Launch of 2011 UPFI Annual Report

UPFI Annual Report 2011

SDI is happy to announce the launch of the 2011 UPFI Annual Report, marking an important point in the growth of SDI and UPFI. 

The Urban Poor Fund International is a SDI subsidiary, governed by Urban Poor Federation leaders from across the SDI network, that provides capital to member national urban poor funds, who are affiliated to SDI. They in turn provide capital to savings federations undertaking important urban improvement and housing projects.

The Fund is established on the proposition that the poor are central actors in urban development and poverty eradication and are best able to decide and co-manage their own urban improvement programs. Giving the poor direct control of capital enables them to negotiate as acknowledged potential partners with formal bodies such as government and banks.

In the last four years, the Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) has begun to serve as a platform for urban poor federations to develop partnerships with city, regional and national governments across the global south. This is a risky and ambitious commitment in a world of fractured development interventions, where challenges of urbanization are heard only incidentally and without much financial investment, intellectual and organizational focus, or political attention. This is despite the well-publicized fact that the majority of the world’s population now works and lives in urban centers. Global development discourse has a way of legitimating what strategies get adopted in local and national contexts. SDI’s presence at all levels has begun to help global strategists pay attention to local and city interventions and this in turn has contributed to a change in the course of development investments in an increasing number of cases.

This report tracks the processes and projects across the SDI network over the past year. From the launch of urban poor federations to formalized partnerships with local and national governments to precedent setting upgrading projects that serve thousands, 2011 saw UPFI funds put to good use across the network. We hope you enjoy the report, and look forward to another productive year in 2012. 

Click here to read the 2011 UPFI Annual Report. 

In Uganda, Pro-Poor Information System Continues to Grow

STDM pic for blog

PhotoStructure Owners (Yellow) and Tenants (Blue) in Mission Cell, Mbale

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat 

The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) pushes ahead with its innovative mapping work in Mbale Municipality. The federation conducted a city-wide slum enumeration in 2011 as part of the Government of Uganda’s Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda Program – which is supported by Cities Alliance. The enumeration was conducted just like any other SDI enumeration, but because of its role in this national-level government program – active in 5 Ugandan secondary cities – the federation hopes it will set a precedent for the way community collected data can inform the development of municipal development strategies and slum upgrading strategies country-wide.

Following enumeration, NSDFU seeks to link its enumeration data to spatial data to create maps than can be used to generate discussion between slum dwellers and local authorities on upgrading. NSDFU’s mapping efforts were given a boost recently with support from a joint partnership between UN-Habitat and SDI. Thanks to a new tool developed by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), the federation expects to improve and refine the outputs of community enumeration and mapping – particularly related to land use and tenure. The land tenure issue is inextricably linked to the upgrading issue and NDSFU is starting the difficult process of disentangling the web of claims and counter claims in the country’s slums that often pose an intractable barrier to development interventions.

The land information tool called Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), was piloted in Mbale municipality by the federation over the last six months and was received well by NSDFU, the Mbale Municipal Council and the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development. The pro-poor information system is based on free and open source software, is user-friendly, and is a welcome example of how sensible technological innovation can respond to and encourage social innovation by aiding the information gathering and negotiation steps in a community-driven strategy.  

Federation members, officers from the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, as well as municipal officials have been trained to use the software. The federation in Mbale, which was able to negotiate for office space within the Mbale Municipal Council offices, now has the software installed on its computer and is able to update the database without assistance from professionals.

At a recent reflection, the federation discussed methods for taking the process further. They decided that further sensitization is required to ensure there is no suspicion in the participating communities and they strategized ways to conduct such sensitization in conjunction with elders, local councilors and municipal officers. The federation discussed the need to be mindful of political events that may coincide with mapping activities as these have a tendency to complicate sensitization efforts. They designed guidelines for future training of questionnaire administrators and mappers and emphasized the importance of verification activities.

Critically, the federation discussed how they would use the information gathered and the maps completed. They reinforced the fact that the information is useless unless it informs negotiation and dialogue – both within the federation and with local authorities. The federation determined strategies for using the information to plan for increased service provision and potentially generate certificates of residence that will provide a first step toward incrementally improving the tenure security of Mbale slum residents.

