These toilets are pioneering a cheaper, environmentally-friendly alternative to basic sanitation provision in slums where the high cost of traditional basic services has impeded any kind of incremental development.

The Malawian Federation, also affiliated to SDI, served as a horizontal resource for the development of the ecosan model. In March of this year, a Malawian team comprised of three builders, one federation member and a Water and Sanitation Programme Manager, went to Zimbabwe to teach the ZHPF about the ecosan toilets and construct model toilets in those areas. The projects have enabled the ZHPF to change policy at the local level by involving city officials, and have also had an impact up to the national level. The ZHPF is the leading community voice of the poor for housing in negotiations for a new Zimbabwean constitution. The incremental upgrading strategies employed by the Federation, especially with regards to sanitation, are affecting local university planning curricula as well.

The Stockholm meeting of the UPFI board, hosted by the Swedish government, was coupled with a seminar on “reshaping financial markets to make them more relevant to the poorest of the poor.” This seminar featured a mix of slum dweller activists, academics, NGO professionals, and finance experts, presenting on policy and practice in urban settings in Asia, Africa, and South America. Over 75 people from the Swedish business world attended the seminar, and the hope is that private institutions can begin working to develop financial instruments for poor individuals and communities. Access to finance is one of the biggest challenges impeding many people’s ability to get out of poverty, especially in urban environment.

Jockin Arputham is the founder of the National Slum Dwellers Federation in India and president of SDI: “To empower the poor you need to organize the people and make them taste the fruit of organizing. Your power is strengthened by your negotiating power. You don’t go empty-handed to negotiate with government. The UPFI helps people to win the kind of power you need to negotiate with government: statistics, finance, everything. Now no government cannot ignore SDI. There’s no way anyone can ignore this process. They have to engage communities,” he says.

The Swedish government has posted a video from a press conference at the UPFI board meeting, as well as documents used in presentations at the following day’s seminar.

Building Support for the People’s Process

By Blessing Mancitshana and Patience Phewa, CORC South Africa 

Editor’s note: South African slum dwellers that are part of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) traveled to Namibia on 6-9 August to learn and support an enumeration exercise in the city of Swakopmund. As the Community Organization Resource Centre’s (CORC) Blessing Mancitshana and Patience Phewa write, the activities are of particular note because of the extent to which the local communities controlled and took ownership of the activities, as well as the enthusiasm displayed by local government officials to support this people-centered process.


The first activity was attending to the Swakopmund Municipality meeting where the DRC  (Democratically Relocated Community according to the Municipal official) enumeration exercise was briefed. In the evening of the first day, the team attended to a community meeting where they were planning for the presentation of the preliminary results of the enumeration to the municipality of Swakopmund.  The community prepared the program for the day. This enumeration was conducted by the community members with some assistance from the councillor’s office; it took the members two months to run the exercise. All the enumerators who took part in the data collection exercise from the beginning up to the end were rewarded certificates for their work by the mayor of Swakopmund. The community used to have some saving schemes but of late all of them are extinct, the Federation women of Namibia also assisted in mobilising the community about the importance of savings. 

On the second day of the exchange, presentation of the results to the municipality representatives (who included the mayor, councillor, town planner and even the governor) was done. The meeting took place in the DRC settlement with more than two hundred community members taking part in the meeting. The governor acknowledged the importance of the work which was done by the community, also stressed that this whole activity of enumeration has the potential of lifting the community into another level. The town planner has some previous experience with SDFN, he also promised to work hand in hand with the community especially around the planning related issues.

All the results which were presented during the meeting were calculated manually by the community members. From the South African delegation to Namibia, a great difference was noted since the results take a prolonged period to be presented and mostly they have little reflection of community efforts since they are presented professionally. All the results are written on big charts and then presented in the meeting. The community really demonstrated some ownership of the whole process that they did not wait for NHAG (Namibia Housing Action Group) to do everything for them. The community was advised to form a community team that will follow up all the proposals made by the officials from municipality.

