Voicing the urban poor: New report highlights experiences from an energy justice programme

by James Tayler

A new report published in the Field Actions Science Reports aims at voicing the urban poor and their experiences from the Energy Justice Programme.

Authors David Sheridan the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) Energy Justice Programme (EJP) coordinator, Mwaura Njogu a Renewable Energy Engineering Consultant, Andrew Maki the Co-director of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) and Frederick Agyemang the Project coordinator EJP Ghana all work within the SDI Network.

SDI is committed to project typologies that produce learning at scale around clean energy access as part of our informal settlement upgrading agenda and empower the urban poor. Since 2014, we have been actively involved in the field of access to energy in Africa, India and the Philippines with our SDI Energy Justice Programme leverages community-led collection of disaggregated energy access data, community empowerment programmes and pro-poor access models. With the growing need for access in slums, our model offers bottom-up, innovative and adaptable methodological options for catalysing pro-poor change at settle, city and global levels.

Read the full report here.

The EJP is a demonstrative case study of SDI’s actions to improve access to essential services in slums and thereby empower the urban poor. The programme uses all of SDI’s tools, including the Know Your City (KYC) data collection programme, to generate grassroots and tailor-made solutions to energy access in slums. 

Energy for the urban poor

Energy is a key condition for developing essential services in these neighbourhoods. SDI’s EJP has active projects in 12 countries, namely Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, India and the Philippines which has enabled affiliate federations to provide improved energy access. Approximately 25 000 distinct households with nearly 100 000 beneficiaries in total benefitting from the improvements. 

According to the report, lack of access to sustainable energy is a significant barrier to slum development. The EJP sets out to leverage SDI’s core rituals of community-led settlement profiling, women-led savings groups and peer-to-peer exchanges to develop innovative solutions to critical service delivery gaps and scalable energy access projects to integrate into wider settlement upgrading programmes.

Data products produced as outputs from the EJP, such as this report, are vital tools for influencing and negotiating with key stakeholders.

The longstanding work of SDI’s Kenyan affiliate with the Nairobi City County Government (NCCG) resulted in the Mukuru informal settlements being designated as a Special Planning Area in 2017. This breakthrough subsequently demonstrated the application of community mobilisation methodologies and participatory approaches to slum re-development planning and implementation. In collaboration with NCCG, Kenya’s SDI affiliate coordinated the work of developing a comprehensive spatial plan for the redevelopment of Mukuru.

This model is a great example of utilising SDI’s work as evidence and negotiating with influential decision-makers. 

The report highlights, that SDI’s Energy Justice Programmes ratchet effect which reveals that the evidence can be used to influence decision-makers, and cooperate with them (public, private, local and international), which can result in the adoption of contextual legal frameworks, just like Mukuru SPA and may assist in guaranteeing the institutionalised co-creation process in the long-term. 


The report emphasises some key learnings in terms of project design and impacts, which were identified between the inception of the EJP and now. According to the reports, there is no “one size fits all” approach to a project. The authors do not propose a unique solution to each context, but rather a strong methodology to legitimise each energy solution emerging from and required in a specific context. 

Savings groups can fund solar energy systems. Within the SDI network, savings groups have been particularly adapted to the improvement of energy access in African slums. These groups can be a practical financing solution, especially for the EJP, with the model itself being easily replicable and adaptable. 

Training community members on the technical aspects of solar systems is integral to the implementation plan. 

Solar energy systems have great spillover effects. The transition to low-carbon energy systems is increasingly considered an important point in delivering energy for urban-poor communities. This recognises that communities must play an instrumental role in the implementation and management of these energy transitions. Thus far transitions have been slow, but by including communities to drive and co-create the opportunities for energy transitions, the adoption of innovative technologies may be accelerated, and more inclusive in terms of policy development and it enables capacity and skills building to support new and current economic activities. 

Download the full report.