Ongoing Saga of Slums Along the Airport in Mumbai, India

**SPARC Responds**

The slums along Mumbai airport with over 98,000 structures remain a crucially unsolved challenge for the development of the airport. The residents networks that are part of NSDF city federation have long stated that they are willing to conceded land that the airport wants for its infrastructure as long as the land not needed for this will be made available for them to live in SRA ground plus 5 buildings.

For many years the contract to build alternative housing for slums along the airport was given to a construction firm HDIL. The deal was that 276 acres of encroached land would be “cleared” as households would move to sites nearby.

The unusual act of getting transferred development rights for the 7,000 structures in which no one has moved yet has been noted by the CAG in his report.

Many other challenges also impeded this process.

  • The state cannot undertake surveys until it clears eligibility norms, which should be structure for structure, but the High court only says 2,000 cut off is acceptable. So only a very small percentage are eligible.
  • Residents what to be assured that all get houses nearby but only 7,000 are nearby so they won’t budge.
  • The deal for GVK and HDIL does not become profitable unless the land use for commercial purpose is accepted. Which means there is a stand off.

In the meanwhile the new terminal with huge array of art work is to be opened in February 2014.

Housing stock for the poor and its constant change of usage in Mumbai, India

**SPARC Responds**

The government of Maharashtra took a very bold decision about 6 years ago to build small tenements which would be given to the poor for rent. The rental housing scheme would be taken up by private sector and they would get very good TDR return for tenements they would give back to the government. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) would then hand these tenements over to organizations to manage according to a governance framework to be developed along side with the construction. 500,000 units were to be constructed. The initial tenements got constructed, but MMRDA uder new leadership did not want to manage the rental housing and preferred these to be sold. Now they get used for other purposes and the initial purpose is drowned. 

Whenever the state government of Maharashtra has taken up new and interesting possibilities to address the challenges of increasing crisis for housing of the poor, it gets drowned by an amazing paradoxical impact of poor supervision of governance architecture needed to ensure it reached the people it was meant for. A constant state of crisis for which any empty space gets used up, and a construction industry which explores any possibility to take up construction in the name of the poor but never seeks to address solutions for the bottom 40% in the city.

The 500,000 houses were never built. But the ones that were build remain empty as MMRDA did not develop the management strategy and framework for supervision. When the buildings collapsed these were the only tenements that were available and are to be used for transits accommodation. Anyone who knows about transit accommodation knows several generations grow in these homes until the time when they forget where their grandparents were moved out from and build their lives around these localities.

Strategic Learning Around the Power of Data: Ghana Profiling Learning Exchange

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat 

“We have been dreaming about this exercise for five years. We really appreciate the effort of this exercise. This has been a wonderful exchange.” – Haruna Abu, Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor

When does data transform into power? More importantly, when does data transform into the kind of power urban poor communities can use to leverage their authorities for development? SDI supports the collection of community-led data collection and supports federations and their communities in the collection and documentation of this data. These documents become an asset for negotiation with city-governments and their compiling is becomes an opportunity “to learn [and] to mobilize” communities towards what SDI, President Jockin Arputham, refers to as “self-development”[1]. Collecting data and sharing the experiences and challenges around this empowerment process is key to SDI’s network wide support structure.

The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) and their support NGO, People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements (PD) played host to the third learning exchange around SDI’s global city-wide settlement profiling project during December 2013. The city of Accra is one of the strategic learning centres around this project along with Harare, Mumbai, Kampala and Cape Town. Alongside being a centre of economic power on the Gold Coast of Africa, Accra is also home to one of possibly the most famous slums on the African continent, Old Fadama – under almost constant threat of eviction and the Amui Dzor Housing Project, among other.  This housing project collaboration between the local federation and UN-Habitat’s Slum Upgrading Facility (SUF) is “a demonstration housing project which currently provides decent accommodation for 31 slum families at the heart of Tulaku community within the Ashaiman Municipality of the Greater Accra Region.”

