By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat
The extent to which urban development trajectories are determined through the alignments of powerful institutions and actors, is easily the greatest challenge that SDI-linked federations face in their cities. The challenge is to build the internal capacity and power within and between communities to alter existing development relationships. With a renewed strategy in hand, pitched at monitoring, learning and upending the unequal relationships that define city development today, SDI federation and support professional leaders met with its advisory board of formal political supporters earlier this month.
The annual SDI Board of Governors (BoG) meeting recently took place in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 15th and 16th. The meeting was hosted by South African Deputy Minister of Human Settlements Zou Kota-Fredricks, and chaired by South African Chief State Law Adviser Enver Daniels, who was an alternate selected by BoG chair Minister of Public Services & Administration Lindiwe Sisulu. Sisulu also hosted a dinner that introduced the BoG and SDI to new Minister of Human Settlements Connie September. The meeting also included Ugandan Minister of Lands, Housing & Urban Development David Migereko, and representatives from the Swedish and Norwegian Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
A key output of the engagement was the Bog’s affirmation and support of SDI’s administrative and financial systems, as well as the proposed framework for refining and expanding learning, monitoring and evaluation. The results based framework and strategic plan presented focus on a number of core activities that are then measured against specific sets of indicators. The core activities, ratified by the BoG include; the establishment of 4 city based learning centers supported by the Core Monitoring team, the need to build a coalition to influence the global urban agenda, a diversification of leadership and finance within the SDI network, and incremental in-situ upgrading scaled up across the network. These strategic directions, and aligned activities, will be measured through the work of SDI-affiliated federations at the city level. And, ultimately, the proof of success is in real delivery: land accessed, tenure secured, amenities provided, resources leveraged, generally through partnerships with government, and especially local government.
Having accepted the overall strategic mandate, BoG members spoke to how they could add value. The political “clout” of the board, in both the North and South, will be deployed to influence major global agendas and institutions such as the World Urban Forum, Habitat III, and multilateral alignments. The particular focus is to continue to open up space for relationships of institutions and individual actors at the city level that can help produce more equitable and inclusive cities.
SDI’s strategic shift includes a specific citywide focus across the network is clearly captured in the strategic plans presented. This will involve developing citywide indicators, generating standardized data and maps for all informal settlements within cities (regardless of federation presence) and strengthening city scale advocacy and institution building. This approach will generate robust data and systems that add value to the work of affiliates and federations while fulfilling formal reporting and accountability requirements from donors. In other words, delivery is not an end in and of itself, but must address the spatial and political framework of each city where federations are working.
The learning, monitoring and evaluation framework will play a key role within this paradigm with a focus on action-based horizontal learning from practical precedents in slum communities. The board ratified SDI’s ongoing and proposed systems of data collection, management, learning, monitoring and evaluation. This is a system that is accountable and useful to urban poor communities, especially with regards to assessing citywide impact. Secondly it provides indicators dynamic enough to meet the requirements of donors.
All strategies deployed by SDI intend to build a strong voice and agency of slum dweller communities in order to achieve inclusive cities. The learning of the last years captures the value found in informal systems and deploys it at transnational scale across the SDI network. A commitment by the BoG to support these mechanisms signals that the space is open amongst formal political leaders to move towards much more inclusive city development paradigms. But the range of actors that will continue to define this space will demonstrate different strengths and influence. The challenge for the SDI network is to continue to build the alignments and especially city-level agglomerations that can widen this space for the poor to access more decision-making influence, land, basic services, and housing.