The STDM pilot project in Mbale is supported by Cities Alliance and Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development (MoLHUD) as well as the Federation of Surveyors (FIG) Foundation. 

The Practicalities of a Social Movement | Kambi Moto, Kenya

Kambi Moto Housing Project

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

Many development narratives provide theoretical analysis and debate based on community orientated social movements. While such analysis is interesting as an academic and theoretical exercise it often overlooks the practicalities of day-to-day processes and the resultant infrastructure developments in favour of a more abstracted reading.

How exactly do communities manage infrastructure projects?  How do they secure land and finance, procure affordable building materials, organize construction, secure assistance from the state, plan for long-term sustainability and negotiate the daily challenges of project management. Make no mistake; communities are more than capable of building their own infrastructure, especially if this process is “nested” within a mobilized and organised social movement.

Over the coming weeks I will provide examples of SDI federation members describing the trials and achievements of managing their own infrastructure projects. These snippets are intended to provide insight into the practicalities of the process illustrating examples and experiences that resonate across the SDI network. We begin with the case of Kambi-Moto in Kenya, described by federation member Joseph Muturi.

I will just share some experiences from Kenya. We have several projects but the biggest project which we have is Kambi-Moto (Camp of Fire) community of about 270 families. After many years of negotiating we got a piece of a land from the city council and an MoU showing that the land is a special planning area. They gave us free land and we came up with unique designs and they have not been done anywhere in Kenya before. We got some money from our savings and from some donors (UPFI). We do not get any money from the government. We do not enjoy the kind of support from the government you get in Uganda – so we have to negotiate everything ourselves. Our NGO subsidized and gave us the technical people – then everyone had to dream and draw the kind of house they wanted (women, men, children). The architects and professionals take these drawings and take into account affordability, if possible… 

Kambi Moto Housing Project

We came up with the design – ground +1. We go up to save space and we share walls. As a federation our responsibility was to figure out how we are going to manage the site. We have a community Procurement Manual – how do we go about the business of procuring materials so what we did was to look at what we need for the next few weeks. They sit down and work it out – we send community people and we get quotations from different suppliers of materials, then we sit down and look at who is offering the best deal and will deliver on time. The procurement team and the construction team ensure the quality of the materials (quantity and standards). Sometimes people were bringing their friends and delivering less material…. We try to make things transparent and easy to manage.

For us we do not withdraw all the money. The executive draws money and gives it to the construction team and they pass this on to the procurement team.  We need to sit down with the professionals who tell us for the next few weeks what we need and what we have to do. They can guide us and give us good advice. 

The project management committee is at the regional level [in Uganda] – in Kenya it is at the local level. It comprises the beneficiaries of the houses – the only external people are the engineers, architects and other external people. They sit down and discuss things and the way forward every few weeks – the project team is at the site and its people who are locally available. The other advantage of having a local team on site is that we do not have outsiders to blame for our mess – we only have each other to blame. The construction team does weekly revue meetings – how far has the project progressed and how long it will take. The construction teams have a list of all the beneficiaries – they have to work themselves or pay someone to work for them.  This process is taking a long time so now we are getting some subsidy contractors from within the community.

The more you expand and grow the more the challenges will grow-we will learn as we go along. This is just a basic framework of how we procure. Executive-finances, Construction-building and the Procurement team that is completely separate and buys the materials. We have community procurement manual – basic steps to go through and how we should go through the business of procuring.

Densification of Harare’s Dzivarasekwa Extension

DZ Extension Report

Dzivareasekwa Extension (DZ Ext.), located 18km west of Harare, Zimbabwe, was established by the government in 1993. Originally, over 2,000 families resided here. Today, DZ Ext. is home to 450 families living in semi-permanent structures built from materials including brick and mortar, wood, polythene and sheet metal. Communal toilets service sanitation needs, and water is provided from 3 boreholes located throughout the settlement. DZ Ext. is located on state-owned land allocated to the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation in 2007 by the Ministry of Local Government Rural and Urban Development. 