The three days of the learning exchange saw fierce engagement around the demarcation of settlement boundaries – whether these do or should follow administrative boundaries or the organic boundaries of the local community, on the ground boundary and services mapping, as well as a hosting of the federation, focus group and its guests at the Shukura Chief’s Palace, in the settlement of Shukura where the profiling exercise took place. Prior to the focus group the local federation, in a process which can span weeks, mobilises the local community and their leaders (traditional, savings and women’s groups, market queens, youth leaders, etc.) and co-ordinates among all these schedules a date for the focus group. The focus group, based on the standardised SDI Informal Settlements Profile, led this time by PD Executive Director and SDI Board Member, Rabiu Farouk, may be considered the highlight of the profiling exercise. In an effort to extend learning around the efforts required and challenges of conducting the focus group and wider profiling process, the Ghanaian Federation had put Rabiu Farouk to task to lead the focus group. The director embraced the challenge, in the process also highlighting some of the key challenges a standardised process can present in context where the particular has long been the focus. “I learned a lot, you thought you were punishing me, but I learned a lot!” he remarked at the end of the exchange.

“I finally saw myself!” – Katana Goretti , National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU)

As the sun was setting on the third day of the learning exchange and fellow federation members from Sierra Leone, Uganda, India and host Ghana, SDI secretariat and Santa Fe Institute staffs were weary from the previous longs days of on-the-ground mapping, profiling and presentations, Katana Goretti, national leader of the Ugandan federation was in high spirits.

“This was what I have been waiting for. I finally saw myself.” Katana’s words not only humble, but also lend perspective to the wider reasons for SDI federations’ data collection activities.  Earlier that afternoon, the Santa Fe Institute, SDI partner in our global project to standardise and aggregate our slum/informal settlements profile data,  showcased the first wireframes of a web portal which would host, on a global map, the around 7000 profiles of city-level data collected from across the network in the course of this project since December 2012. With a steady, but definite shift in development focus in the last years from a country, to an increasingly city-level focus, the struggles of the poor for livelihoods, access to land, but also their efforts to engage their own development has also strikingly come back into focus.

The importance therefore, of seeing the urban poor, hearing their voices and highlighting the context of their everyday struggles and victories, are brought sharply back into focus again too. In the recently published People’s Voices Brief, released for UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, OWG 7, the importance of “creating healthy urban environments…[along with] efficient and affordable services for all, [as well as], the importance of social transformations that are taking place in rapidly growing cities…and the empowerment of urban populations” were highlighted. Drawing on the recent report of the MY World survey in which “people accord a high priority to ‘access to clean water and sanitation’ regardless of their education level, which is commonly used as a proxy for income”, the Brief further argued that despite the daunting prospects megacities are perceived to pose, “the higher population density gives governments the opportunity to more easily deliver essential infrastructure and services in urban areas at a lower cost per capita.” It would appear then, that in the very spaces where local governments once attributed their major development challenges, their new development opportunities reside.

In a time when the focus also turns towards “smart-cities”, SDI is poised at a peculiar, yet exciting intersection. On the one hand we still rely on carefully curated datasets, but we cannot resist the demands of a “big data” world if we are to cement our position as one of the largest depositories of data of the urban poor. SDI federations’ Know Your City Campaign is a global campaign for grassroots data and inclusive partnerships with local governments.  From collection, to capture, to analysis, we are simultaneously exploring technologies along the lines of those presented by Santa Fe Institute during the course of this project and Ghana exchange. The excitement around the smartphone-app technology to capture GPS-co-ordinate points was tangible. Mobile technologies like these, when tailored to the needs and capacities of local communities would enable faster, more accurate capture and return for reporting for communities. The technologies SDI is exploring should bring communities closer to their data and not alienate them. Drawing on the insights of “big data” gurus, Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier (2013), we agree that the “the real revolution is not in the machines that calculate data but in data itself and how we use it.” As SFI team member, Jose Lobo reflected on both Haruna and Katana’s excitement around the exchange, “it’s energizing to see the process and the people collect data and get excited about the power of data…seeing the process of profiling have helped our understanding. We would not be able to do what we’re doing with this project, without seeing what the community does.”

[1] Arputham, J. 2012. How community-based enumerations started and developed in India. Environment and Urbanization 24(1):27-30. Available online at: 

Muungano and CURI Launches the Kiandutu Urban Studio

**Cross posted from the Muungano Support Trust blog**

The Urban Studio is a unique interdisciplinary academic initiative undertaken to address urban issues that challenge the quality of life in cities, more particularly informal settlement. The planning studio endeavors to engage the community in an urban problem solving effort. Through an initiative of the Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS) implemented by African Planning Schools and SDI affiliate NGOs more than 100 students in urban planning,  architecture, design, anthropology, business, nursing, political science, urban geography and others have participated and partnered with urban poor communities, community based organizations on projects intended to make informal settlements more sustainable.

