Announcing SDI Annual Report 2015-16 | 20th Anniversary Edition


SDI is pleased to announce the publication of our 2015 – 2016 Annual Report.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of SDI. The journey from a people’s movement founded in India to the largest global movement of slum dwellers in the world has been long and the victories hard won. This annual report will document the work of this past year, while also referencing the two decades of work that brought us to this point. The struggle for secure land tenure, basic services and the ability to contribute to the local and global urban agenda is now being waged by the poorest of the poor in 32 countries.

We dedicate the report to these people. So many have committed their lives to this process and it is impossible to overstate the service they have rendered to their communities and the global struggle. As we reflect on the past 20 years we offer our gratitude and remembrance to those who have passed away during the struggle: extraordinary leaders such as Samina and Medina (founders of Mahila Milan, India), Rosemary Masimba (Zimbabwe), Rufaro Juma (Zimbabwe), Patrick Magebhula Hunsley (South Africa), Mama Iris Limakatso Namo (South Africa), Benson Osumba (Kenya), Greg van Rensburg (South Africa), Father Norberto Carcellar (Philippines). Rest in Power, comrades.

To read the full 2015-2016 Annual Report, click here.

Announcing SDI Annual Report 2014 – 2015

We are pleased to announce the 2014 – 2015 SDI Annual Report!

The Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network of 33 national affiliates is organised into four regional hubs: The Asian Hub, The East African Hub, The Southern African Hub, and The West African Hub. There is also an emerging Hub in Latin America. Organising the federations into hubs allows for the building of regional alliances of the urban poor that engage in joint learning, planning and advocacy. In this year’s annual report, our progress from the year will be presented by Hub, so the reader can understand the progress being made in each region of the network.

Each hub report captures the health and energy of each of the urban poor federations within the hub and indicates the progression through organising and mobilizing, the building and networking of savings groups, the profiling and enumeration of settlements and cities, and the negotiation, planning and implementation of upgrading projects in partnership with local authorities. This is a cyclical and overlapping process, but for the purpose of this report we present this process in three stages:

  • Know Your Federation, where we understand the health of federations, their membership, their geographic scope, and their savings
  • Know Your City, where we explore the information federations gather on the settlements and cities in which they live, and
  • Improve Your City, where we understand how the organising and information gathering translates into improvements and upgrading of informal settlements. Each hub report captures the health and energy of all the urban poor federations within the hub

The presentation of the report in this fashion will help readers to understand the work and practice of the SDI network more deeply. It will also make readers familiar with the structure of our new website (to be launched soon), organised under these three headings, which presents unprecedented levels of access to information on federations, slum settlements, and federation projects. We hope this will serve as a valuable resource to all those interested in the future of cities in the Global South.

To read the full report, click here.

Academic Partnerships to Co-Produce Knowledge

SDI affiliates continued to work closely with academic institutions to co-produce knowledge through undertaking collective planning studios. SDI’s position is that these types of engagements expose students and academics to informal knowledge and conditions that call into question existing presumptions, planning frameworks, infrastructure standards and laws. Through this experience the capacity and knowledge of slum dwellers as capable actors in developing upgrading plans and precedents for their own communities is illustrated. Collective studios are the first step in training the next generation of planners who will one day become officials shaping the development and inclusivity of cities. If practical collaborative studios (between planners and the urban poor) become embedded in University curricula, inclusive planning practices can become the norm rather then the exception.

“In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.” – Katana Goretti, Ugandan Federation

Reforming the manner in which planning students are educated is one step towards shifting planning paradigms in Africa. On this basis SDI entered into a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Assosiation of African Planning Schools (AAPS) in 2010, promoting co-operation between country affiliates and local planning schools. The MoU recognizes that the most effective way to change the mindsets of student planners is to offer direct experiential exposure to, and interaction with the conditions and residents of slums. In this manner students will be exposed to the value of informal knowledge and community participation in planning for settlement upgrading. During this period SDI affiliates and AAPS have conducted six collaborative planning studios in which students, staff, and urban poor communities engage directly in data collection, analysis, and the development of upgrading plans. Studios have taken place in Uganda, Malawi (two), South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia. In many cases local government officials have been invited to witness studio outputs and participate.

In Kampala, Uganda a studio with Makerere University planning students led to detailed reports reflecting informal challenges and upgrading plans that were submitted to local governments. During the studio the Ugandan Federation referred to themselves as “community professors.” Two concurrent studios took place in Blantyre and Mzuzu, Malawi. In Nancholi, Blantyre Federation members worked closed with the University of Malawi-Polytechnic to identify upgrading priorities and develop plans for improved circulation and drainage. In Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu, poor drainage and groundwater pollution were key priorities around which collective planning took place. In South Africa, students spent six months developing upgrading plans in conjunction with residents of Langrug informal settlement in Stellenbosch. In Gobabis, Namibia, students from the Polytechnic of Namibia undertook a site analysis of the Freedom Square informal settlement. Loraine, a community member from Block 5 in Freedom Square noted:

“The site analysis brought to light to how I see my surroundings. I learned how to use a GPS as we were doing the mapping. I also got to see which areas are suitable to build my house on and which aren’t, in order to avoid flooding, during the rainy season.”

It is important that studios become part of annual university curriculums, entrenching new approaches to planning over a sustained period and encouraging the participation of city governments. In all the aforementioned countries commitments have been made to replicate the studio process. Across the SDI network affiliates are exploring these types of engagements. For example a further studio recently took place between the Zambian affiliate and the University of Zambia in Lusaka. The municipality is looking at the possibility of implementing some of the proposals that emerged and has pledged to quicken the process of declaring the targeted settlement a legal residential area, as it is currently an illegal settlement under the 1975 Town and Country Planning Act.