In January 2012, an architecht from SDI, Greg Bachmayer, worked with the Zimbabwe Federation and support NGO Dialogue on Shelter (DOS) on a slum upgrading project in DZ Ext. This was an opportunity to develop new affordable housing models that could sustainably increase the density and the status-quo. The attached report provides insight into the techincal and social processes involved in such a project, as well as a vision of the road that lies ahead for the project’s completion. 

Click here to read the report.

A New Way for Kampala’s KCCA?

uganda evictions

Photo courtesy of

By National Executive Council (NEC), National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU)

The following letter was submitted as an OpEd to the Daily Monitor in Uganda following a tragic shooting during an eviction by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in Kampala in January 2012.

Many opinion pieces in this newspaper have, rightfully, condemned the violence that accompanied the recent eviction by KCCA of kiosks in Port Bell.  They have lamented the dysfunctional legal system that allowed Agaba to be released on bond; the trigger-happy security operative; and KCCA’s heavy-handed approach when it comes to dealing with the deprived.

Like the rest of you, we watched in horror the sickening footage of the Port Bell eviction and shuddered at every gunshot. For too many years we have witnessed brutality in the name of development as community members in places such as Loco, Kisenyi, and Nakawa have been not only stripped of their homes and livelihoods, but also in some tragic instances their lives.

Despite wishing to add our voice to those condemning the operation we also wish to take the discussion a step forward by suggesting a way to ensure such events do not occur again.

As the governing body of a national urban poor organization – the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda – which is linked to over 30 such federations around the world, we can categorically state: there is another way.

We fully accept that sometimes evictions are necessary. Sometimes they are necessary to protect residents from hazards, sometimes in the name of infrastructural development, and sometimes to protect the environment. Throughout the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network to which we belong, community-based organizations of the urban poor have been involved in this process to ensure that those affected understand the process, that resettlement options are presented, and that, where appropriate, adequate compensation is granted.

In Kenya, our affiliate is working with the government to relocate over 10,000 families from along the country’s railways; our Indian affiliate is assisting the government with the resettlement of 25,000 pavement dwellers and has already helped resettle about 14,000 families from along their railways; in Tanzania our affiliate federation has assisted the relocation of tenants from the land upon which Dar es Salaam’s port is being expanded; and in Ghana our affiliate federation is working with the Accra Municipal Authority to resettle around 3,000 residents from vulnerable wetlands.

How do they do this? The federations use tried and tested tools such as enumeration, mapping, and negotiation. Enumerations are like community run censuses, in which communities move door-to-door and collect information about families in the area. When officials and professionals attempt to extract such information they are often met with fierce resistance from fearful residents, but when local organized urban poor groups manage the process they are able to move much more freely.

Enumerations are often followed by community mapping, which is conducted in order to spatially represent the information collected. These maps are often vital for planning purposes and community involvement has proven successful in ensuring local residents appreciate the need for the proposed development and resettlement options. With their data in hand, communities can furnish local authorities with accurate and up-to-date information so that planning is more responsive to on the ground realities. To the negotiating table they also bring financial resources, mobilized through the daily savings of thousands of members.

The negotiation that follows is one based on mutual respect: respect for the need to plan our cities and an equal amount of respect for the residents of those cities who – often through no fault of their own – live at odds with long neglected or recently adopted urban development plans.

As the KCCA works to turn Kampala into a planned city, let it work with organized communities of the urban poor.  Perhaps the process will move slightly slower than an early morning bulldozer raid, but it will legitimize the development agenda and prevent the loss of more innocent lives.

For more information on the National Slum Dweller Federation of Uganda, visit their website

A Tale of Two Slums

Accra, Ghana

By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat

In many ways the Orangi Pilot Project is probably the closest ideological kin to an SDI urban intervention. At the heart of both organizations is the philosophy that organized communities are the most vital component in any process that aims to improve living conditions for the urban poor.  Based in Karachi, Pakistan, OPP has facilitated the installation of a sanitation system for more than 1 million households living in the city’s Katchi Abadis, which are differentiated from slums mostly by state acceptance of the unofficial land tenure rights of the residents.  However, the residents of the Abadis are, in almost every other way, the same as the slum dwellers that SDI is organized around.