On the afternoon of Monday 20th of January 2014, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Muungano Support Trust and its collaborating partner, Centre for Urban Research and Innovation teams visited Kiandutu Informal settlement, Thika to launch a joint urban community participatory studio. The studio is part of a collaboration initiative between the Slum/Shack Dwellers Association (SDI) and Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS) implemented by African Planning Schools and SDI affiliate NGO and community groups aimed at exploring innovative ways for slum upgrading and addressing other challenges facing the African cities.

DSC02224 (FILEminimizer)

Kiandutu Informal settlement is among the largest informal settlements in Kenya and arguably the largest informal settlement located outside Nairobi City. It lies within Thika municipality, now under the Kiambu County Government, and to a regional context within the Nairobi metro region. The settlement is expansive, occupying an estimated 100 acres of land and with a population of about 24,000 people and 8,000 households (Muungano wa Wanavijiji Enumeration report). This is one of the targets informal settlements in Kenya’s major towns that the Kenya Federation of the Urban poor (Muungano wa Wanavijiji), MuST has prioritized for upgrading through infrastructure, security of land tenure and housing.  This settlement is further clustered into 10 No. clusters (Mtatu 1 & 2, Mukinduri, Biashara, Stage Wariah, Kianjau, Molo, Mosque, Centre Base A & B). These clusters display a unique socio-economic and spatial dynamics but generally there is a high level of heterogeneity throughout the entire settlement. These clusters have emerged gradually through the organic growth of the settlement over time

The urban studio intends utilize participatory methodologies for community planning, where young planners (students) and community members, actively engage in problem solving and urban visualization, for a better urban future. The presumption is that informal settlement dwellers are best placed to lead in framing solutions to their daily challenges in their process of negotiating the urban life and that urban planners can perhaps harvest this towards the formulation of inclusive urban policies, and in the upgrading of informal settlements.

Earlier, in year 2012, the community of Kiandutu had been actively involved in carrying out an enumeration and mapping activity set out to profiling the settlement. This had formed the first phase of a joint studio. On the 20th of January 2014 the community got an opportunity to receive the published report on Kiandutu profile. Mr. Karisa, the CURI’s project co-leader and a University of Nairobi Senior lecturer handed over the reports to Mr. John Waweru and his leadership team before giving a highlight of what the report contained. He insisted that the report was an effort to put Kiandutu on a map, and that it would form part of the advocacy tools when approaching governance offices. He commended the strong participation of the community in a process that if properly navigated, would lead to fruitful returns.Further on, he introduced the next phase of the project, which would require all partners to come together again and push the agenda to a planning phase. Its aim would be to produce an upgrading plan that seeks to reassure tenants of security of tenure while spatially and economically integrating the settlement to the urban development shaping Thika Town.

Studio organisers pose for a group photo with members of Kiandutu settlement

Studio organisers pose for a group photo with members of Kiandutu settlement

Baraka Mwau, the studio coordinators explains the possible impacts of the studio to Kiandutu community.

Baraka Mwau, the studio coordinators explains the possible impacts of the studio to Kiandutu community.

Mr. Karrisa hands over the Kiandutu Profile report to the Kiandutu settlement leadership

Mr. Karrisa hands over the Kiandutu Profile report to the Kiandutu settlement leadership

On its part Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Chairperson, Rashid Mutua pledged the federations’ commitment to journey with Kiandutu community as it continues to struggle and negotiate for security of tenure and proper planning through partnership based on the principles of community led planning. The chairperson cited the SELAVIP house improvement project, where so far 21 community members of the settlement have benefited and now the proposed Kiandutu sanitation project as an eye opener to government and community pioneered upgrading projects.

Rashid Mutua(Muungano Chair) exchange notes with Baraka Mwau on the studio.

Rashid Mutua (Muungano Chair) exchange notes with Baraka Mwau on the studio.

The Kiandutu Profile Report

The Kiandutu Profile Report

This has become a common vision by all the stakeholders due to Kiandutu’s proximity to Thika town. Thika town is located in Kiambu county and falls 40 kilometers North of Nairobi, making it a major satellite town to Nairobi. Furthermore, Kiandutu lies next to the Thika municipality’s industrial area and can be accessed off the Nairobi-Garissa National Highway (A2) making the settlement a prime land eyed for huge economic and residential developments. This is clearly evinced by the real estate, middle-upper class residential developments and shopping malls that are currently shaping the landscape of Thika town. With the completion of the Nairobi-Thika superhighway, the rate of development can only go higher, thus giving Kiandutu community little time to breathe. Kiandutu also covers an approximately 1.1 sq Kilometers [which is public land], of the total 93.5 sq Kilometers of Thika sub – county, making it an eyed jewel for the new county government.

