Zimbabwe’s Urban Resilience Programme

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Project Background

Dialogue on Shelter, the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF) and the Zimbabwe Young People’s Federation ZYPF) are part of a consortium of non-governmental organisations implementing the Urban Social Assistance Programme in 3 Zimbabwean cities: Harare South, Epworth and Bulawayo. The Urban Social Assistance Programme has two complementary focus areas, namely the cash transfer (CBT) component and the urban resilience (UR) component. Since November 2019, the Zimbabwe SDI alliance has been implementing preliminary activities in order to roll out the urban resilience work with collectives in the targeted domains. The preliminary activities have centered on mobilizing and organising grassroots savings collectives which will spearhead vital community-led urban resilience interventions that are needed alongside cash transfers to improve food security.

What is urban resilience for the Zimbabwe SDI alliance?

Inadequate sources of income may lead to urban food insecurity, but urban poverty cannot easily be addressed by raising income levels. Limited access to safe and secure housing and services directly contributes to malnutrition and food insecurity. Meanwhile, poor tenure can further impair access to basic services and decent housing. The residents of low income and informal settlements are often overlooked by government. These communities often rely on collective organisation and brokered co-production partnerships to secure political visibility and voice to negotiate longer term structural solutions to their problems, for example, the regularisation of their informal neighbourhoods and/or access to affordable services. As a result of inadequate access to services and low incomes, those living in low-income neighbourhoods suffer from increased exposure and sensitivity to the environmental risks including those related to climate change. All these factors affect the ability to build resilience to a range of shocks and stresses. Effective practical responses and strategic policies are needed to address urban food insecurity in both its income and non-income dimensions. the Zimbabwe SDI alliance’s response to these challenges is to promote incremental and participatory slum/informal settlement upgrading through the following activities:

  • Building women-centred savings collectives
  • Community-led data collection processes
  • Emphasising participatory informal settlement upgrading
  • Promoting horizontal learning processes for capacity-building
  • Co-production of knowledge for policy-influencing and advocacy
  • Establishing co-created/co-governed settlement/city level urban poor funds
  • Promoting community-led livelihoods interventions


Complementing cash transfers with community action in urban areas

Whether in rural or urban areas, the focus of social protection efforts by both international and national organisations has been primarily on cash transfers to individual households. Where targeting has been used, there have been concerns that this selectivity reduces solidarity between households in any given neighbourhood and therefore leads to less collective action, whether to do with political pressure or to provide essential goods, rights and entitlements and/or to provide basic services through self-help. Hence, there is a tension between collective action and individual support. While this is not an exclusively urban problem, this tension is exacerbated in urban informal settlements because of the need to negotiate with the state for regularisation and improved access to services. 

More generally it is recognised that there is also a need to build collective social and political capital in order to enhance the resilience of communities in the long run. It is clear that no one financing mechanism can deliver resilient communities. Different social protection and finance mechanisms will continue to serve different purposes. Local savings collectives often provide a space for low income urban communities to save and borrow money, the revolving nature of these funds means that resources can go further. More effective approaches to poverty reduction including food security can be developed by converging and harmonising institutions (local gov, civil society, private sector and humanitarian agencies) to ensure coherent planning and to develop local alliances to enhance local resilience and well as improved development options

Layering urban resilience and cash-based transfer interventions

Under the urban resilience component, the Zimbabwe SDI alliance is implementing a set of activities which are aimed to building resilience amongst the targeted domains. Below, a summary of the activities is provided;

