Making Counting Count: Slum Profiling and Enumerations

Blantyre studio-Community and students work on proposals

UN-HABITAT estimates that by the year 2020 the number of people living in slums will reach approximately 1.5 billion.  That is an increase of over 300 million people over the next seven years with a large proportion of this growth linked to rapid urbanization.[1] SDI has long been aware that governments justify budgetary allocations based on population census. To date, collecting information about urban poor populations has not been a serious, systematic priority of national governments or cities throughout the developing world. Such censuses, when undertaken, are often conducted in frequencies too sparse to accurately track the rapid growth of slum areas or informal settlements.  Often by the time the data is analyzed and made available to the public and city governments, it is already outdated and its usefulness as a planning tool diminished.

Of even greater concern is the total exclusion of many informal settlements from the city’s planning agenda. Their tenuous relationship with local authorities makes them invisible to infrastructure plans.  This is exacerbated by spiraling costs, which makes retrofitting very expensive.  The end result is that high costs are used to justify why cities fail to install water, sewerage and drainage facilities or plan land use for slum areas.

The SDI rituals of settlement profiling and community led enumeration have long been utilized by slum dweller communities to provide an up-to-date, accurate on the ground account of conditions in these slum areas. 

Profiling in UT Section

Citywide Settlement Profiles

To date, SDI has conducted over 6,000 settlement profiles in Africa, Asia and Latin America and this number increases each year. Profiling of informal settlements draws primarily on repeated consultations and discussions with residents of the settlement by a survey and mapping team that includes federation leaders. This quickly produces a rich set of data about the settlement, its inhabitants and the problems they face.  A settlement profile does not produce detailed data on each household but instead provides a detailed overview of the settlement, its inhabitants, brief history, land tenure, quality of housing, extent of provision of infrastructure and services, and the residents’ main problems and priorities.

Settlement profiling provides slum dwellers with a citywide understanding of the status of slums in their region.  This approach serves as a starting point to help make the unseen and unrecognized informal settlements of that city known to their local governments. Federations in cities across the developing world have been able to use settlement profile data as a starting point to open up negotiations with local governments and to help these authorities more accurately identify the requirements of their constituencies.. 

In 2013, SDI embarked on the task of creating a standardized tool for settlement profiles, questionnaires and data management systems with the aim of making the data faster to access and quicker to map while still lending itself to be easily updated and administered by local slum dwellers.  While standardization will mean a certain level of comparability across regions, local federations will still be able to add their own area and context specific questions to ensure that the profiling tool meets its core aim of providing urban poor communities with a tool that can measure and capture the nuances of their own communities’ development needs.

Self-Enumeration ID Card

Taking a Closer Look: Community Led Household Enumerations

Community led self-enumeration has been one of the core rituals of the SDI network for the past two decades.  Complementing citywide settlement profiles, enumerations involves the collection of data at the household level in what can best be described as a complete census of a particular settlement.  The level of detail of information collected is unparalleled, and provides a very accurate socio-economic description of informal settlements.  To date, SDI has supported over 1,800 slum settlement enumerations across the globe. 

The strategy around this information collection has remained focused on linking surveys to citywide impacts. Across SDI, enumeration has been used to combat evictions, plan relocations in disaster struck areas, or plan the reorganization of space and in situ upgrading in dense informal settlements. In 2013, as part of its overarching approach to improving information collection, data management and analysis systems, SDI will look to improve enumeration methods to increase efficiency and accuracy while maintaining the objective of using the ritual as a community organizing and mobilization tool. This process will involve the redesign of the household enumeration questionnaires across all countries with the added aim of collecting individual level information, giving even more accurate data on various socio-economic indicators within slums such as education levels, employment, age and gender distributions.

Currently SDI projects with a key component of information collection through profiling and enumerations include:

  • 10 Cities Programme: Citywide profiles linked to facilitating learning opportunities for other federations in the SDI network around upgrading initiatives in 10 cities from Africa and Asia,
  • Land Services and Citizenship (LSC): A joint government and community program, implemented in Ghana and Uganda (Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda),
  • UN Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network  (GLTN): Partnership around use of an open source GIS-based land administration tool called Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM),
  • Know Your City Project: Partnership with United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA), working in Zambia and Burkina Faso around slum identification and enumerations linked to planning with local governments.

The goal for SDI is to show how community driven enumeration processes can serve as an excellent and accurate planning tool to be utilized by both slum dwellers and city officials alike to start addressing the development needs of informal settlements. It also remains a crucial means to explore alliance partnerships and influence research developmental agencies and academics on the value of data collected by slum dwellers.

Mapping exercise in Mtandire Mapping exercise in Mtandire

Making Sense of the Data: Show Us a Map.

The information collected from the settlement profiles and household level enumeration data and mapping has served as an excellent tool within the SDI network.  Maps allow the visualization of complex patterns and make the information more accessible to a wider audience.  As with profiling and enumerations, mapping is conducted by slum dwellers and recently SDI has added GIS techniques to further improve the accuracy of maps and make them compatible with local authority planning systems. Challenges facing the production of more accurate maps within the SDI network relate to availability and access to updated satellite images and computer processing power to run GIS software packages. The training of slum dwellers in the use of GPS devices and inputting of data into GIS software packages within various affiliates across the globe has proven that the use of the tools are not limited to academically trained professionals. If anything, the advent of more mobile computing technologies has created more opportunities for slum dwellers to take control of mapping their settlements which in the past would have been hampered by more traditional mapping methodologies.

The overall information collection strategy for SDI involves developing a system which can visually, through maps, provide a bird’s eye view of slums in a city but enumeration and settlement profiles, allows for detailed drilling down to household level information for specific settlements allowing federations of the urban poor across the globe to have supreme control of their data with quick access to information which they find most important for their development agendas.  The end result would be a slum dweller produced and maintained database, which could prove to be far more reflective of the real situation on the ground in slums and provide more accurate and up to date information for planning and decision-making processes.


Click here for information on community-led slum profiling and self-enumeration. 