The third day of the exchange was centred on savings, the team was divided into two groups where the other group visited the backyarders at the Hadama |hao community, whilst the other group revisited DRC settlement to assist in setting up a new saving scheme. A new saving scheme was set up in DRC and was named “Promise.” A brief discussion about basic ways of running a saving scheme was held with the members of the new saving schemes. The team was also briefed on how to mobilise other members in the community for them to participate in savings. Some of the backyard saving schemes now have a piece of land with houses which they are paying for on monthly bases.  The land is being serviced by the municipality.  They have problems in the repayments of their loans from some members, and it was concluded that the group will be supported by the other backyard groups.  The other backyard group which are still saving are waiting for blocks of land which were allocated to them.  The land is already planned, but the area still need streetlights.

Walvis Bay

On the same day the team visited Walvis Bay, Kuisebmond settlement where there are other Federation saving communities. The team attended to the Savings meeting which was attended by seventeen saving schemes. Each and every saving scheme present gave a brief report of their social situation and financial status. Most of the members indicated that they were only saving for a house; however, they did not have a clear outline of plans on how to transform their savings into housing and other social issues. Most of the saving schemes are made up of backyard dwellers. In order for them to push their housing agenda, the saving schemes were advised to plan and conduct an enumeration which will help them in bringing in more people and at the same time stimulating the community to take up action for their own development. The community of DRC in Swakopmund and other Federation members were to assist in the proposed planning and implantation of the enumeration. Whilst in Kuisebmond, the team visited a settlement where SDFN houses are being constructed; however, one of the structures caused a lot of controversies especially about its size which was far bigger than the expected size of SDFN houses.

Important observations of the S. African team in the exchange

  • The community manually work on their information to get the preliminary results ( a faster way)

  • Presentation of the results to the other community members and the municipality is done by the community itself

  • The community prepares the agenda of the first meeting / engagement with the municipality

  • Results are presented manually by the community so as to maintain the community taste in the whole exercise

Implementation of the lessons learnt

  • The results presentation and preparation methodology observed in Namibia to be implemented in KZN at Umlazi township, Ezakheleni community and in Dunbar settlement


Challenges of Working with Government

By Ben Bradlow, SDI Secretariat 

A cornerstone of SDI’s working methodology is for federated groups of the urban poor to work to broker deals and develop relationships with the kinds of institutions that facilitate development at scale. More often than not, institutions of the State are the key actors with which organized communities need to engage in order to make an impact. 

Such relationships are almost inherently fraught. Slum dweller organizations can end up making deals with governments that in one breath may provide land, services or funds to one settlement, while threatening another with eviction. Government may try to use seemingly participatory processes as a tool for rubber-stamping previously approved government plans.

But in order for slum dweller organizations to achieve developmental scale, they must work with government at the same time that they challenge these very same institutions. It is a delicate balance that belies academic, theoretical imperatives for ideological purity. The politics of pragmatism are often slum dwellers’ greatest strength. For these are their politics of survival and innovation. It is important for planners to see slums the way slum dwellers see their own homes and neighborhoods. Not from the bird’s eye view from the sky, but from the street level on the ground. Similarly, the airborne purity of the ivory tower of academics and professionals bears little relation to the street level skills that characterize the pragmatism of slum dweller organizations in the ways in which they approach their governments.

At an SDI board meeting held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 13-14 July 2010, leaders of affiliated federations reflected on the scale and impact of the relationships that they have forged with their respective governments. These kinds of relationships take place at the local and national level of State administration. These relationships are full of mistakes, corrections, innovations, and lessons learned. Sometimes a formal agreement opens doors that would have otherwise been closed. In other cases, it is the exact opposite experience: the lack of formality facilitates organic, productive relationship building.

The Ghanaian federation has faced down eviction threats from various municipalities, most notably in Old Fadama in Accra. These threats have served as entry points for more sustainable relationships with local authorities. For example, after a threat to Old Fadama residents in 2009, the Federation convinced the authorities to accept the results of an enumeration of the 80,000-strong settlement before moving ahead with any future plans. Relationships with traditional councils in some areas have begun leading to the provision of new plots of land for slum dwellers.