Within the next two months, the partners will engage with the sole purpose of the community developing a pragmatic process and strategy for upgrading the settlement, while integrating the settlement within the spatial development of Thika and the local economy. This studio is expected to produce outputs that the community can own and use in their efforts to upgrade the settlement and secure tenure. At the same time, the studio is expected to expose urban planning students to urban informality and particularly present them with an opportunity to work jointly with the community of Kiandutu in real problem solving.


Planning For 58% Without Accurate Data in Mumbai

**SPARC Responds**

When we set up SPARC in the 1980s, whatever we sought from the municipality or government for slum dwellers it was not feasible because the DP (Development Plans) did not permit it. When we carefully studied the plans and saw spaces for “housing the dis-housed” and went to see the land, it always had others using it for a different purpose occupying that land. In frustration we raised this issue with the then chief secretary of Maharashtra who had also been the municipal commissioner of Mumbai about this feature of the development plan, he benignly smiled and said that the DP is a manifestation of what we envision, and that reality is very different. Interpreted for the urban poor, you can’t really ask the city what you need as land for housing because all the land we have marked for you is already occupied.

Today the DP is being prepared and all these old ghosts of lack of accurate data, unclear and contradictory data sets are coming to bite the process. When challenges to plan are not accommodated and addressed in each plan, they clearly produce unregulated response. The poor squat where they can, when they can’t find a space to stay near work, and the elite equally ignore the rules. Both pay bribes for the regulatory process to ignore their presence and turn a blind eye, and the unregulated growth increases exponentially.

Playing with data is a routine strategy that government agencies play. State and city institutions are known to inflate and deflate data on poverty in slums based on whom the report is is being planned for. So when the data used for preparing the Mumbai DP says there is a 18% dip in slums, what are we to make of this?

How do we link this to the fact that the census definition requires a slum a cluster to have more than a certain number of dwelling to be counted under the census connect with this factor? What do we do when even lower level government data collection refuses to count the households who live as renters in the mezzanines of huts?


City Finance That Works For and With The Poor

By Mara Forbes, Ariana MacPherson, and Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

Flows of finance and the systems that perpetuate resource distribution are inherently weighted against inclusion of the poor. The inequality of rapid urban development in developing countries is a clear demonstration of this phenomenon.  Banks do not supply loans on terms affordable to slum dwellers, cities sink budgets into formal taxpaying areas rather than informal settlements while policies, rules and regulations prop up a grossly uneven distribution of wealth. Traditional market finance does not work for the poor on a city scale – slums continue to grow, as does the gap between rich and poor.

Finance for the poor demands flexibility. It demands understanding how poor people save money, how piecemeal incomes fluctuate, what interest rates and loan amounts are really affordable and what investments make sense locally. It also means understanding how to incorporate community-based financial systems, in addition to those pitched at individuals and households.

Flexible citywide urban poor funds need to change existing systems of exclusionary finance.  Local government is a change vector that cannot be dismissed and their inclusion in these funds has the potential to create citywide political impact. Organized communities, who can clearly articulate their demands and the rationale for their financial decisions, can negotiate this space ensuring that funds remain relevant to the poor.

Community-based urban poor federation members and support professionals from South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Bolivia came together in late 2013 to discuss citywide models for urban finance. They drew on extensive experience in managing urban poor funds in their various contexts to explore the design, political impact and practical slum upgrading benefits of flexible pro-poor finance facilities.

South Africa

The context in South Africa is one of at a subsidy-based development state, where many urban poor communities’ – and governments’ – mindset is one of state delivery. This, despite the fact that evidence shows that government is incapable of delivering housing or infrastructure services at the scale necessary. This challenge is central to the experience of informal settlement upgrading, both at the level of the community and in relating to government around new practices and policies that are seen to undermine the government’s responsibility to provide subsidized housing and basic services to the country’s informal population. Despite the available subsidies, much of South Africa’s population continues to live in insecure conditions without access to basic services, secure shelter or economic opportunity[1]. To date, there have been few alternative solutions to informal settlement upgrading in the South African context, but it is clear that new political and financial systems are necessary for the nation’s urban poor to become active participants in the development of inclusive, equitable cities. Central to this is the need for an alternative financing strategy – one that is sensitive to the needs and daily realities of the urban poor.