SDI and OPP are contemporaries and have shared the same space, and similarity of opinion, within development circles since the 1990s. Yet, while there is no active contestation, or any call for it, there is divergence in approach.   A distinctiveness which becomes apparent only when you dismantle the approach of each organization into separate pieces and juxtapose comparable pieces from each organization. So you have historical and local contexts that pit OPP’s Karachi experience against SDI’s intervention in Kampala. Or the sources and amount of development finance that has gone into 1 million individual household sanitation connections in Karachi and 2,000 communal sanitation units in Mumbai, and so on. 

orangi pilot project

Photos of Orangi Pilot Project, courtesy of

In January, architect, activist, and writer and now-retired founder of OPP, Arif Hasan engaged SDI’s national affiliates through workshops held in Nairobi and Lilongwe. In open-ended discussions,  Hasan laid out learning from three decades of OPPs experience. The attending SDI affiliates, including Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Namibia, Kenya, and Malawi, also told their individual stories about experiences over the last decade and a half.   However, the most poignant achievement of the workshops was the disaggregation of both OPP’s and SDI’s approaches. 

Having dissected and studied the approaches, it follows that we hold a discussion on the question, “How then do we, or you, construct (using the OPP and SDI components) an urban intervention that has real impact on poverty in a city?” – any city. 

Over the next four weeks, we will feature a discussion on four components that OPP and SDI have designed differently – with varying degrees of success. This is an attempt at isolating the DNA of a successful intervention in how to reverse the impoverishing impacts of urbanization.

The first in the series will be a discussion on community organization. The two approaches under discussion are OPP’s “component sharing”, where the formation, sustenance and management of community organizations is almost entirely a community responsibility. This is looked at against the SDI tools of community organization, collectively called “federation building;” a model where organization is prescribed and the responsibility is shared between communities and development agencies. The discussion  seeks to establish the structure for a successful interventions 

The second part of the series will focus on the ways communities interact with the city. Who do communities talk to? How do they do this? And what do they say? This section discusses the strategy of interventions.

How is delivery resourced – who pays for what? This constitutes the third part of the series.  What are the appropriate proportions of community contributions; government, private sector and external development finance.

The last part of the series is a discussion on achieving scale: what is distinct about the OPP strategy for scale against the SDI strategy?

Please join us in the coming weeks as we continue this important discussion. 


Unabated Forced Evictions in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements

Nairobi, Kenya

by Michael Njuguna, Huruma–Kambi Moto, Nairobi 

Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan slum dweller federation, expresses its grave concern on the ongoing evictions and threatened forced evictions taking place in Nairobi’s informal settlements. The latest settlement to be demolished is Mukuru Kwa Njenga’s Wape Wape village where three people lost their lives as they scampered to safety.

The federation is aware that there are plans to demolish houses located near power lines in a number of our communities, particularly along the Mukuru belt and other areas. This comes at a time when Kiang’ombe and  Mitumba settlements were demolished by the Kenya Airports Authority due to their location under JKIA flight path. It is my view that there are more humane ways of addressing slum issues, but forced evictions have never made that cut. 

A good example are the negotiations that have taken place between the communities living along the Mukuru-Kibera railway line and the Kenya Railways, who sat at a round table to discuss on the modalities of a Railway Relocation Action Plan. This lead to thousands of people reaching consensus that, “indeed we are living on the railway line and other than living on a public land we shall agree to relocate.”


These threatened demolitions have caused widespread panic, fear and confusion in our urban poor communities. Of immediate concern to us is the likelihood that tens of thousands of people will be rendered homeless and left no alternative areas to call home. In addition, we are concerned that the evictions will provoke physical conflict and violence.

Slum dwellers across settlements and villages have made it an agenda to always scuffle over who occupies the limited space that is available after demolitions. There are instances where structure owners resist evictions, which inevitably would result into violence.

Moreover, we are very concerned that the government is undertaking these forced evictions without regard for the law or established human rights norms. In most scenarios there has been no official notices served to the potentially affected parties that their structures will be demolished. General statements made in newspapers do not constitute adequate and reasonable notice as required by law.

In addition, we have found that government and private investors have in most instances failed to consult with or inform communities about the parameters of the evictions. This is the reason why Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, is pushing for the enactment of the eviction guidelines, which will ensure that the urban poor are treated with respect.  As it stands, people do not know when and if they are going to be evicted.

