SDI Rituals: Profiling & Enumeration through the Vusi Ntsuntsha Project
A piece written by Camila Yanzaguano, Erica Levenson, Manuela Chedjou, with photography by Ana Holschuch.
Every year SDI hosts students from The New School, as part of their International Field Program. During the internship the students, alongside the SA SDI Alliance and Know Your City youth from the Western Cape, documented the data collection process and community organising of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.
Bridging the gap in data surrounding informal settlements is one of the main priorities of SDI. As the profiling process has developed SDI has relied more and more on the community participation of residents of informal settlements. The lack of data on informal settlements is a major issue, and speaks to a larger oversight of informal settlement residents. For this reason, community participation in the data collection process is crucial. Through SDI’s ‘Know Your City’ Campaign (KYC), this profiling and enumeration work is active across 32 different countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, serving as an engine for active community participation. The initiative’s main goal is to produce valuable data on informal settlements so that the data can be used to determine what and where service improvements are needed.
Settlement profiling and enumeration is a process driven by the community for the community. The process helps to organize communities and define the most pressing problems in their settlement, as well as provide a space for communities to discuss priorities while encouraging cross-learning. Through social interaction, residents of informal settlements learn from each other and give helpful suggestions regarding the implementation of development projects.
Informal settlements are typically built by the residents themselves, and the conditions of the construction are not always under local or national codes and regulations. In South Africa in particular, there has been a steady increase in the number and population of informal settlements in the last two decades. The lack of information and data on these settlements has made authorities’ attempts at improvements extremely prolonged. Thus, the KYC initiative aims to expedite slum upgrading projects by compiling crucial data, all the while engaging communities in the process.
photograph taken by Ana Holschuch at Vusi Ntsuntsha meeting.
Enumeration, settlement profiling, and mapping are some of the processes that KYC is involved with and led by slum dwellers. Gathered data has facilitated sanitation improvements as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure, such as the paving of roads within several informal settlements across the SDI affiliated countries. As a result, residents of informal settlements have received improvements in roads, potable water, and sanitation- improvements that they have needed for some time. In some cases, communities have been able to get access to health services, construction of community centers, and schools.
Enumeration is a community-driven process that has been used by the SA SDI Alliance for years. Enumeration is essential to profiling residents of townships: how many residents per household, what resources they have and do not have, and so on. The data gained by enumeration is then presented to governments and used in requests for resource provisions. In other words, by having an exact number of people residing in each area, it becomes simpler and quicker for the government to budget, plan, and implement upgrading projects at the sites.
The South African (SA) SDI Alliance has been working in informal settlements for years and has come together with communities to develop the Vusi Ntsuntsha project through community participation. The Vusi Ntsuntsha project was stalled for twenty years, but with leadership commitment and contributions from members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha community, the project was recently re-established. The ultimate goal of the project is to build affordable, proper housing for community members using subsidies from the South African government. With the help of community leaders and the Alliance, the Vusi Ntsuntsha project is making impressive progress.
photograph taken by Ana Holschuch around profiling and enumeration of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.
Community members have to be ‘visible’ to the government in order for any project to be planned. Profiling and enumeration create an undeniable visibility of residents and their needs. Through enumeration many important questions are answered: how long respective people have lived in their respective settlements and how they make a living. The data collected is ultimately used to ensure that all residents’ needs are accounted for in planning and service delivery. The data collection work of communities has gained organizations such as SDI and the SA SDI Alliance worldwide recognition. By collecting necessary information, the Western Cape Provincial Government was able to screen all Vusi Ntsuntsha beneficiaries and to provide a response about members who qualify for grants, and set new options for those households who do not qualify. Today, at least half of the 800 beneficiaries have been enumerated and verified, becoming formal members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.
Vusi Ntsuntsha’s process of profiling and enumeration has been crucial to the projects movement and success. Community members not only created valuable data but also gained knowledge during the process. Today, new projects, such as Mossel Bay, are starting with the support of the SA SDI Alliance. Vusi Ntsuntsha leaders and members are exchanging their knowledge on enumeration with Mossel Bay members. Community participation emerges as a key way to give power to the people within informal settlements. Communities are becoming more visible, capitalizing on their rights as citizens.
Stories from the Zambian Homeless People’s Federation
Below are the stories of how two women, Margaret Mwale and Tilabilenji Nkhoma, joined the Zambian Homeless People’s Federation in order to save money and improve their own lives and the lives of their families.
Margaret Mwale was born in 1953. She is a widow with five children and nine grandchildren. She was married to her late husband Kingswell Sakala, who born in 1938. Her husband had diabetes and high blood pressure, which made him blind for nine years and lead to his death in September 2014. Margaret has lived in George for over 30 years and has a plot, which they developed over time. Over the years, however, they only ended up with one room because the other rooms collapsed due to low quality building materials used to build the house.
Staying in one room became more difficult when her husband got very sick. The room was not well built, had poor ventilation and the door could not close properly, presenting a health hazard to the whole family. The children where forced to move out of the house because of the situation and they went to seek refuge with other families. Margaret was presented with another challenge when her husband sold part of their plot secretly, sharing the profits the sale with his brother without her knowledge. After she discovered this, Margaret negotiated with her brother-in-law pay in instalments in order to buy back the plot for $3500. Margaret was forced to stop her business of selling timber in Buseko market because of her husband’s health situation. He became too sick to do things on his own and had to rely on his wife’s support.