These issues were addressed at length during the South African delegation’s discussions of the formation of a citywide upgrading fund in Cape Town. Although the South African SDI Alliance[2] has adopted the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF), it has faced challenges in rolling it out as tool for informal settlement upgrading at scale and with support (financial and political) from local government. CUFF was created with the aim of providing a platform for informal communities to “engage government more actively around collaborative upgrading & livelihood projects” (CUFF Project Report 2013). The Fund does this by providing seed capital for settlement improvement projects that are proposed by communities. At the same time, communities must provide a 20% contribution to the total cost of the project, demonstrating their willingness to take ownership and participate in the co-production of their settlement’s upgrading and development.

During the recent exchange in Cape Town, the South African SDI Alliance had an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of CUFF to date. The Alliance emphasized that CUFF is not just about implementing projects, but about influencing policy. The Alliance stressed the significant value of community-based finance facilities like CUFF as learning instruments designed to change the mindsets of communities and governments – to change the mindset of communities away from dependency on the state, and to chance the mindset of government towards considering that communities may be able to offer in-situ solutions to their infrastructure and housing needs.

CUFF in its current incarnation is not set up as a citywide fund to which a broad base of stakeholders, including local government, other community-based organizations and non-government organizations contribute and access resources. The inclusion of a wider base of stakeholders is critical in order to moves from a fund that is only for federation members to a collective fund that allows for loans for entire settlements. This critical point motivated the South African delegation to discuss how to move CUFF into a position where citywide scaling up becomes a real possibility.


The situation in Uganda contrasts sharply with South Africa, leading to a different thinking and organization around finance facilities. There are no government subsidies so the poor have had to find alternative ways to finance upgrading initiatives.

Uganda has set up a national urban poor fund and used lessons learned to think through and design potential citywide funds. The goal of the fund to is to provide capital in the form of loans to members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU). The decision to only provide group loans from the fund is deliberate. These funds are intended to benefit the larger community through group upgrading projects that set precedents for community urban development projects.  Loans are given out for housing, sanitation, and group livelihood projects. To date the fund has extended loans for 44 projects in Kampala. The fund is designed as a sustainable revolving basket fund. It receives funds from a variety of sources, including contributions from NSDFU and community saving groups, fundraising activities, government contributions, donations from local and international institutions, subscriptions fees, and UPFI loans. Particular to note about Uganda’s fund is that loans are not available to individual members, but to savings groups for community upgrading projects.  

Although the fund provides alternative financing solutions to the poor in Uganda, it has a larger purpose and vision. The federation uses the fund to build precedent-setting pilot projects that will attract government and other urban development stakeholders. It is not just about urban poor participation and decision-making but about using the fund as a tool to push an urban poor agenda, with sanitation being the key issue advocated in the Ugandan context. The community is able to demonstrate they are able to contribute savings to grow the fund which allows them to access a group loan to build a community sanitation unit. This process demonstrates the community’s ability to prioritize, contribute, and implement slum-upgrading projects. This work has altered the city government’s outlook on sanitation, the first step to effecting policy change.

The Ugandan federation has been able to use the urban poor fund not only to pilot community projects but also to shift the mindset of local government to eventually bring change in city policies. They have connected the role and strength of women-led savings schemes to each level of the fund.

Why is a city fund needed if a working national urban poor fund is in place? These were some of the questions examined during the exchange. Delegates were convinced that a citywide fund moves from a fund that is only for federation members to a collective fund that allows loans for entire settlements. This would allow local governments and other urban development stakeholders to channel money directly to communities to support infrastructure and upgrading projects that benefit whole communities and cities.


The Zimbabwean context is one in which the state has practically no internal resources available for the urban poor. Donor funds are channeled through departments at the local government level, but this is not a sustainable means of income. Despite acute resource scarcity the Zimbabwean federation has forged deep and meaningful partnerships with local government, changing attitudes towards evictions, introducing new sanitation technologies and leveraging technical and political support.

A dearth of government finance motivated urban poor communities to organize their own savings, not just for daily needs but also nationally through the Guungano Urban Poor Fund. The fund not only provides low interest rates on loans for the upgrading needs of poor communities but also has a political agenda that opens space for negotiation with local governments. Ideally the fund would like to attract government finance, but this has not yet been the case. The overly bureaucratic and politicized nature of government institutions undoubtedly contributes to the difficulties associated with accessing government funds.