The Indian alliance of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, Mahila Milan and support NGO SPARC, signed an MoU with local authorities in Pune. This facilitated the passage of a work order approval and house building has begun. There are five cities where the local authority works with communities to finance housing construction. In each of these cases, the community commits to provide 10% of the total housing cost. The alliance also has MoUs with three different states in the country, while at the national level SAPRC sits on a prime ministerial committee for housing. Arputham argues that the signed document of the MoU is a starting point to get access to begin talking with government. One of the largest accomplishments of such engagements is that the alliance managed to change the policy towards the ubiquitous pavement dwellers in Bombay.

The Kenyan Federation, has an agreement with the Nairobi Water Company for the connection of water for 4000 households in the Nairobi slum of Mathare. The Federation engages with local departments of planning but does so without a formal MoU. Engagements with local authorities are increasing, especially as the Federation becomes acquainted with new municipal configurations, says Federation leader Benson Osumba. It has been more difficult to engage with ministers at the national level, but lower-level professionals who are more stable in the relevant ministries have begun to work with the Federation. For example, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing has promised the provision of infrastructure in the Nairobi railway slum of Mukuru.

The emerging Liberian federation has signed a MoU with the Monrovia city council.

Relationships in Malawi between the Federation and the national government were codified in a MoU signed in 2007. This has resulted in the provision of land for 500 housing plots in Blantyre. The national government has also just begun allocations for slum upgrading initiatives, and the Federation is being recognized as a legitimate for ensuring that these funds reach the grassroots. This has been an opening for the Federation to begin advocating for a partnership with government around a revolving fund for slum upgrading. In addition to greenfields housing development, the Federation has begun partnering with the Lilongwe municipality around in situ upgrading.

The federation in Namibia has achieved significant financial commitments from the national government, but the relationship is not codified in a written document. One of the struggles in this relationship, says the National Housing Action Group’s (NHAG) Anna Muller, is convincing the government to work together to establish a revolving fund for housing and informal settlement upgrading. In this financial year, the government has committed approximately USD1.2 million as grant funding for what is known as the Build Together Fund. This was a tripling of the previous commitment from the government. The money is located at the local authority level, and the Federation is finding that repayments to the fund often get lost at that level. The Fund also individualizes the group loans, which has tended to confuse community reporting mechanisms. The national Director of Housing had been interested in setting up a more community-centered revolving fund, but such negotiations were sidetracked when he died earlier this year. The Federation appears in the government’s national development plan, but is still subject to annual budgeting decisions. It is the only non-governmental group to appear in the national development plan.

Local level relationships have been slower to develop for the Namibian Federation. The Community-Led Information Program (CLIP), which entailed the profiling of every informal settlement in the country, allowed the Federation to make links at the local government level in some towns, though they are not formalized, says Federation leader Edith Mbanga. Four towns are already using the information collected through CLIP as part of their local development plans.

Jockin Arputham, SDI president and president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India, argues that the Namibian model has a lot to teach other kinds of community groups looking to broker deals with the State. This is especially so with regards to the Federation’s relationship with the national governement: “There is a lot of money being committed. But do not get hung up on getting a formal commitment from government when a lot can come out of more informal relationships.”

The Philippines Federation has begun engaging local authorities through MoUs that are project specific, says federation leader Sonia Cardonigara. Agreements with the Manila local authority have been used to influence other cities such as Ilo Ilo and Montealban. The written MoUs have been helpful to commit authorities when it comes to the provision of land and housing. Involvement in the Community Land and Infrastructure Finance Facility (CLIFF) has been a major catalyst for building such relationships.

Communities in Freetown, Sierra Leone, have faced eviction threats, particularly in seaside slums like Kroo Bay. The community there completed an enumeration that has helped stave off the latest eviction threat issued in August 2009. The uphill slum of Dworzack has worked on a similar enumeration, this time in partnership with the Freetown City Council.