And most notably, the government has not provided the people living in the slums any compensation for resettlement or alternative housing, which Is a basic minimum requirements of the government when it undertakes forced evictions. This applies even when the evictions are justified or somehow necessary.

It is a fundamental human rights principle that any process to evict people must follow a peaceful and lawful process that protects the rights and dignity of the poeple. Development of any kind cannot take precedence over the human rights of the poor.

This article originally appeared in the Muungano News January-March 2012 e-newsletter

For more news from the Kenyan SDI Alliance ,visit the Muungano Support Trust blog. 

Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet

Toilet construction

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

This is the story of a public toilet built and managed by a slum dweller community in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. What is important about this story is not just the physical infrastructure provided but the socially embedded community processes that allowed for the toilets construction and that will ensure its sustainability. These processes, cemented around female-led savings group, are the backbone of the SDI network and create community “layers” that support infrastructure investments.

History and Context:

Keko Machungwa settlement is located in Miburani ward in Temeke Municipality, Dar-es-Salaam city, Tanzania. It is the home of more than 18,000 people and 5500 households who are living in overcrowded conditions. The settlement has a community market with about 50 stands providing business and entrepreneurship opportunities to members of the community.

The Tanzanian SDI Federation started working in Keko Machungwa in 2008 where 4 female led savings groups were established. These groups have savings of more than 15 million Tanzanian Shillings (USD $ 8,824) and have initiated various income generating activities such as soap making; development activities such as community household’s toilets, community water schemes and a public toilet at the market.

Women are the backbone of the SDI process; they know what is happening in their communities, have the best interests of their children at heart and work horizontally to share experiences, ideas, save small amounts daily and become involved in mapping and designing the interventions in their settlements.

Through an community-led enumeration it was found that although the market had a toilet it was poorly constructed with only one pit latrine and one hole for the whole market. The walls also had cracks meaning that the structure could have collapsed. Discussions between the community at the market place and the SDI Federation indicated that building a proper toilet was a priority. This process involved:

  • Identifying the owner of the land, which turned out to be the Tupendane SACCOS, formed by the traders within the market.
  • Taking the idea to the local government authority, who called the meeting between the landowner and the developer (federation).
  • Conducting a feasibility study to determine whether the project was viable or not.
  • Preparation of a memorandum of understanding which stated how the facility will be managed and how the loan will be repaid.

Another layer to this story is drawing in the local government and including them in the planning process. This dialogue allows for resources and expertise to be leveraged from the state. More importantly the state comes to see slum dwellers as more than capable of planning and managing improvements to their own settlements. The groundwork for future projects and a working relationship with the state is now possible.

Toilet construction Toilet construction

Technical Design and Construction:

We do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

The community and the Federation, with support from architects, completed the technical design of the public toilet. The Federation’s community technicians constructed the public toilet while the Temeke Municipality provided technical support. The technologies applied and building materials used are all locally available and affordable.

The foundation has two parts; namely the strip and pad foundation. A 100mm thick concrete slab follows three courses of the strip foundation. The pad foundation contains four columns that have been installed for supporting the concrete roof portion that carries the water storage tank. The superstructure was constructed using sand, cement blocks and mortar and is plastered both on the interior and exterior. The roof is divided into two parts: an iron sheet and a reinforced concrete slab. Below the roof there are the four reinforced columns that form part of the foundation and support the structure

The public toilet facility consists of three toilet cubicles (one for men and two for women), two bathroom cubicles and two urinal seats for males. The whole area of the project site is unplanned and contains no sewerage system so a septic tank was connected to deal with the waste. The effluent from the septic tank is discharged into a soak away pit.

The Federations role during the construction was to identify 4 Federation members to supervise the purchasing of materials, to negotiate with stall owners with regards to the toilets location and support the actual construction of the toilet. When communities are included in the design, construction and management of a project they will take ownership of the project ensuring its longevity.

Financing and Maintenance:

The total construction cost for the facility was USD $6,090 which was accessed through a loan from the Tanzanian Urban Poor Fund. The toilet attendant is paid USD $29 per month. An additional USD $6 per month is used to purchase detergents, soap and water. Anybody in the community who wishes to use the toilet has to pay a small fee.