Based on their experiences of administering an urban poor fund at the national level, the Zimbabwean federation decided to decentralize the fund to regional (Bulawayo & Matabeleland South) and citywide scale (Kariba and Masvingo). This speaks to the differences between national funds and citywide funds at a larger scale – a strategic move that is beginning to play out across the SDI network in divergent contexts.

In Harare, the Zimbabwean federation is in the advanced stages of negotiating a fund with city authorities. The lessons learnt through the administration of the Guungano fund both nationally and in its newer regional structure come to bear on these negotiations. The fund will become part of the implementation strategy of the cities new slum upgrading policy. The federation will contribute $25,000, the UPFI $50,000 and the City $125,000. The fund will not be housed in either the federation or the City Council and will focus on slum upgrading (incremental housing, water & sanitation and other infrastructure). Projects will be determined through community profiles and enumerations and loans will revolve. The city pushed for the fund to be registered as a microfinance institution, however the community was adamant that this would lead to systems that excluded the poor. The city has now agreed to register the fund as a trust. 

While negotiations continue it is clear that an organized community who can clearly articulate the rationale (the why) behind a city fund can have significant traction in shaping its structure and mechanisms. If these regulations are entrenched in a constitution the potential for a new type of financial instrument is created.


Despite attempts by Bolivia’s central government over the past decades to implement a social housing policy that addresses the country’s growing housing deficit, little progress has actually been made in providing a housing and infrastructure finance system that is accessible to the country’s urban poor population.[3]  It is estimated that about one third of the housing constructed each year in Bolivia is informal and largely illegal, with urban poor families occupying self-constructed, insecure structures with little or no access to basic services like water, electricity and sanitation.[4]

In light of this it becomes clear that an alternative solution is necessary to begin to meet the growing demand for affordable housing finance and informal settlement upgrading at a scale that can adequately address these needs in light of Bolivia’s rapid urbanization.[5]

At the exchange the Bolivian delegation spoke about their own solution to some of the housing and basic service challenges faced by Bolivia’s urban poor. The Fondo Para Vivienda Popular (Popular Housing Fund) was created in 2011 with a small donation of only USD 160 to be used for loans to assist with the costs associated with regularization of shelters in informal settlements in Cochabamba, Oruro and Santa Cruz. After about a year of operating as a national fund it was decided to split the fund into three localized city funds. Now, only two years later, the fund has grown to USD 10,000 through a combination of community savings and donations from individuals, the private sector and donor agencies. The objective of the Fund is to serve as a tool for the federation of women’s savings groups, Tejiendo Ciudades (Weaving Together Cities), to provide low-interest loans[6] for the needs and demands of savings group members. These include: housing repairs, regularization papers, water, electricity, sanitation, furniture and appliances.

In 2012, the Federation disbursed twenty individual loans and one collective loan. In 2013, these numbers rose to thirty individual loans and two collective loans with all loans in both years having been repaid in full. While the Fund is off to a steady and impressive start, there is a need to involve a wider network of stakeholders, including local government, in providing capital for the fund, if it is going to become a scalable solution to housing and basic service finance in Bolivia’s urban sector.


The Zambian federation has two funds, an urban poor fund and a city fund. The urban poor fund currently operates regionally and is controlled and managed by the federation. The urban poor fund has been working at a larger community level with both federation and non-federation members.

The city fund emerged from a need that was generated by profiling and enumeration in Lusaka. A potential commitment from the Lusaka City Council to contribute 35% to the fund has been tabled.

One of the crucial learning’s from the Zambian federation is the need for a citywide fund to be accessible and benefit not just federation members, but all of the urban poor. The fund can also then be used as an advocacy tool that introduces communities to savings culture and rituals of the federation. In order for a citywide fund to go to scale alignments and partnerships with other actors, such as local government, must be made. The Lusaka city fund has demonstrated how federation rituals (profiling and enumerations) can be used to get the local governments attention and bring them into the process. The Zambian example demonstrates how a fund was used to change the way government relates to and includes the poor.


The Malawian context is one in which government has made limited investment in slum upgrading. Foreign NGO’s and donors have invested in the various facets of the development sector but foreign aid is not a long term and sustainable solution, and the donor community is beginning to pull out of Malawi as well, further highlighting the need for a sustainable source of funds for slum upgrading projects. 

Daily savings for basic needs is the core strength of the Malawian federation. At a larger scale, the Mchenga urban poor fund has allowed community members to take out loans to build eco-san toilets and water connections. A community contribution of 10% is required and all community members, not just the federation, can access loans. Loan repayments are revolved back into the fund and used to provide further loans and attain maximum scale.