In February 2013 a further planning studio was organised between the South African communities of Mshini Wam, Shukushukuma, and Ruo Emoh and architecture and planning students from the University of Melbourne to investigate new solutions for informal settlement upgrading and housing development. In Shukushukuma, plot sized placeholders were cut to scale and laid out on an aerial photograph. The location of visible infrastructure was mapped, such as electricity poles, toilet blocks, and water taps. The Mshini Wam group looked at alternative typologies for densification and formalisation after re-blocking projects. A visual fly through model was created, building on the new layout of re-blocked settlement.

During the year a German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) sponsored initiative was also undertaken to investigate the conditions for successful projects and partnerships between local government and urban poor communities. The report produced drew on experiences in Harare (Zimbabwe), Pune (India) and Kampala (Uganda) – locations that were visited by the investigating team. The team consisted of David Satterthwaite from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Celine D’Cruz, an SDI Coordinator and co-founder of SPARC, and Sonia Fadrigo, a Core Monitoring Team member.

In 2013 SDI affiliates continue to consolidate partnerships with academic institutions with the goal of cementing collaborative efforts (e.g. planning studios) within university curriculums. SDI’s strategic medium term goals recognise the value of producing citywide data about informal settlements. Data can be used both to engage government and to assist in implementing projects that move beyond single settlements and tackle poverty at scale. Urban planners, architects, surveyors, and managers can, and must, play a vital role in critically engaging with this data. By accepting the validity of such data (and assisting in its co-production) academia can add both political and practical value increasing impact and scale.

To read more about SDI’s partnerships with academic institutions, check out our Annual Report. 


SDI Announces 2013 – 2014 Annual Report

Annual Report cover

SDI is pleased to announce the 2013 – 2014 SDI Annual Report!

This annual report reviews a set of activities that extend beyond just a year. For SDI, the past year has been the culmination of a multi-year process to achieve citywide scale in all regions where we work. The past three years have enabled SDI to have a unique breadth of international experience in building participatory, developmental institutions at the local government level that is unparalleled across the urban development sector. We are presenting this annual report under the theme Know Your City because it serves as a bridge from where we have been as a network, to where we are heading next. The experiences of the past, and the plans for the future, underpin a very practical vision of building cities that are inclusive of the voices, needs, and aspirations of the poor through the planning knowledge, financial capacities, and political will of those who are often rendered informal, expendable, and invisible. Indeed, it is the fate of the informal majority of urban residents in the South, upon whom our urban future will rise or fall.

To read the full report, click 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. 



SDI Announces 2012 / 13 Annual Report

SDI Annual Report 2012 / 13

SDI is pleased to annouce our 2012/13 Annual Report, a reflection on SDI’s continued growth over the past year. 

This report includes an executive summary from the SDI Secretariat, a discussion and proposal of A People’s Urban Agenda, including milestones for post-MDG sustainable urban development. We also take a close look at the citywide impact of SDI’s projects and processes, exploring work done around community savings for urban change, citywide solutions to water and sanitation, and refining informal settlement mapping, profiling, and household enumeration processes. In relation to these important milestones, the report includes a discussion of the various engagements that have lead to important partnerships with governments at the city and national level, multi and bi-lateral aid agencies, private sector and other key actors in the urban development sector. 

As Sheela Patel, chair of the SDI Board, states, “This report is a landmark exploration of both the successes and fruitful failures on our road of experimentation for building voice, influence and knowledge of, by, and for the poor in our cities.” 

To read the full report, click here.

Announcing the SDI 2011/12 Annual Report

SDI is happy to annouce our 2011/12 Annual Report, a reflection of where SDI has grown to over the past 25 years. This includes a discussion of SDI’s practices for change, a report on the SDI Secretariat, the building of internal reporting and documentation systems, and SDI’s international advocacy and increasing presence on the global stage. The report concludes with a discussion of SDI’s approach to key urban issues affecting the lives of the urban poor across the developing south, including water and sanitation, climate change, natural disasters, incremental habitat, enumerations and mapping of slum settlements, and financing slum upgrading.  

For the complete document, click here.

Launch of 2011 UPFI Annual Report

UPFI Annual Report 2011

SDI is happy to announce the launch of the 2011 UPFI Annual Report, marking an important point in the growth of SDI and UPFI. 

The Urban Poor Fund International is a SDI subsidiary, governed by Urban Poor Federation leaders from across the SDI network, that provides capital to member national urban poor funds, who are affiliated to SDI. They in turn provide capital to savings federations undertaking important urban improvement and housing projects.

The Fund is established on the proposition that the poor are central actors in urban development and poverty eradication and are best able to decide and co-manage their own urban improvement programs. Giving the poor direct control of capital enables them to negotiate as acknowledged potential partners with formal bodies such as government and banks.

In the last four years, the Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) has begun to serve as a platform for urban poor federations to develop partnerships with city, regional and national governments across the global south. This is a risky and ambitious commitment in a world of fractured development interventions, where challenges of urbanization are heard only incidentally and without much financial investment, intellectual and organizational focus, or political attention. This is despite the well-publicized fact that the majority of the world’s population now works and lives in urban centers. Global development discourse has a way of legitimating what strategies get adopted in local and national contexts. SDI’s presence at all levels has begun to help global strategists pay attention to local and city interventions and this in turn has contributed to a change in the course of development investments in an increasing number of cases.

This report tracks the processes and projects across the SDI network over the past year. From the launch of urban poor federations to formalized partnerships with local and national governments to precedent setting upgrading projects that serve thousands, 2011 saw UPFI funds put to good use across the network. We hope you enjoy the report, and look forward to another productive year in 2012. 

Click here to read the 2011 UPFI Annual Report.