The Keko Machungwa Federation is responsible for operating and maintaining the facility; this will be done for the whole period of probation and loan recovery. They report to the Market, local government and Regional Federation. The toilet was officially opened on 1 January 2012. It was agreed that the first three months of operation would be used as a learning period on how much can really be collected and compared to the initial estimates during the feasibility study.

The story of a toilet in Tanzania told the SDI way is a story of layers; layers of community cohesion and process on top of which infrastructure can be successfully built and sustained. Development projects and literatures are littered with “quick fix” technical solutions to urban poverty, but how can any technology work if it is not build on a participatory community process? The SDI rituals create an ongoing social movement that has the capacity to support infrastructure developments – it is the social backdrop against which technological interventions take place that is far more important than the nature of the interventions themselves.

What We Talk About When We Talk About “Inclusion”

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat

Even in the Athenian demos, representation was never universal. Only once you crossed the threshold of citizenship — to be land-owning and a male — then the democratic promises of political space and opportunity for voice became a reality. Theories of participation can be of varying utility depending on the extent to which they address the extent to which deeper values of participation are embedded in the institutional structures designed to enhance such approaches. By deeper values, I am, in part, referring to similarly broad constructs such as “inclusion.” But I am also concerned with something much more practical. The key question for me is how does government build an active citizenry through making the everyday tasks of governance both more effective and more empowering.

We can think of inclusion around three broad themes of governance: finance, planning, and politics. Finance includes activities like budget allocations, raising capital for projects, and management and disbursement of funds. Planning includes information gathering, as well as project planning and implementation. Politics includes accessing public voice, as well as the influence of this voice in setting general political priorities of individual institutions and social agglomerations such as states.

One democratic “innovation” that has been the subject of many academic studies has been participatory budgeting. This approach puts ordinary citizens in rather close proximity to decision-making around finances (or at least some designated pool of money usually at the city level). The most prominent example of participatory budgeting is in Porto Alegre, Brazil. There, three scales of administration characterize the approach: (1) popular assemblies, which are constituted at neighborhood and regional levels, (2) regional budget forums, (3) a municipal budget council. There are particular aspects of formal institutional design that have enabled the success of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, especially a significant amount of decentralization that empowers municipal-level decision-making. This is particularly so, of course, with respect to controlling the budget. In turn, Porto Alegre has seen great gains in both participation and redistributive action. At least in broad strokes, an active citizenry has gone hand-in-hand with successful governmental intervention to benefit the poor.

I want to delve deeper into one particular aspect of the approach in Porto Alegre, namely the role of representative organizations versus that of individuals. This remains quite a contentious issue in many parts of the world, where government and civil society are exploring forms of inclusionary institutional design. In some ways, the participation — and influence — of the “poorest of the poor” is much more suspect in the Porto Alegre case. As Graham Smith, a researcher from the UK, has noted, “the costs of participation generally remain too high” for those who live in precarious living conditions, with little money for non-employment related transport. In turn, their voices tend to have much less bearing on the budgeting decisions that have been so crucial to achieving otherwise successful redistributive developmental activities.

In turn, this suggests that, given the constraints of political agency and economic opportunity that exist among many communities of the poorest of the poor, representative organizations may have a lot to offer. The theoretical benefits of direct democracy and participation are clearly unavailable in practice. Therefore, democratic and institutional theorists need to pay much more attention to the kinds of popular institutions of the poor that can be effective at influencing formal institutional structures such as participatory budgeting. Three different types are a) city-wide community networks of informal settlement dwellers in places like Thailand that work with a government program for slum upgrading called Baan Mankong, b) street committees in places like Karachi, Pakistan, that work with local government through the Orangi Pilot Project, c) national and city-wide slum dweller “federations” in many countries in Africa and Asia, like those in SDI. These are by no means exhaustive.