From ‘My Slum’ to ‘My City’ : Action Steps towards Global Slum Profiling

Profiling in UT Section

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat

“We are able to appreciate that we need to have a more holistic view of the cities where we are working” (Frederick Mugisa, Uganda, SDI Alliance).

“…now we are planning the profiling in the settlements we are working and also see city wide settlement profiling to help in planning of the city with the slum dwellers” (Shekar and John Samuel, NSDF/SPARC, India, SDI Alliance)

While focus on the local remains the core concern of SDI federations, the question, increasingly pertinent is, how does the global network of the urban poor make itself globally visible and relevant on the global urban development agenda? Peer exchanges have long served SDI federations as a learning space to share experiences of everyday life. They serve as a platform from which urban poor communities can share local concerns, challenges and successes. Like SDI enumerations and settlement profiles they too have traditionally been centred on particular contexts and the particular concerns of local slum dwellers. 

SDI and Santa Fe Institute’s (SFI) global slum profiling project aims to aggregate and analyse the around 7,000 federation profiles collected over the past twenty years in more than 15 countries across the global south. The objective is to yield a “science of slums” powerful enough to leverage city wide and global sustainable developmental appeal for ‘slum data’. With renewed vigour the network is looking towards two of its most powerful tools (exchanges and enumerations) as learning and innovation spaces to foster this goal.

Making slum communities visible to their local authorities has been the driving force behind local actions to stave off evictions and leverage land, basic services and upgrading of slums. Mugisa, Shekar and Samuel’s appreciation of the value of the June learning exchange around the SDI and SFI Partnership, during the SDI-SFI Field Visit Cape Town June 2013,  echoes the hope expressed by Sheela Patel, director of Indian NGO SPARC and SDI Board Member, that “communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements [will come] to believe that aggregating information about settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives” (Patel in Fieuw 2013 and elsewhere ).

Profiling in UT Section

Profiling in UT Section

Over the course of ten days in and around Cape Town’s UT Section, Khayelitsha, federation members along with NGO support staff from Malawi, Kenya, India, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia were able to test the new tools (including a questionnaire, geo-tagging smart phone application, etc.) developed through the SDI-SFI collaboration to improve and standardise the data capturing processes of the network. Rosey Mashimbye of FEDUP, South Africa, commented that the use of these new technologies is certainly an improvement from manual capturing. While there remain some concerns among federation members that the new standardised questionnaire may not speak to all their local concerns, according to the Namibian alliance’s report, “standardised rituals and practices [may have] the possibility to incorporate local concerns/issues” (Harris, Namibia Alliance).

Informal settlement communities have come a long way in showing that their settlements and communities are not just spaces of perceived and real deprivation, but rather innovation and resourcefulness. They have consistently shown that slum dwellers themselves are the most capable of showing local authorities, who they are, how they live, make their livelihoods and contribute to the economies of the cities from which they are so often excluded. By standardising profiling and enumerations and marrying our techniques to cutting edge technology and analysis through the learning space of peer-exchanges, we are well on our way to leverage on of the most powerful tools of the federations of the urban poor in creating sustainable and resilient inclusive cities.

For more on SDI enumerations and profiling see pages 46-52 in our latest Annual Report.

The Formal Politics of Informal Projects: Part I

Zambia Slum Upgrading

Sanitation facility under construction by Nkana Water & Sewerage utility in Kamatipa, Kitwe, Zambia. 

By Fariria Shumba, Peoples Process on Housing & Poverty, Zambia and Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

This two-part blog post provides insights into the very real and grounded political and practical challenges “non-conventional” community models of sanitation provision face in Kitwe, Zambia. It charts the circumstances that led to work being stalled and how a way forward was mooted, and is currently being implemented. 

Sanitation provision in Kitwe, Zambia gives insight into why formal expectations around project management need to be sensitive to grassroots driven projects. The external pressures faced by communities and affiliated professionals can stall activities or lead to outcomes that diverge from original community priorities. This piece describes such stress points and how, in time, work moved forward.

As part of the SHARE (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) project the Kitwe federation was provided with funds to construct a number of precedent setting sanitation facilities. In this context the federation looked to forge a partnership with Nkana Water and Sewerage Company, a parastatal 70% owned by the municipality, who already had a mandate to deliver 1000 toilets through an African Development Bank (ADB) loan. Both the SHARE precedents and the Nkana Water Supply and Sanitation (NWSS) project were targeted at the same areas, Kamatipa & Ipusikilo (Place of refuge). The federation had already conducted profiling and mapping and Nkana were enthusiastic to use this data, which was presented at a dialogue session attended by relevant councilors, the deputy mayor and other Kitwe City officials in April 2013. 

At this time discussions had already been held with the Managing director of Nkana who agreed to collaborate with the federation. The federation’s presence in the two projects areas was important to Nkana, who do not have strong ties to the community. The federation was able to mobilize the community around the related, but not always complimentary, objectives of both projects. This included the identification of prospective beneficiaries and training of artisans for construction.

No alternative sanitation models were concurrently pursued.

As activities progressed a number of stress points became clear. The pace of delivery was gradual with Nkana citing strict loan stipulations by the ADB.  The slow implementation of the project is a reflection of the typical bureaucratic red tape that can hamper community driven development projects. The NWSS is a 5-year project that commenced in 2008 with this being the last year of implementation! Federation involvement was meant to “kick start” delivery and avoid the grant being returned to the ADB.  The federation attempted to align the SHARE and NWSS projects and build more than 1000 sanitation units, creating sustainable conditions and models for work to extend beyond end dates.  

The perceived partnership was meant to share designs and technologies in order to create more affordable options for the poor. The Nkana VIP toilet cost close to K4,000 (US$740); Ecosan in excess of K5, 000 (US$925) and pour flush about K6, 000 (US$1,111). These high costs preclude opportunities for scaling up as funds available will only reach a limited number of the estimated 60,000 families in need of improved sanitation. The use of individual grants, as opposed to communal loans, further undermines opportunities for replication. Furthermore the Ecosan demonstration models built by Nkana in Chambishi have a major design flaw. Chambers are too small and there is no separate receptacle for urine. The mixing of urine with fecal sludge will have major environmental impacts.