  • Establishment and strengthening of savings collectives – this activity entails the setting up of community-level institutional structures for facilitating savings and loan activities for supporting livelihoods and building resilience. The collectives are constituted on average by 20 households per group with members meeting regularly to save and discuss priorities for the membership. The savings and loan groups will, therefore, be geared towards building a pool of financial resources through which the groups will then, in turn, give out loans to members to meet household requirements such procuring food, meeting medical expenses and school fees. The savings collectives are also meant to contribute towards building the much-needed social cohesion for groups to better engage decision-makers regarding accessing improved urban services.
  • Community networking and exchanges – under this activity, the targeted communities undertake peer-to-peer exchange visits. The exchange visits include on average 5 people from a selected settlement visiting another settlement. The horizontal exchanges seek to provide learning opportunities for communities with similar conditions of vulnerability enabling them to learn how their counterparts are dealing with similar urban shocks. The exchanges, therefore, act as a capacity building and strengthening tool through sharing of experiences around, for instance, resilience-building activities implemented in other geographical parts of the project.
  • Participatory data collection processes – these constituted participatory data collection processes meant to generate information on socio-economic and spatial attributes of the targeted settlements. In particular, the assessments are meant to document urban shocks and community responses. For instance, the recent outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the need to understand its impacts as an urban shock. The findings from these participatory assessments were in the form of impacts, community responses and settlement development priorities that will help inform and sharpen the resilience building activities. It is also expected that the findings will help in defining a clear agenda on existing infrastructure needs during the engagement processes between the communities and decision-makers thereby enabling the access to improved urban services.

Urban resilience interventions should build on the on-going CBT activities in the targeted domains. Directly layering the urban resilience activities onto the same household that receive CBT proves to be challenging, given the different targeting methodologies associated with urban resilience and CBT activities. For instance, participation in savings collectives is voluntary under the urban resilience pillar, it is not a guarantee that everyone on CBT will join the savings collectives, and there may be some members who have not received CBT but are willing to join the savings collectives under urban resilience. However, given the settlement-wide focus of collective urban resilience interventions, the urban resilience activities have indirectly benefited households that have not been the subject of CBT interventions.

Call to international funders: address grassroots organisations’ priorities, not yours


This article was originally posted on the IIED blog.

By Sheela Patel 

As COVID-19 persists and spreads, urban poor organisations need funding that is flexible enough to meet the evolving needs of their communities.

This series of blogs focusing on the transition to a predominantly urban world began before COVID-19 took hold. The pandemic brings devastating current and future health and economic impacts, and demands our attention and commitment to work together to overcome it.

Here, Sheela Patel explains why saving groups supporting organisations of the urban poor need flexible funding to respond effectively to the many challenges emerging from the virus.


International agencies are failing to provide the support that organisations of the urban poor desperately need to fight COVID-19, and to cope with its devastating economic and social impacts. Few if any structure their support to match grassroots organisations’ needs for flexible funding.

So is international funding actually helping these grassroots organisations – including the thousands of savings groups that make up Slum Dwellers International – cope with COVID-19? Or to survive it? And to enhance and support the many roles these savings groups have in fighting the pandemic and reaching vulnerable groups?

You would think that savings groups would be perfect partners for international funders. They are organised, they can manage money, they are trusted, they have capacity, and they operate in the poorest urban communities.

When an international agency wants to help low-income communities in informal settlements, how do they decide on what will be funded, and by whom? It often takes weeks for the funding to arrive when what is needed is a rapid response.

And does the international funding address the local community’s needs? Does it understand roles of grassroots organisations in responding to COVID-19? Are they asking these organisations what form of external support would work best for them?

The growing pressures on savings groups

In the last six months, women’s collectives within SDI are facing very local crises of their own. Their most precious savings and loans programmes have completely collapsed. And with that, all the revolving funds that they built through repayment of loans. Regenerating it without external support will be next to impossible.

And as people move away from neighbourhoods, networks of the federations are beginning to collapse – some going to their rural kinship homes, others exploring other ways to earn.

Low-income residents with infectious or chronic diseases have difficulties accessing health care as hospitals and governments struggle to deal with the pandemic. Immunisation programmes are not reaching large sections of the population.

Women and girls are facing real hardship through so many changes. Many girls are not going to school, and experiencing an upswing in violence in households as deep depression and frustration take hold. Cases of rape and pregnancies in teenage girls are rising.

Most if not all cities in the global South are locked in their own crisis of how to pay sufficient attention to the challenges of the urban poor. Initially, money was available to help feed people. But reaching all those in need has become a continuous challenge, especially the most vulnerable households.

Flexibility to respond

So, what do the thousands of savings groups around the world need? The answer: flexible funds that enable these groups to respond quickly to their communities’ most pressing needs.

