Learning & Growing from Strength to Strength: SDI Basket Fund Close-out Report 2013-2017

by James Tayler

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“Today if you are hungry and have nothing, you become a subject for discussion and a resource for those who would then spend the first five years discussing and strategizing how to desist you from your poverty. There will be workshops, seminars and conferences to discuss how to give you a meal.”

– Patrick Hunsley, founding president of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor

The end of 2017 marked the end of a four-year strategic planning period for SDI and the close-out of various projects and contracts in support of implementation of that plan. To report on the successes, challenges, and impact of our work over that time, SDI produced a Basket Fund Close Out report, available in full here. In the upcoming series of blog posts, we will pull excerpts from this report that highlight some of the key learnings and impact of our work over the past four years and point towards areas for continued growth in the new Strategic Plan, launched this year.

SDI’s Basket Fund represents a commitment from SDI’s partners to join a global network of slum dweller organizations in their long-term struggle to combat poverty and exclusion in cities. In a development sector dominated by consultants and specialists, SDI adds value as a unique organization channeling resources directly to the poor for the development and implementation of their own strategies for change. This arrangement represents an understanding by SDI’s partners that systemic change won’t be projectized or fall neatly into a funding cycle, but requires long-term multi-pronged collaboration to continuously garrison the gains and push the boundaries.

On both fronts SDI made substantial inroads during the 2013-2017 period.

SDI aimed to strengthen the ability of our communities to apply their learning tools with more rigor. 

The first objective of the SDI Strategic Plan 2013-2017 was for federations to apply tools for learning with greater rigor. Through concentrated investment in peer-to-peer learning between federations community networks have: enhanced their understanding of and engagement with the global resilience agenda; undertaken transnational eviction prevention and response action; and taken the quality and impact of profiling and enumeration data to new heights. New learning centers have been established for action-based learning at innovative project pilots that utilize this learning in innovative and scalable ways. Peer-to-peer learning, monitoring, and evaluation systems have been socialized throughout the network, resulting in a wealth of data that is digestible for national and international audiences opening up opportunities for new partners and resources. Critically, these capacities are equally effectively serving local and regional strategy-setting and accountability by federations.

SDI aimed to get governments to prioritize incremental, in situ upgrading and energy justice. 

The second objective of the SDI Strategic Plan 2013-2017 was for incremental, in situ, affordable upgrading to be prioritized by city governments. Here we see concrete and directly attributable improvements to the built environment and people’s living conditions through upgrading projects. The increasing size and complexity of SDI’s upgrading projects is documented, as is the larger share of the project portfolio held by energy projects. The report notes the implications regarding demands for more refined professional inputs and also the longer project planning and implementation periods associated with both area-wide and innovative projects. City officials are increasingly incorporated in city-to-city learning exchanges on such projects, generating partnership agreements between federations and officials in many cities. Documentation of such learning is robust and digitized and thus feeds not only exchange participants, but also the network more broadly. Project-linked data show the change to peoples’ lives in terms of increased access to secure tenure and basic services.

In the 2013-2017 period, SDI placed considerable efforts on the identification of emerging good upgrading practice in respect of clean energy for slums. These efforts have been carried out alongside continuing efforts to identify and expose communities to good practices in sanitation, informal market upgrading, and housing. At the outset of the project SDI intended to “develop the supply chain, the internal infrastructure and the capacity to be able to deliver at scale” and estimated this would “take the first 4 to 6 months”. The reality of course was that this process took considerably longer and the trajectory looked very different in each affiliate.

Impressive demand generation for clean energy in urban poor communities, technical capacity for clean energy technology in federations and support NGOs, and innovative business modelling has taken place in 10 affiliates and often multiple cities/towns within those affiliates. Affiliates have needed to engage new partners, new suppliers, and new policy spaces. All involved have been on a steep learning curve. While a “starter pack” approach for household systems was identified as a priority solution at the outset of the project, the network has identified more complex and innovative approaches as the network’s exploration and research (from settlement to global level) has progressed. These approaches will allow greater influence on outcome level priorities for shifting policy and practice in terms of serving the poorest, integrating solar into the wider energy system, and moving from household level to settlement and city-wide impact. As predicted at the outset, there has proved to be a dearth of local maintenance and installation capacity in low income areas and the network has taken impressive strides to demonstrate SDI’s value add in this respect – training local communities to install and distribute clean technologies, to undertake research into the energy demands of slum communities and to map appropriate technologies, to maintain and repair solar home and public lighting systems, and to manage energy service hubs for awareness generation and behavioral change initiatives.

SDI aimed to make sure slum dwellers voices are sought in the international advocacy space. 

The third objective of the SDI Strategic Plan 2013-2017 was for the international advocacy space to focus on people-centered upgrading. SDI reached all programme targets related to advocacy and the impact of this work on the New Urban Agenda and SDGs is easily recognized. The challenge facing the network is to ensure these new policy opportunities translate into concrete implementation strategies and increased finance flows to inclusive upgrading of informal settlements. The previous strategic planning period saw considerable transnational collaboration between SDI and other popular movements and joint efforts to influence implementation plans and resource flows. Finally, a key success for advocacy was the increasing role of community-produced content for advocacy, learning, and knowledge spearheaded by SDI’s Know Your City TV initiative.

SDI aimed to increase organizational sustainability and decrease reliance on donor funding

The fourth objective of the SDI Strategic Plan 2013-2017 spoke to the long-term sustainability of the SDI network. SDI has worked to diversify income streams and reduce reliance on unpredictable and increasingly projectized donor support. SDI reduced its donor dependency from 100% to 90% during the past 4 years. A new Urban Poverty Fighter campaign has been launched and aims to generate new revenues from the European, African, and later US public. SDI’s Trust Fund is growing slowly, but steadily, and is making incrementally greater annual contributions to SDI’s annual budget. With support from the Trust, SDI has purchased a building in Woodstock, Cape Town to serve as the offices of the Secretariat, a KYC Youth Resource Center, and generate revenue through commercial rentals. These organizational sustainability efforts are complemented by investment in building second-tier leadership and a larger youth membership. These latter efforts are more straightforward than the finance-diversification ambitions and SDI is consistently exceeding set targets.

SDI invested almost a year in the development of its Strategic Plan for the period 2018-2022 and will continue a Basket Fund arrangement with its partners to support a programme called: Investing in local knowledge, action and learning for inclusive urban transformation: Slum dwellers on the frontlines of global struggles against poverty, exclusion, and climate change. In this next phase of collaboration SDI will again challenge itself to reach new heights and build upon the solid foundation created during the past 5 years.

SDI prides itself on making investments in poor people’s efforts to set and drive their own development agenda and to govern their own organizations. SDI sincerely thanks its Basket Fund partners for their commitment to this approach.