As touched upon previously the federation and support professionals became aware of a far deeper fault line.  Since the Nkana funded toilets were contingent on grant and not loan finance, did they really create the conditions for extending sanitation to a citywide scale? An individual toilet as a grant could never reach the scale of need in Kitwe (research conducted in the first phase of the SHARE project estimated that there were over 60,000 families in need of improved sanitation). The federation struggled to make the case for communal loan finance for sanitation in an environment were free toilets were expected to be delivered.

Both the federation and affiliate were caught up in the possibilities of tapping into Nkana, and hence city, resource flows which are substantial. Reflections indicate that a preoccupation with making this partnership work, and internally influencing it towards a more sustainable model, occluded serious discussion around alternative pilots. To provide further context it is important to note that an M.o.U had been drafted and circulated to Nkana Water management. The Kitwe federation sought to formalize their relationship with Nkana and use this as an instrument to negotiate more affordable and sustainable modes of sanitation provision. This builds on a previous M.o.U signed with Kitwe City Council that led to the federation obtaining land at a reduced rate. 

Zambia Slum Upgrading

Finally there seemed to be a resistance to shared toilet facilities from the community. Reasons for this included variable sizes of families (larger families being advantaged to smaller ones even if payment was equal) & Landlord and Tenant issues. In deeper discussions with the Kitwe federation it emerged that many existing latrines are already being shared by a number of families simply because they are not locked.

Hence a combination of external political pressures, internal resistance to shared facilities (especially in the face of free toilet provision) and a preoccupation with making the partnership with Nkana work led to an impasse. Work on the ground stalled and no progress was made on alternative precedent development with SHARE funds remaining unspent. 


From the Bottom Up: Connecting SDI to Global Urban Development Processes

SDI Signs MoU with Cities Alliance & UCLGA

SDI signs an MOU with Cities Alliance and United Cities & Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA). 

The experience of federations of the urban poor that make up the SDI network underlines the interconnections of actions that impact both locally and globally. Every time a foreign corporation, government, or other type of organization expresses interest in land or development in a city or in a country, it impacts the everyday lives of the poor. The people who live in cities, and their governments, face constant external pressures regarding the choices that determine whether ordinary poor people have access to land, services, shelter, and economic opportunity.

The challenge, then, is to build organizations and alliances able to balance the influence of powerful global processes with local needs to make urbanization work for all. The lesson here is that local actors, especially in city government, through exploring the potential of working and supporting citywide federations of the urban poor, become more effective in managing these processes.

At the global level, SDI is increasingly serving as a platform for allowing representatives of organized urban poor constituencies to speak directly with decision-makers in major international organizations and forums. The aim and impact of these interactions is to strengthen the local processes through which federations form and build citywide alliances. How do they do it?

First, by building new mechanisms for accessing and managing the financial resources required for an inclusive vision of development. The global financial flows that drive city development comprise a juggernaut in comparison to the amounts of money the federations of savings schemes collect. However, these savings serve as the basis for creating citywide funds to finance informal settlement upgrading projects and employment generation projects. Savings also builds financial literacy and management skills amongst the organizations of the poor in order to take up projects to upgrade and improve their settlements with the city

Stellenbosch City Fund

Even more promising is the spread of citywide funds that are joint endeavors between city governments and city federations. These institutions have begun to get formalized in different forms in cities in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. They provide the space for city governments and federations to work together to leverage resources within government, within communities, as well as from external institutions in the private sector. These are quintessential examples of the ways in which urban poor federations are a mechanism through which city governments can get a handle on flows of finance that impact urbanization.

Harare Citywide Slum Upgrading Fund

In Zimbabwe, Dialogue on Shelter, an NGO affiliated with Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) is in the final stages of negotiating the terms of a citywide fund with the City of Harare. The fund is a practical financial instrument reflective of the partnership between the Zimbabwean SDI alliance and the city, creating shared political and financial responsibility for slum upgrading.

The fund will comprise of financial contributions from SDI, the City of Harare and the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. Other donors have also expressed an interest in contributing to the fund, making it a possible conduit for finances to flow from donors to the urban poor. Not only does this blending of finance create an attractive mechanism to which various parties can contribute but it is a manner in which the participating parties can hold each other accountable.

The negotiations about the fund’s financial structure reflect a concrete manner in which groups of the urban poor can influence financial flows that directly affect their lives. Opening this political space for communities to articulate their needs at a citywide decision-making level is core to SDI’s role, and in the case of Zimbabwe, reflective of long-term partnership building. The Zimbabwean federation argued for the fund to focus on incremental settlement upgrading as opposed to only housing, forwarded loan provision and repayment strategies based on their experiences of daily savings, addressed issues of affordability and planned to extend loans to non-federation members.

This is a clear example of how a voice of the urban poor can negotiate changes that have the potential for citywide impact in a manner beneficial to the poor and more contextualized in “on the ground” circumstances.

The calculation shifts. No longer is it a struggle of poor people to self-finance improvements to their settlements amidst national and global processes that often increase the vulnerability of the poor. Rather, poor people’s organizations and city governments are now working together to generate internal and external financial power to achieve the kinds of infrastructure improvements that reduce vulnerability and increase opportunity.

SDI’s global reach then allows for these experiences to add up through exchanges amongst cities, and exposure of agencies and corporations in both the private and public sectors. Now, globalized flows of finance are beginning to contend with the alternative approaches that SDI federations are enabling at the local level.

Second, the dearth of information about informal settlements persists, even amidst global trends of “big data,” “city sensing,” etc. With over 9000 city profiles and 4000 enumerations, SDI federations are becoming world leaders in generating data about informal life in cities. In partnership with the Santa Fe Institute, with a focus on uncovering complex processes of development, SDI federations are finding new ways to use their data to show the hidden side of vulnerability and survival that is the daily experience of the urban poor. Instead of being invisible, or having their homes and livelihoods thought of merely as hotbeds of crime and disease, urban poor federations are making the case, through hard data, that informal settlements have the potential to be the engines for more inclusive strategies of city development.