For some, this may be food; for others, medicine. Funds may be needed to help struggling community health facilities or to deploy safety patrols that help keep girls and women safe.

Without being able to anticipate what’s coming next, it’s hard for savings groups to write smart proposals requesting money for specific activities. What savings groups really need is to be able to focus on their own priorities, not those of international funders.

How the Youth are Leading the Way in Tackling COVID-19

This article was originally published by ICCCAD. Click here for the original post.

In Hatcliffe extension, an informal settlement located in the northern part of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a group of young people are leading the fight against the pandemic. They are  building awareness, adapting their businesses to promote hygiene and encouraging fellow young people to contribute to community well-being. Artwell Nyirenda reports.



Hatcliffe extension was once a holding camp for urban migrants coming from different parts of Harare. Young people between the age of 15 and 30 constitute a higher percentage of the community’s population. Social and economic challenges are prevalent in the area, as the young often get involved  in illegal activities for survival. The majority of Hatcliffe’s residents work in construction and informal trading, and few are formally employed.

Continuous expansion of the area has further exacerbated the challenges in accessing services, particularly water and sanitation. Communal boreholes are the only source of water, as tap water is not available. The community is struggling to meet the growing demand for water with a limited number of boreholes, many of which are dysfunctional, resulting in long queues for water collection.

News of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent safety protocols has added to the community’s existing fragilities. Waiting in a queue to collect water at communal boreholes is a daily reality for the residents of the Hatcliffe extension – increasing the risk of virus transmission. Until now, no positive cases have been found in the area. However, soon after hearing about COVID-19, everyone has been terrified to risk their lives while scrambling for scarce water. With the onset of the lockdown, naturally the demand for water has significantly increased and large crowds have gathered near the boreholes.

In Hatcliffe extension, the youth have always been at the forefront when it came to crisis management. Lonica Kenneth is a young female resident in the area, and a member of the Zimbabwe Young Peoples’ Federation (ZYPF), and its sub-group, Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group. ZYPF mobilises young people to influence positive change in their communities through documenting and sharing their lived experiences with relevant local authorities and other stakeholders.

The Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group is under the Safe and Inclusive Cities project, a youth-led project funded by Plan International, and consists of 20 members, including Lonica. Saving is encouraged within the group, and the members have been practising saving 10 bond notes (approximately USD 0.10) per week. They also make and sell liquid soaps, detergents, liquid gas and different arts and crafts. “The Safe and Inclusive Cities project has been an eye opener, as I have been made aware of opportunities to generate income, and participate in my community. I have realised I can make detergents that will help my family and community,” shares Lonica.

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With her own savings, Lonica began a detergent business in June 2019, producing and distributing liquid soap within her community. However, the lockdown has caused her business to suffer and Lonica has had to redesign her production strategy. “My business has declined since the lockdown as I was unable to purchase raw materials for production. But I also realised that there is a growing demand for soaps and sanitisers during this pandemic, and I really wanted to help my community members during this crucial time” says Lonica.

Along with the other members, Lonica identified an opportunity to boost their businesses and support their community during the crisis. She approached Safe and Inclusive Cities to finance her business. “Thanks to their support, I was able to produce sufficient liquid soaps. They helped me to buy the raw materials required for production,” Lonica adds. With increased sales, she is now saving 20 bond notes per week. Because of the high levels of poverty in her community, she sold the products at a very low price so that people can afford them. “We are also distributing hand washing buckets, sanitisers and soaps to community members who are most impacted,” Lonica further points out.

In addition to their businesses, Lonica and her group has also been involved in raising awareness of COVID-19 preventative measures . “My group has managed to distribute hand washing soaps near community boreholes to promote hygiene. We also influenced community leaders to regularly disinfect and monitor the water points to ensure safety. These public spaces have improved. Chaos is avoided as people adhere to protocols set by the leadership” she argues. The community youth members have also asked relevant government ministries for further training so they can disseminate information more accurately.