More recently citywide funds, and the challenges that they can present, have come into focus in Lilongwe. Donor finance was used as seed capital for a citywide fund for slum upgrading activities. The fund was envisioned as one in which the city and communities would collectively plan for slum infrastructure improvements. However the communities found it difficult to engage the city and access the funds – or even have a significant role in decision making around their distribution. The city only began to include communities in decision-making processes when the donor threatened to take the money back. The fund has since been used to construct markets, install water points, improve drainage, install water tanks and build roads and bridges.  Funds were distributed as grants and not loans, prompting the question, “If communities don’t have to repay the funds, how do they influence government to use funds to their advantage?”


The introduction to this report stresses that new types of finance are needed to make affordable capital available to the poor. A concomitant political shift at the local government level has the possibility to entrench these new modes of financial distribution at a city scale. However this can be a double-edged sword, with government retaining de-facto control of city funds and communities relegated to the role of passive beneficiaries. Strong and organized communities are able to negotiate the terms of funds clearly articulating structures and rules that make sense on the ground. Thus while citywide funds need local government participation to reach scale, they often do not need the traditional systems through which state funds are distributed and managed.

Click here for the full report, and here for the City Funds Manual that came out of this exchange. 


[1] According to the 2001 census, approximately 2 million households live in informal housing across South Africa, the majority of those in urban informal settlements. South Africa: Informal settlements status, The Housing Development Agency, 2012.

[2] The SA SDI Alliance is made up of two community-based organizations, the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), and three support NGOs, the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC), uTshani Fund and iKhayalami. To learn more, visit:

[3] “Over half of Bolivia’s poor (2.9 million) and 43% of the extreme poor (1.4 million) were living in urban areas in 2002, up from one third (1.8 million) and one fourth (800 thousand) in 1997, respectively.” Housing Finance Mechanisms in Bolivia, UN Habitat, 2008, p.25.

[4] Basic service coverage remains highly unequal in Bolivia, with coverage sitting at 93% (water) and 80% (sanitation) for the richest income quintile, but only 38% (water) and 14% (sanitation) for the poorest quintile (in 2003). Ibid, p. 28.

[5] Between 1976 and 2001, the urban population increased 168%. In 2001, the urban growth rate in three of the main urban areas (La Paz, El Alto & Santa Cruz) reached beyond 5%. Ibid, p. 24.

[6] Interest rates are .5% per month for a period of up to 6 months. 


Sharing Data: Getting to ‘Know Your City’

Mama Fatuma demonstrates GPS-app to fellow federation members

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat 

For those bounded and constrained by lines of informality, drawn more often than not as a consequence of exclusion from the formal city, the data they collect about their lives in the spaces they inhabit, has proven a powerful tool and asset for negotiation with city officials and donors. McGill professor in urban planning, Richard Shaermur, commenting on the relationship between data and the urban poor condition in Canada, lends support to SDI’s methodology in terms of our process and reliability of our data. Shaermur argues that “data at the local level can easily be skewed if a survey isn’t filled out by a group that is representative of a neighbourhood” or in the case of our federations, settlements.

Community-led profiling, serves not only as the foundational step from which the lives and living-worlds of slum/informal settlements residents are made visible, but also as a key tool and asset in advocacy and engagement between slum dwellers and their development partners. A community-led profile is a process which gathers/collects “data information of a particular settlement at the settlement level without necessarily having to collect the same information at household level” (Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, 2013). On a city-wide scale, these profiles serve as the baseline information about the history, social and physical conditions in informal settlements and become an asset for the urban poor in their negotiations around access to land, access to services and demands for inclusive planning and housing, as well as increasingly around livelihood options.

The governance and resources for infrastructure in cities are organized around the administrative or political representative units such as wards, locations, parishes and so on. Poor communities are rarely aligned to this city structure. Either the communities are found within the city units, or cut across administrative boundaries.

The profiling process creates a layer of information on the locality of poorly served communities. The profiling is therefore intended to generate a city planning and service delivery strategy that addresses poverty more effectively than the conventional administrative format.

Born as this data is from an almost unique social process, underlined and inscribed by what has become known as the SDI rituals or methods, it follows that it serves as a conduit for the development of relationships. Relationship, refers to “the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected”. Data in SDI federations connects federation members to each other, because it unveils the shared challenges of lack of access to services and land across borders. Yet, it also connects people. A stalwart of the organization, referring to daily savings, once commented that “we don’t collect money, we collect people.” Drawing on “connect” and its key derivatives, “connection” and “connectedness” as operative words here, we may paraphrase to “we don’t connect data points, we connect people”.