Enumeration Data Leads to Slum Upgrading in Uganda

In Uganda, the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDFU) acknowledges that “Knowledge is Power” and that this power is something that slum dwellers on the ground can wield if they are organized.  To this end, NSDFU has completed five citywide slum enumerations in the secondary cities of Jinja, Arua, Mbale, Mbarara, and Kabale. The Federation understands that this information, gathered by communities, is trusted and more accurate because of the participatory approach employed.  In each of these five municipalities the information collected has been used to plan slum upgrading projects and prioritize future projects.  The information has also been central in negotiations with local authorities and has been used in Municipal Development Forums to lobby for upgrading funds and improved services. In addition, the data has been used by municipal planning and budgeting committees, helping federation members to gain seats on these committees.  The information is also used internally by the federation to guide project planning, highlighting communities’ needs. For example, in Mbale the federation’s data collection skills resulted in the municipality employing federation members and using their tools to help collect informal household and informal market data which will be used to inform city wide development plans by communities and local authorities.  

Bit by bit, this information is showing policy-makers and global decision-makers that development that is equitable and sustainable is impossible without addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of the poor. This is particularly so with respect to prioritizing basic infrastructure and shelter. Likewise, this requires prioritizing economic development approaches that finally recognize the strategies that people in informal settlements use to survive and, sometimes, thrive.


Jockin Arputham speaks on a panel at a plenary session at World Urban Forum 6 in Naples, Italy. 

Third and finally, urban poor federations in the SDI network are not letting the data and the experts do the talking for them. Instead, they attend global forums and present their own understanding of the power of relationships of learning, and share its impact on their long-standing approaches to negotiation and exchange. Through peer exchanges, the strategies of learning and negotiations undertaken in one country are shared across SDI. As these practices demonstrate their application in different countries and in different contexts they can be presented externally as possible strategies for governments and development agencies to explore.

SDI federations have a long tradition of taking their partners in city governments with them as they travel to other cities and countries. In this way, federations in countries such as India, Kenya, Malawi, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, have utilized international forums and exchange programs to help build more inclusive and participatory institutions at the national and city level for making decisions about developmental priorities and programs.

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Changing the Approach to Upgrading: Expanding Learning in Southern Africa

In South Africa, the local SDI Alliance, in partnership with the City of Cape Town, is engaged in pilot upgrading projects in 22 settlements across the city. The Alliance’s work in one of these settlements, Mtshini Wam, which has included re-blocking and upgrading of shacks, has drawn local, national and international attention and has contributed to the drafting of a re-blocking policy for slum upgrading in Cape Town. In addition, technical teams from support NGOs iKhayalami and CORC have expanded training workshops for the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), and local communities beyond Cape Town and Stellenbosch to settlements in the provinces of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. As a result, communities have begun working with government to develop settlement plans that involve upgraded services and homes.

These skills and learning are being transferred to other affiliates through international learning exchanges. In March 2013, a delegation from the Namibian SDI affiliate, accompanied by a delegation from the Gobabis local municipality, traveled to Stellenbosch, South Africa to learn about the impact of linking enumerations to slum upgrading. Following this interaction, the Gobabis municipality resolved to work with the local community on the re-blocking of settlements in their municipality. 

To read more on how starting from the bottom up and connecting on-the-ground activities to global urban development processes leads to effective change, read our 2012 / 2013 Annual Report. 



In Malawi, Documenting the Outcomes of a Social Process

Mapping exercise in Mtandire

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

SDI reporting procedures need to capture tangible city-changing outputs that flow from community centered processes. While describing the social process is important, mature affiliates need to demonstrate the impact made through engagements and partnerships. Indicators of these impacts include: community participation in citywide planning and decision-making, the accessing and leveraging of resources from outside sources, the impacting of resource flows and policy at the citywide, regional or national level, formal MoU’s with government, and scalable slum upgrading projects. Of course, the social processes at the core of SDI’s work are the foundations on which these changes are built.  They are part of a continuum whose outputs create conditions for more inclusive pro-poor cities.

Reporting within the SDI network is often weighted towards describing the social process. For emerging federations and affiliates, strengthening the core SDI rituals will encompass a large percentage of their work. But for mature affiliates, reporting should capture the concrete outputs of strong SDI rituals and processes. The below excerpt from a report by the Malawi SDI affiliate NGO demonstrates how linkages between social processes and concrete outcomes fit within a citywide and national strategy of inclusive change. A number of brief observations follow the report. 

The collection of enumeration data in Senti informal settlement, Lilongwe, has demonstrated the capacity of the community around data collection, capture and analysis. The settlement has been useful as a learning ground for communities from both Lilongwe and other districts all over the country with regular exchange visits taking place. The settlement is currently involved in improving its roads and footpaths as well as waste management using community-generated resources in the form of a Community Development Fund. The Senti Community Fund, the first of its kind in the country was based on the SDI (Federation) norm of savings but located at the community scale. This may pave the path for leveraging further resources from local and central Government. Each household is contributing MK100 (0.3 USD) to the fund per month that will be used by the community according to the needs identified in their development strategy.

Mapping exercise in Mtandire

This quarter also saw the settlements of Chinsapo and Mtandire finally negotiating with the Lilongwe City Council to implement community centered projects. These included the use of local women contractors for construction works and community monitors in fund and quality control. All the labour was also sourced from within the two settlements.  Construction included new water kiosks (and repair of dilapidated facilities), grading of roads and footpaths, construction of footpaths and storm water drains. Neighboring communities came to learn from the works undertaken. The Lilongwe communities learnt from their counterparts in Blantyre where a project funded by the African Development Bank (ADB) supports community contractors to implement water and sanitation infrastructure projects. 