The South African federation has a long-standing pledge of housing subsidies from the national government. However, these subsidies are distributed through provincial government. Bureaucratic hold-ups and even willful negligence have meant that few subsidies actually get through to the Federation. The MoU underpinning this agreement has had limited use on the ground, though it has opened doors at all levels of government to begin engagements. In the City of Durban, municipal authorities have described the MoU as basically meaningless. Federation president Patrick Magebhula suggests that MoUs between cities and towns that are connected to specific projects can be much more effective. However, the national MoU has allowed for engagement primarily at the policy level, where the Federation can challenge issues like housing standards. In the city of Cape Town, a new network of informal settlement communities called the Informal Settlement Network has been working with municipal authorities for the past year on a series of informal settlement pilot upgrading projects. After a full year of working together, now municipal authorities are asking for a MoU to concretize the burgeoning relationship. A recently completed profile of every informal settlement in the Ekurhuleni municipality caused national government to begin talks with the South African alliance around expanding the community-led information gathering method nation-wide.

The new government in Sri Lanka has severely hampered efforts by the slum dwellers federation there. There is no allocation for housing in the latest budget, and housing is now a line function of the ministry of defense. Policy has shifted towards the rhetorical lynchpin of “slum eradication.” The Federation has made tentative steps towards initiating dialogue with the national government, but there is little awareness about the information collection and construction that has already been done.

In Tanzania, the federation has achieved much in the terms of support for community-led housing initiatives in places like Chamazi, Dar es Salaam. But all of this has come without any formal document concretizing the relationship.

The federation in Uganda has had a MoU with the national government dating back to 2002, which applied to the cities of Kampala and Jinja, where the federation was active at that time. This MoU helped facilitate the provision of a communal toilet block in Kampala. However, the MoU expired in 2007. The Cities Alliance program for the “Transformation of Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda” (TSUPU) has opened doors to formalize relationships with national government, as well as local authorities in the cities where the program is active: Arua, Jinja, Kabale, Mbale, Mbarara. The federation has representation on newly established national and local urban forums. The Jinja municipality has provided land to the federation in the settlement of Kawama.

The Zambian federation has MoUs with four city councils, and is in the process of finalizing such a document with the national Ministry of Local Government. In Livingstone, a relationship with the Water Company has resulted in the provision of water in informal settlements there. The Federation has currently been investing a lot of time in developing relationships with traditional chiefs, as they have a lot of control over land allocations. There is hope of beginning to sign MoUs with such officials.

The Zimbabwe federation has a Memorandum of Understanding with the national Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development. However, says federation leader Davious Muvindi, the MoU has not committed the Ministry to fulfilling its commitments in practice. The government has allocated some land, as stipulated by the MoU. This often does not take place directly, but through the influence of the MoU on local authorities. Over 160 total stands have been located in the authorities of Chiredzi, Kagoma, Nyanga, and Nyazura. However, the overall goal for the Federation is to convince local authorities to work with communities provide infrastructure, water, sewage, sanitation, and road services. The Federation feels it has the capacity to complete the building of house if the services are in place. Information gathering is also becoming a point of engagement with State authorities. The Federation recently completed an enumeration in Ward 7 of Epworth, where it had previously been difficult to work because of political tension. “We were successful because aligned the Ministry, local authority, and the community,” says Muvindi. “Local authorities are working with us, and the Ministry has availed some computers to do the work.”

Patience Mudimu, coordinator of Dialogue on Shelter, which supports the activities of the Zimbabwean Federation, says that the agreements that aren’t codified on paper may be even more effective than those that are. “These are the local authority level on specific development projects using development permits … We were thinking of formalizing the relationship in Kariba, and then the mayor asked why they should change things when the development permits are working.” The national MoU has opened doors at the local level for these less formal relationships. “We have used the MoU beyond what is written,” says Mudimu.