An SDI profile data matrix is more than just a collection of variables. It is steeped in everyday material life, every point is polyvalent, may veil more than it reveals, but ties together people, space, services and the human condition at work in informal settlements. At the settlement level, the profile lends a sense of belonging and of shared responsibility for the resources available and desired. It forms the basis of organizing communities around communal challenges that require structured collective action. According to federation members their data also offers them a sense of security and “protects settlements from encroachment as communities identify with their borders, enhance advocacy for change and lastly inform community planning strategies for housing and infrastructural development”. A working tap in an informal settlement is not so much about functioning infrastructure, than it may be about the federation advocacy team using the data from their profile to engage with sympathetic officials, donors or astute young planning professionals.

While, historically these relationships were formed on a settlement-by-settlement basis, scaling settlement profiling to the city-level presents new opportunities and challenges. “How do we use and share citywide profiles information with various stakeholders community, local government, donors and academia?” elicited lively discussion and debate at the last East Africa Hub Meeting (November 17-22nd). The Hub meeting drew together federations and their support staff from Uganda, Tanzania and host Kenya around the theme: Community Profiling for Urban Planning.

At the local level and with their central governments, delegates agreed that the opportunities for data sharing included concrete involvement for inclusive urban planning and slum upgrading. The reliability of the data, when witnessed by local authority officials during the focus groups discussions, “creates a bond of trust from government to communities, especially through budget processes to support community projects and processes” (Report prepared by Muungana Wa Wanavijiji & Muungano Support Trust for the 10th East African Hub Meeting held in Mombasa, Kenya, 2013).

In planning schools across Africa and beyond, young professionals training in what may become one of the keystone academic disciplines for African cities in the next two decades, are exploring innovative strategies which speak directly to the spatial organizational demands of cities who like Kampala, Uganda accommodate 60% percent of its population on only about 16% of its available land. The value of data collected by slum/informal settlements is indisputable. But, planners alone do not a city build! Federation data collection teams are looking toward other academic partners eager to engage with and partner in the design of their development. As donors increase their reliance on grounded research and institutions like the World Bank and the UN include data collection as a priority in [their] post-2015 development goals, the question debated so enthusiastically at the East African Hub meeting, may also be turned to the formal world beyond the informal settlement: For whom of you will it become crucial to engage with slum/informal settlement communities in terms of data collection and analysis?


Institutional & Policy Review: SDI Evaluation 2013

In the recent months SDI, in partnership with external consultants, has been involved in an institutional and policy oriented evaluation. The purpose was to take stock of major changes in the SDI network over the past five years, as well as to focus on major strategic choices that the network faces in its future growth.

As a result of the evaluation, a number of strategic choices have been identified, many of which have been under consideration internally for some time. Such decisions are not between right and wrong, but between priorities and how to allocate scarce resources in terms of both time and funds. Notably, the evaluation states, in its final conclusions and recommendations, that “SDI has been quite successful so far in its trajectory, keeping a relative balance in its network between different demands, interests and opportunities.” With regard to the challenges currently facing the organisation, the evaluation goes on to affirm that “…new challenges are apparent in the evolution of SDI that are essentially the consequences of its growth and age. Therefore, rather than being the expression of a crisis, they are signs of success and evolution. Even so, they must be properly addressed; as to some extent they imply choices that might affect the very nature of SDI itself.” Some of the strategic choices put forward in the evaluation include:

• Whether to stick to the local-level role as a “model builder,” “catalyst” and policy influencer or embrace further the role as operator for upscaling.

• How to find the balance between being an informal network / movement and a formal / effective organisation.

• How to create stronger links between grassroots leaders and professionals, based on shared values and understanding of people-driven development.

• The need to clarify roles and responsibilities of NGOs versus Federations and broaden the leadership base to best serve Federations.

• How to better define SDI’s relationship with governments, and to identify under what conditions SDI may need to be more vocal and/or contentious.

• How to build more active and systematic fundraising at the national and international level.

• How to improve feedback about benefits of proper information handling in order to lessen resistance to adoption of data collection instruments.

SDI is committed to building a voice of, by, and for the urban poor, through a dedication to principles of transparency. As such, we are pleased to share this external evaluation with the public. To read the full report, click here.

To read the full report, click here.