Water point in Mtandire


In Blantyre, Nancholi-Cluster 1, presented their community development plans to the Blantyre City Council (BCC) through the Engineering Department. The department certified the infrastructure plans and promised to provide technical personnel and assistance. Learning exchanges were key to passing on modes of best practice. Furthermore, the establishment of a community development fund by the Senti community has led to many visiting communities around Lilongwe and Zomba considering the same option.

Informal settlements in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba made significant strides in settlement planning. Collaboration with the planning school at the University of Malawi-Polytechnic was a significant step in this process. The university has committed to providing annual planning support and studios – with a new settlement selected this year. The project has opened up doors to new possibilities and avenues for constructive engagement with other stakeholders & directly impacts future planners. 

The Malawi Alliance also engaged in discussions with the Ministry of Land and Housing and the Department of Surveys for the provision of satellite images to aid the process of mapping and community planning- the more detailed images will greatly assist the planning outputs and capacities of communities. The members of The Parliamentary Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure were lobbied to support the establishment of small slum upgrading projects. The Parliamentary Committee supported this initiative and requested a private members bill to be drafted. 

The Tenure Dialogue Session held in Lilongwe provided a platform for the urban poor and other urban stakeholders to discuss tenure security for the poor. Key to the meeting was the Ministry of Land and Housing who announced the process of drafting the Malawi Urban Policy as well as sensitization of MPs on the proposed revised land bill. The Participatory Budgeting Process started by Blantyre City Council (BCC) created a forum where the prospects of the 2013-2014 budget were discussed. 

Collective budgeting allowed communities to realize that Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was being underutilized by their Members of Parliament (MPs). The communities have lined up priorities, but lack funds.  Communities started engagements with individual MPs to discuss ways of further utilizing these untapped funds in line with their development priorities. A National Steering Committee on Slum upgrading was initiated comprising of Government Officials, CCODE, and relevant stakeholder. This body is expected to assist with advocacy at the highest levels of Government. 

The information captured in the report speaks directly to a national strategy with internal learning and focused exchanges as key components in fostering replication (e.g. Initiating settlement funds, sanitation provision). The report illustrates how the federation has incrementally built political relationships and accessed resource flows within the city. The linkages between different cities and processes underscore a cogent national strategy for slum upgrading rather then a singular, and uncoordinated approach.

On closer examination, and in discussions with the Malawian federation, it is clear that the alliance wishes to create citywide systems into which newly leveraged resources and capital can flow. For example sanitation loans through the African Development Bank are channeled and managed through a community based system with residents applying along certain criteria and loan repayment monitored through appropriate checks and balances. It then becomes a matter of channeling political and economic support towards proven community based systems. This opens up massive potential for scale through attracting government funds and other external resources.

Landlords & Tenants Relationship in Improving Sanitation in Dar es Salaam

Landlord & Tenants Improve Sanitation

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat & Stella Steven, CCI Tanzania

One of the key challenges for improving sanitation in slums is the issue of land, and structure, ownership. During a study conducted by Tanzania Urban Poor Federation and Centre for Community Initiatives (CCI) in 2012, community members from Keko Machungwa settlement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania highlighted the relationship between tenants and landlords as paramount to the success of efforts to improve sanitation in their settlement. 

Most houses in informal settlements in Tanzania are owned by individual landlords and rented to people within the settlements. The landlord and tenants’ relationship is critical in addressing sanitation in urban informal settlements because decision making regarding latrine choice and improvement is made by landlords who are also responsible for investment costs. Despite these responsibilities most landlords have not paid much attention to the improvement and construction of good toilets within their houses.

This report, prepared by the Centre for Community Initatives in Dar es Salaam, looks at the case of Zaituini Mohamed, a tenant, and Secilia Selamani Mbwana, a landlord, to explore the different roles and responsibilities of each party in improving sanitiaton in the settlement. Tenants can provide information regarding available loans and finance for improving sanitation within their respective households, while landlords can ensure that toilets are maintained and that rents do not increase once these facilities are improved. 

For more information on the Tanzania SDI Alliance’s efforts to build relationships between tenants and landlords to improve sanitation at scale, read the full report here


From Processes to Outcomes: Community-Driven Solutions to Finance, Planning & Politics

Jockin Arputham & Mayor Sidego

SDI President, Mr. Jockin Arputham (Right), signs MoU with Mr. Conrad Sidego, Mayor of Stellenbosch Municipality, in Langrug settlement, South Africa. 

Our network of urban poor federations has, over almost two decades, pioneered community organization strategies that are able to influence formal authorities in an age of quickening city growth. SDI’s “ten cities” program over the past three years has made clear the terms of engagement for building cities that include the poor. The link between the “hard” outcomes of infrastructure accessibility and economic opportunity, and the “soft” processes of planning and decision-making for provision of such infrastructure is the chief driver of urban development today.

The urban poor federations and professional NGOs that comprise the SDI network now have a set of experiences that speak to the main challenges that persist in engaging the link of processes and outcomes. We understand these challenges through three major themes of finance, planning, and politics. 


We have learned that financing shelter for the poor is about much more than mobilizing the resources for increasing access to land, services and housing. Most important is developing the systems for delivering projects and scaling up projects that make this finance meaningful. The urban poor federations in the SDI network have used the basic unit of the savings group as the means of building financial capacity in order to impact project planning and political capacity internally. The lessons from these experiences implicate persistent trends towards highly rational top-down project financing for city development.

Our approach to evaluating calls for funds from individual affiliates has always emphasized the need for projects to leverage: (a) funds from external sources, in addition to SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI), and (b) relationships with formal authorities that extend the voice of the urban poor in planning and decision-making. This report shows how thinking about the financial equation of urban development in this way changes the ways in which projects actually get delivered.

When SDI federations have tried out alternative development financing approaches with government authorities they trigger new relationships that can scale up project delivery at citywide scale. For example, in Pune, authorities were utilizing funds for informal settlement upgrading projects that often could not reach their promised delivery outcomes. Both grassroots leaders in Mahila Milan and bureaucratic officials acknowledge that it has not been the lack of allocated funds that made projects often fail to get off the ground. Instead, the primary impediments were the top-down mechanisms for using the funds that excluded community priorities and voices.