We should not conflate “inclusion” and “participation” as catch-all theoretical approaches that will necessarily address the poorest of the poor. Similarly, we must be vigilant that we foreground the needs and voices of the poorest of the poor in development, both as a normative value as well as a functional strategy for coherent and sustainable society-building. One way to do this is to think of “democratic innovations,” in the broader frame of finance, planning, and politics that I propose at the beginning of this memo. I see this frame as much closer to the theories of “co-production” that researchers such as Peter Evans and others have proposed. In doing so, we become more aware of the ways in which institutional forms within society — especially those that represent the poorest of the poor — can influence not just one aspect of the governance equation, but all of them. Large contradictions of representation and accountability may persist, but the significant achievements of representative organizations of the poorest of the poor should be cause for much closer examination of their role in designing inclusive, and “pro-poor” formal institutions.

Strength in Numbers: Charting a Course Towards Equitable Cities


By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

On the Easter weekend I was one of 16000 people who braved the freezing rain to run the Two Oceans Half Marathon in Cape Town.  What, you may ask; does running a long distance race have to do with Slum Dwellers International? On reflection there are a number of important comparisons that can be made between the SDI rituals and the running of a long distance race.

 Of paramount importance to most runners is time; not just how long it takes to complete the race but also how one needs to maintain a steady pace throughout. In SDI time is also key. It takes time to build community solidarity and cohesion, it takes time for this social movement to have the capacity to engage with the state and it takes time to change the attitudes of urban planners, professionals and officials with regards to the poor. There are no instantaneous solutions or technological “quick fixes” to urban poverty and improving institutional conditions, like building houses, is done incrementally. Once communities are mobilized they can keep up a “steady pace” by saving small amounts daily, learning about and mapping their areas and becoming active participants in the decisions that affect their lives.

 Surrounded by thousands of runners I began to think about space and movement, about the rhythm and flow of people moving through the urban environment. How do the urban poor experience and negotiate space, how do they move through the city and the slums in which they live? For the poor space is often an impediment to securing services and resources that are housed a great distance away. Part of the challenge of creating inclusive cities is creating inclusive spaces and linking these spaces together to form a network that connects cities through transport, economic and housing opportunities and resource flows. An inclusive city is a city that is spatially interlinked and interdependent across class barriers, a city that draws the poor into its flows and processes rather than expelling them to the periphery both figuratively and physically.

  Should we not also marvel at how the poorest of the poor manage, against all odds, to carve a niche within an often-hostile environment, maximizing the efficiency of the tiny, cramped spaces that they cling to?  The poor have defined space differently to our conventional assumptions about how the city should be molded. Commercial endeavors flow out of living rooms and shops double as bedrooms as the lines between spaces that are conventionally separated by the dictates of planning laws are blurred and continuously reconfigured. SDI does not see this as “illegal” or a problem but as an opportunity to create cross-subsidized housing models based on the combined commercial and private usage of space. New and imaginative conceptions of space are needed to make use of the limited resources available in rapidly urbanizing cities.

 I would argue that space is predominantly defined by the State and the market-zoning, building and property laws regulate who can build what and where –in essence who has a “legal” right to space and who doesn’t.  The poor are described as “illegal” or “informal” since their houses often do not adhere to these laws and standards. The states role should be to create a legal and institutional framework (in law and procedure) that imagines space differently. SDI processes challenge conventional perceptions of space-the call for inclusive cities being, in essence, a call for inclusive urban spaces. If space is historical, legal, political and personal then the state has the power to change the structural frameworks that define urban spaces to become progressively pro poor. SDI works towards this goal, setting precedents, negotiating with local authorities and attempting to change policies and development practices-creating inclusive spaces.

 Returning to the race I was astounded at the feeling of being amongst a crowd of thousands of people all moving at different speeds in the same direction. This resonated with the idea of a global network of the urban poor based on co-operative learning who concurrently face similar challenges and have stated common goals.  Power and strength is found in numbers especially when facing the endemic challenges of global urban poverty and exclusion. The strength of the SDI network is manifold; key lessons, support, learning exchanges, technical assistance and the sheer numbers of urban slum dwellers.  The power of a network of the urban poor all “running” towards the same goals should never be underestimated especially when the poor themselves have the power to define the course that they chart. The SDI process, takes time and has a sustained rhythm that pounds like a thousand feet on tarmac, always moving forward, negotiating uphills and downhills, working towards small milestones and an eventual “finish line”-equitable and inclusive cities for the urban poor.