Hatcliffe extension residents are  fully cooperating in monitoring the water points and advocating for increased youth engagement. “First thing in the morning before anyone comes, I set out the drum, and the bucket with water and soap. Everyone must wash their hands before using the borehole handle. I also use sanitiser to disinfect the borehole handle, to ensure it is clean for everyone to use,” says Steven Nyamapfeka, a local leader in Hatcliffe.

“We are requesting outreach programmes on COVID-19 issues, as we don’t have enough information. If the virus spreads in this community, we will struggle to survive because we are not practising social distancing. More youth can be engaged to disseminate vital information,” shares Phillip Matamande, a member of the community. Residents have highlighted the need for masks and other protective gear, and the implementation of social distancing. They have also requested the Ministry of Health to increase the supply of chlorinated water.

Despite numerous hurdles, Lonica is hopeful that if the youth continue to work together, they will be able to overcome the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. “I am happy that I am able to play a role during this difficult time, and inspire young girls to lead initiatives for the betterment of our community. Together we can tackle the COVID-19 pandemic!” says Lonika.

Interviewers’ perspective

As we are witnessing during COVID-19, young people from around the world are being innovative and leading initiatives within their communities to tackle the global crisis. Lonica, and others like her, are taking steps to support their communities through active participation. They have been influencing and communicating with leaders in understanding the dynamics of their communities. It is important that the youth realise their potential and the crucial roles they can play within their communities and lead the way for a better, brighter future.

About the interviewer

Artwell Nyirenda is a program officer at Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless People in Zimbabwe. He is working with young people in slum settlements in documenting the daily experiences in their communities for advocacy purposes.

About the interviewees

Lonica Kenneth lives in Hatcliffe extension and actively participates in community development platforms and programs. Through her work, she has inspired many young people who have joined her in transforming their communities.

Steven Nyamapfeka, is a local elderly man living in the Hatcliff extension for several years. He is also the Secretary of the Water Committee of Hatcliff.

Phillip Matamande is a local community leader and vice chairperson of the Water Committee of Hatcliffe.

SDI welcomes Joseph Muturi as new Chair


SDI is excited to announce an important milestone in our organisation.  In May 2020, Joseph Muturi assumed the role of Chair of the SDI Management Committee, succeeding Sheela Patel, who served as SDI Board Chair for decades.

SDI wishes to thank the members of the outgoing SDI Board for their hard work and dedication. We would not be the global network that we are today without the tenacity, determination, and passion of these leaders. In particular, we would like to acknowledge and thank Sheela Patel, former Board Chair and co-founder of the SDI network, for her decades of tireless effort opening doors and creating space for the voice of the urban poor to be heard by global leaders and decision makers and for the role she has had in mentoring our federation leaders to take the reins in this next chapter of SDI’s growth as a network of and for the urban poor.

Sheela is succeeded in her role as Chair of SDI by Joseph Muturi, a social activist and leader of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the national federation of slum dwellers in Kenya. Joseph joined Muungano in 1998 after demolitions and forced evictions in Nairobi’s Toi market. Since then, Joseph has assisted communities in Kenya and across the SDI network to build consensus on strategy, budgeting, planning, and actual implementation of slum upgrading projects. One of these is the precedent setting Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) project in Nairobi. The Mukuru SPA sets in motion one of the largest informal settlement upgrading projects ever, aiming to transform a slum area of 650 acres into a healthy, functioning neighbourhood, improving the lives of people who live there.

Additionally, Joseph has been instrumental in building federations in East and West Africa and has established partnerships with government and key stakeholders for Muungano and for the SDI network. He has been a member of SDI’s global advocacy team

We are excited to welcome Joseph as the incoming Chair of SDI and look forward to the energy we know he brings to this role. We are confident in Joseph’s commitment to creating inclusive and resilient cities where organised communities of the urban poor have their rightful seat at the table and play an active and collaborative role – together with government and urban decision makers – in the improvement of their lives.

We look forward to working together with Joseph and rest of the Management Committee to continue the critical work SDI exists for: fighting evictions, negotiating with government for improved policies and practice on the ground, and lobbying the global urban development sector for meaningful inclusion of the voice of the urban poor in global development agendas – all the while supporting each other to instil the values of accountability, transparency, collaboration, and trust across our network.