So the Indian Alliance worked to build partnerships with government programs to demonstrate through practice how these institutions can be better designed to put more of the financial management and decision-making in a joint relationship with informal settlement community leadership. Now the Indian Alliance has been able to make federated groups of women-led savings groups in Mahila Milan an intermediary institutional mechanism for large-scale delivery of upgraded informal settlements, especially in terms of provision of housing and communal toilets. 

IMG_1024 IMG_1022


We have learned that planning is not just about policies and physical designs on paper. Most important are the specific institutional designs and relationships through which physical planning interventions occur.  By building accountable and strategic leadership at the citywide level, urban poor federations in the SDI network are creating an institutional mechanism through which development decision-making can change meaningfully. These experiences suggest that governments, especially at the city level, need to focus on supporting and engaging the mobilization of urban poor communities to represent themselves and network across the city. Once informal settlement communities have strong, accountable leadership and network across the city, they are able to put forth an articulate vision with authentic grassroots backing. Likewise, governments are enabled to orient development decision-making to incorporate better the priorities of urban poor communities, and to counter-balance much more dominant actors that drive urban growth.



One approach has been to scale up community planning activities, such as profiling, enumeration, and mapping, to regional and citywide scale. For example, in Kenya, communities have linked across the Mathare Valley in Nairobi to enumerate every household. Further, they have documented the exact availability of public services across this major informal region of the city. These activities have allowed Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan federation, to bring together communities to link with University of Nairobi, and University of California — Berkeley, to develop a joint “zonal plan” for upgrading the entire Mathare Valley. Now, Muungano is beginning to sit with local authorities to see how the institutional environment can best be mobilized to achieve this plan.

Building institutional capacity to deliver on the promise of inclusive governance remains a major challenge as SDI gains a wider and richer set of experiences in working citywide. For example, in Kampala, Uganda, the National Slum Dweller Federation of Uganda has negotiated a joint Kampala Community Development Fund in which the Kampala City Council and the Federation sit together to manage funds specifically earmarked for informal settlement upgrading. The fund is growing in terms of available finance, and the governance of the fund proves to be the major growing pain, in order to respond to the acute demand for upgrading projects that the Federation is articulating.


We have learned that very significant impact for SDI urban poor federations occurs through policy changes. Projects and political relationships have to be geared towards enabling significant policy reform in order to make development processes more inclusive of the poor. Over the past year, urban poor federations in SDI have been able to achieve various key policy shifts. These changes have been possible because a mass mobilization of informal settlement residents has called for them and proven their viability through federation-led projects.

Indeed, the challenge here is to innovate through practice, and then to institutionalize the learning that occurs. In Cape Town, South Africa, the South African SDI Alliance now has multiple precedent-setting projects for “re-blocking” dense informal settlements. This approach to community-based design of shack alignments, has generated new community leadership structures, and enabled the city government to install basic services for residents. And this is in settlements where the government had initially planned to relocate large percentages of residents because the neighborhood was deemed too dense for upgrading. 

Sheffield Road, Cape Town

The South African Alliance has utilized a formal partnership with the City of Cape Town to make the case that these pilot approaches to in situ upgrading of informal settlements can be scaled up to the city level. And the city has responded. Now the city council has approved a new policy on “re-blocking” citywide. This emphasizes both the need to redevelop informal settlements in their current physical location and the extent to which influential participation of the community is a prerequisite for successful implementation of such a physical intervention. 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Mshini Wam Site Visit

This article highlights the lessons of SDI’s work to trigger city development processes that are more inclusive of the poor. In our 2012 / 2013 Annual Report, we begin to uncover the process of learning that is taking place within the network for impacting the flows of finance, planning, and politics that drive urban development. The lessons learned are the basis of a poor people’s agenda for triggering the relationships between the poor and formal authorities that will produce more inclusive city growth. 



Jay Naidoo Meets with Federations in Johannesburg

Jay Naidoo with Rose Molokoane and Jockin Arputham

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

During the Board of Governors engagements in Johannesburg in August of this year federation leaders had the opportunity to meet Mr. Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions). At various points in history, COSATU and SDI have shared interesting organizational parallels, albeit in different contexts, as social formations advocating critical engagement with formal actors to achieve more inclusive economies and cities. Both organizations seek to challenge the structural underpinnings of unequal distribution that continue to define contexts of rapid urbanization. As if to drive home the point, SDI Deputy President Rose Molokoane suggested that SDI could be understood as an “informal COSATU” during the exchange. Below are some extracts from Jay’s engagement with SDI. 


I am very aware of Slum Dwellers, and spend a lot of time in slums. What is the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit? All the evidence says that it will be a disaster. Often in life it’s not knowing the answers but knowing the right questions. You have to know what questions and in what direction you are going. The 1976 generation which I was part of, what made us who we were? What provoked us to do things? In 1968 I was 15 years old and very angry- today if you look in the world you see the anger that results in events like Marikana. On TV you see the anger in Cairo, Istanbul, Delhi- I remember we had that anger in South Africa because of apartheid. Apartheid stole our human identity and we lashed out. Anger is either positive or negative and it requires certain things to turn it in either direction. I went to listen to Steve Biko and that turned the switch on in my head. He said that in life you have nothing to lose if you are oppressed except your chains. These chains are inside your heads…this was my problem and I needed to believe that I was a human being and be proud of myself that I was black. I needed to make that decision to stand, watch and complain or to become active and try to change things. Taking action may result in damage, even dying, but what’s important is that you stand up and even if you die, you die honorably. In 1976 we were in the streets. They smashed us – thousands were detained and we went into hiding.

As students we discovered that we left our people behind…real change will come from people who are organized. For 18 years we went back to the ground. I went into trade unions. I remember standing outside Beacon Sweets handing out pamphlets and nobody wanted to take them. After a while there was an old worker he told me,  “Nobody can understand your pamphlet and secondly you are standing outside the gate and anybody who talks to you will be fired.” 

The first thing to do is to listen because you don’t have the answers. The workers know the answers- I learnt how to organize and that was a fascinating process. The best place to start was with hostel dwellers – these were the most exploited people. We started organizing the hostels – building trust was important. After a while they knew we were committed and that’s how we built the small beginnings of the union. We had no idea that there would be a COSATU. We had no money- who was going to give us money? When we started we never looked to someone else. Now I look at people differently- why do you need money to organize? I go back to that and say that you have so much. You have the law on your side, you have rights on your side, you have resources and your track record that is your biggest asset and people who trust in you and believe you. By the end of the 80’s we knew change was coming – when things get more violent this was a sign. By 1988 we were preparing for negotiations. Power is designed to create a situation of bargaining. You have to have power to engage people who wield power disproportionally. NGO’s these days are good analysts but at the end of the day its power and negotiations that give you what you want.

The RDP was about taking the demands of the Freedom Charter and turning it into a strategic plan. How do we take this into government? What is it that replaces apartheid? We were all united fighting against apartheid but what comes afterwards. We need to unite with political parties who agree with us. By the time it came to 1993 COSATU had adopted the reconstruction pact, which morphed into the RDP. It was very explicit that our key objective was meeting the needs of our people- the core was the needs of our people. The people themselves are the best to tell us about this- it’s not the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. I remember being with Joe Slovo in 1994 and we agreed that its really good that the people are heckling us- what we have to learn is that even when you are in power the best check and balance are people banging on your door.

The RDP went into government and we wanted to set the targets for each ministry. There are some fundamental mistakes we made- we all went into the silos which were there before. The thing that I discovered was not about dealing with each ministry individually but how do we look at this in a connected manner. Government is not structured in that way- we were also not all on the same page. In our own ranks there was no agreement on the plan and so that was a fundamental problem. The second problem was that we disempowered our people- lots of civil society went into government and then whom do you now listen to. We had this vision that we would now deliver what the people needed. The state alone can never deliver and it has its own agenda- we need to relook at this. The development state means in most cases that the state thinks they know what the people want. In many places across the world I find the same situation. What happens when the state, even a democratic state, assumes to know what’s best for people? People have a very small role. Civil society negotiates on people behalf.

Lets take one example, Marikana. What is the failure? It’s the union leadership. What happened was that leadership at the mine level became paid positions with more benefits than the workers. There was suddenly a division between the poorest workers and the leadership and they revolted. You can use this example- they saw that their enemy was their own leaders. Which organizations can really say that they represent the interests of the poor? Violence becomes a language- the only way in which our leaders can listen is through violence. The violence against women and children is an explosion of anger, a reflection of no confidence that leaders can adequately represent the people. In organizations like SDI that anger is organized with a clear set of demands and holds leaders accountable. This is a different set of politics.  

Indigenous people, slum dwellers, workers are all feeling the crunch. Oil companies are murdering our environment. What we need to today is ourselves to get together and articulate our views on the world – what do we feel about housing? Climate? Other organizations like the UN take us into their terrain, confuse us and convolute the issues. We need to take them into our terrain and make them listen to us. We need a new coalition globally of people who are organized and engage power at a local, regional and global level. The next time the UN must come and listen to us- and it will only happen when they come to us. I am working with civil society movement’s globally- what is the message to our people? What is our strategy and what is the power that we are building? I do not spend any time with government, especially in this country. There are good people in government as well as bad people- this is the same in unions and in civil society. We cannot give up what we stand for! Many thanks!

Rose: What I wanted to check is that now you are sitting in the middle of an informal COSATU? How can we extract more experience from you to make our organization to be better represented and acknowledged within the structures of government?  What I am trying to say is that the experience which you have- how can we squeeze this knowledge.

Jay: What I propose is make time available for strategic planning. When the government does not know what to do then you find lots of red tape. The idea is not to go with a shopping list. That’s about strategy and that’s were I think my role really is. Part of the problem is that if you look at poor people, if you look at malnutrition – those affected are children of people who live in slums and smallholdings. Every minute 5 children die of causes that we could prevent. How do we connect the dots?

I am not interested in long discussions with the usual stakeholders. How can UNICEF work with us to ask communities to demand their rights?  If you look at India 60 million people are poor & food is rotting. Who are the people who are stunted? These are people who are untouchables – 180 million people. In India you can see malnutrition at the community level. I want to understand this caste thing with Dalits and untouchables. We went to a village and 80% of the children had big stomachs. I asked who the Dalits were in this community? Everyone in this village is Dalit – the non-Dalits are living in another village. Even thought the constitution says that they have special rights these have not yet reached them.  

Who was I talking to in India? None of these stakeholders are the Dalit organizations who are actually suffering.  I took the head of UNICEF into a meeting with Dalits. And this is the sort of thing I can do to try and help you. In Mukhuru, Kenya I saw communities collect their own money and buy land and not get evicted. That is exactly what I want to support.

It is perhaps worthwhile to reflect on the notion of SDI as an “informal COSATU”. COSATU faces current debates around its orientation to the formal politics of the state in South Africa. SDI federations travel a comparable journey at the country and city level, as they struggle to negotiate the terms on which critical engagement with state institutions can produce tangible outcomes for their constituencies. Similar to union movements like COSATU, SDI’s strategy is to focus on crafting partnerships, in order opening space in formal institutions to gradually include the urban poor in citywide decision-making processes.

While the workers that COSATU represents are now part of the formal economy, SDI works with those who lives are deemed “informal”. Prior to 1994 those affiliated to COSATU were not just informal but in many cases “illegal”. Creating a framework for changing cities through broad based participation of the disenfranchised is a common heritage, and model for political change, shared by both organizations. The experience of COSATU shows how social movements can alter urban development trajectories and open up space for the disenfranchised. 


Building Strong Federations through Learning Exchange: Namibia Supports Emerging Federation in Angola

Namibia visits Angola

In September 2013 a delegation from the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia and their support NGO, the Namibia Housing Action Group, traveled to Angola to link a mapping project being undertaken by Habitafrica in Benguela to the emerging SDI affiliate and their support NGO Mafiku. The Angolan urban poor federation has been active for roughly three years now. They are active in 9 cities and are made up of 10,592 members in 473 savings groups nationwide. Since the first savings group, the Angolan federation has been supported by the Namibian SDI Alliance, one of the more mature federations in the network. This kind of relationship speaks to the kind of horizontal “mentorship” that occurs in SDI, and the way in which learning centres, such as the Namibian affiliate, play an important role in building the network. This mentorship takes place practically during exchange visits – the primary learning strategy of the SDI network – when a delegation from one affiliate visits another to learn from them or offer their support. Participation in learning exchanges is critical to the building up of younger affiliates, as it provides the opportunity for community members to come together to learn from intra-network successes and failures. This process builds on the logic of “learning by doing,” and begins to develop a collective vision at the settlement, citywide, national and international level. 

Namibia visits Angola

Class under the tress. The Angolan federation would like to build new classrooms for young learners as one of their first projects.

During this most recent visit to Angola, the Namibian affiliate met with both the federation and the support NGO, Mafiku, to gain insight into the nature of activities on the ground and to support the Angolan federation in a number of key areas of work, including: mobilization of interested communities in Benguela City, livelihood projects, and the establishment of a national urban poor fund. In addition, the Namibian and Angolan delegations met with Habitáfrica to explore possibilities of sustaining a process of mapping and registration of land rights by actively involving the community in the process. In their discussions it was proposed that all maps created together would be shared with the communities and that the communities would be central to any upgrading and planning decisions.  In addition, some practical advances include support around the opening of bank accounts for federation members, administrative support with bookkeeping and loan making for small businesses and livelihood projects, and the launch of focused savings for school improvements. 

Namibia visits Angola

The horizontal “mentorship” referred to earlier has been critical to the development of the Angolan affiliate. It is through sustained support from more mature federations that younger affiliates are given the space and guidance to grow and strengthen their programs, activities and vision to make a marked impact in their own lives and the lives of their communities and cities. In fact, one of the most noted outcomes of this most recent exchange was the awareness of the Angolan affiliate of the need to build partnerships with other community actors and local government in order to achieve greater impact and reach more people. 

A People-Centred Approach to Citywide Sanitation

Construction in Nakawa

As the global development discourse formulates the post-MDG agenda, sanitation is a core area that demands attention. Having for too long been neglected by governments, as is reflected by sporadic service and dilapidated infrastructure for the urban poor, it is one of the MDG’s that will not be met by 2015. Sanitation provision has a key role to play in creating the political and legislative conditions for well-located land to be made available to the urban poor. The work of the urban poor in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, India and many other countries across the SDI network demonstrates explicitly that sanitation is not just about toilets. It speaks to issues of equitable access and tenure security. If governments and urban poor communities provide sanitation facilities in partnership (as has been the case in countries like India and Uganda), then an in situ political and financial investment has been made in slum areas and, as a result, eviction (or relocation) become far less likely. Additionally, sanitation provision implies discussions around water provision, drainage, solid waste management and connections to bulk city infrastructure. 

Alongside evictions, inadequate sanitation is a central crisis in slums. For several decades the sanitation development framework was driven vertically by engineers, with those in greatest need of sanitation facilities given the least in terms of access, design, usage and management. SDI federations have begun serious local and national discourses exploring all elements involved in ensuring that slums are initially open defecation free, and subsequently, have adequate sanitation for all.

Debates about whether toilets should be located at the household or community level continue worldwide. Within SDI, the pragmatic sequence is as follows. 

  • For slum dwellers, sanitation is a governance issue. It is the duty and obligation of cities to ensure all fecal matter is collected and disposed of hygienically in a manner that is non-threatening for citizens and the city.
  • The present deficit is huge and cities having ignored the issue for many decades, which now makes initiating solutions very difficult.
  • Cities have to participate in the challenge of ensuring universally available sanitation. It is an essential contribution of community networks to document lack of facilities and engage the city to ensure sanitation access.
  • Infrastructure (water sewer lines), density, finances (of communities and the city) and available technologies are key factors in the choices that cities and communities make about the best approaches to sanitation provision.
  • In old, densely populated slums where houses are very small and sewerage access does not exist to clear fecal matter away, community toilets with safety tanks remain an imperfect solution. 

An incremental approach to informal settlement upgrading remains key to a long-term process that develops community capacity alongside infrastructure. Toilet construction and management has the potential to bring organized communities and local governments together in partnerships that have the possibility for replication in other settlements across the city. 

In addition, making a citywide impact through sanitation opens up the space for other relationships with government to be developed around associated services and infrastructure (e.g. solid waste management, grey water recycling or the provision of water).  Communities are also able to access upgrading funds and, as in India and Uganda, become the contractors who build, maintain and manage sanitation infrastructure. The momentum this generates has potential for both local and national policy reforms and articulations.  It is becoming increasingly clear that sanitation interventions and the partnerships that they create can lay the groundwork for partnerships and outcomes at a citywide scale. 


To read more about SDI affiliates’ work creating people-centred sanitation solutions at the citywide scale, check out the following blog posts & our Annual Report


Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale


Project Diary: Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda 

Improving Sanitation in Kinawataka Market, Uganda

Financing Sanitation Solutions in Uganda

Uganda Loses USD $177m Annually Due to Poor Sanitation: What is the Federation Doing?


In Tanzania, Scaling Up Sanitation for the Urban Poor 

In Tanzania, Reaching the Wider Community Through Improved Sanitation 

 Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet


In a Risky Place: Women & Sanitation in Nairobi’s Slums


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction & Maintenance in India

South Africa: 

Partnerships through Upgrading: 5 Cities Delegation Visits Langrug Settlement

Waterborne | Water & Sanitation in Slovo Park, South Africa