Since Margaret has been a committed member of the Zambian Homeless People’s Federation since 2002, she was identified by the Federation to have her house improved to help her family with the situation they where in. The family was assisted to build a two-bedroom house with solar panels. Even after the husband’s death in September 2014, she appreciates that her husband was kept in a decent environment and it became easy for her to take care of him. She also recalls that her husband was very happy, even in his last days, to have had an opportunity to live in a habitable environment. She says that he died a happy person because of the help of the Federation. Margaret now lives with her children happily and she now has grandchildren who stay with her over holidays.
Tilabilenji Nkhoma is an 85-year-old grandmother who has lived in George for over 30 years. When her husband left her to marry another woman, she was left to raise their four children on her own. She managed to take the children to school until college and secondary levels but none of the children work or have been able to get jobs. Sadly one of her sons is mentally disturbed and she doesn’t even know where he is now. Another son is very sick and he resides with her. She joined the Zambian Homeless People’s Federation in 2001 and since then has remained active in the Federation because she has created a family that helps her to solve her own problems.
Tilabilenji has a two-roomed house that was built a long time ago with sub-standard building materials. Over time the materials have become weak and the house is at the risk of collapsing any time. In light of this, the Federation built one room for her to ensure her safety and that of her family; she also has solar power installed. She lives with 15 grandchildren, one daughter-in-law, and her sick son. Although Tilabilenji’s live has improved, she still has challenges as the other room needs to be renovated because they can’t all be accommodated in one room. Even with these challenges she still believes she will be able to overcome them through her group and she encourages others to save as well as join the Federation.
Savings Symposium: Strong Savings Make Us Alive
Na-eema Swartz, Symposium co-organiser, counts savings collection taken on the first day.
**Cross posted from the South African SDI Alliance blog.**
By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)
From 23-29 November 2014 the SA SDI Alliance and SDI affiliates from Malawi, Zambia & Zimbabwe gathered for a weeklong savings symposium in Cape Town to strengthen the Alliance’s savings practices. The group of 80 community and youth leaders discussed the power of savings for organising communities, leveraging municipal resources and opening a space to address individual, group and community needs.
Discussions assessed the Alliance’s current savings patterns, locally and nationally. They clarified what roles and responsibilities exist within savings groups, identified existing challenges and developed solutions for these. Visiting affiliates shared their savings practices, systems and strategies, supporting the SA alliance through the exchange of alternatives ideas and opportunities.
Throughout the week the group based these discussions on field visits to savings groups and upgraded informal settlement communities like Flamingo Crescent, who contributed 20% of the cost of each upgraded structure. These visits enabled a hands-on space for the symposium members to accompany local treasurers and collectors and learn how to complete saving record forms during door-to-door savings collections in Khayelitsha, Philippi and Samora. During other visits symposium members supported network meetings in Samora and Mfuleni in Cape Town, where four or five savings groups in a particular area regularly report back to each other on a network level.
Field visit to Flamingo informal settlement.
Understanding savings in the SA Alliance
FEDUP national co-ordinators, Rose Molokoane and Marlene Don, opened the savings symposium by exploring the purpose for the gathering, revisiting the history of savings in the SA Alliance and its significance as a core methodology of the broader SDI network. Rose therefore reminded the gathering of the SA alliance’s history as rooted in its first exchange in the early 1990s with urban poor federations in India who were practicing daily savings.
Rose and Marlene revisited the main aims of FEDUP and ISN, namely
- Encourage self reliance
- Organising communities
- Use savings and other methodologies as a tool to leverage external resources
These are underpinned by FEDUP and ISN’s 5 core principles:
Examining Alliance savings and looking forward
The purpose of the symposium was therefore to retrospect and understand the foundation on which the Alliance has built its savings, examine current savings patterns and look forward in terms of how these can be strengthened and developed. Based on impressions from the field, symposium members split into six groups, discussing questions, documenting suggestions and opinions in order to reach tangible outcomes. The questions under discussion were:
- What is a saver?
- Who is a collector?
- Who is a treasurer?
- What kind of savings do we have?
- Which kind is best for our organisation?
- How do we collect savings?
- How often do we collect savings?
- How do we record?
- How do we do reconciliation & savings?
- How & when do we do audits of our savings?
- How did you become a collector / treasurer?
- How do we run savings meetings?
- How should we deal with inconsistencies?
Each group presented its responses to the larger gathering, thereby mapping out a foundation on which to continue building the SA Alliance’s savings. The responses and group discussions will be used to develop a guiding framework for savings patterns in the Alliance. Communities thereby use savings not only as a tool to meet identified needs but to enable constructive negotiation with governmental tiers for resources and participatory development which includes the urban poor.
As members of each province reflected on the experiences gained during the week, it became evident that it was indeed a rich time of learning, exchange and building strong savings patterns.
“I learnt how to record in savings books, and I learnt the strength of being part of a group like this. I realised we can do it together. You made me feel so welcome” (Wendy, FEDUP Youth, Free State)
“I learnt the purpose of savings and how to motivate my community to save when I return home” (Sifiso, KwaZulu-Natal)
“Our federation belongs to us and we are the ones who will make it alive through strong savings!” (Rose Molokoane, FEDUP National Co-ordinator)
Presenting group responses.
Community Savings: a basic building block in the work of urban poor federations
This paper describes the community savings groups that are the foundation of many federations of slum/shack dwellers/homeless people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It reports on discussions with federation members in Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, the Philippines, Uganda and Zimbabwe on how savings groups are set up (mostly by women living in informal settlements) and managed (including the care taken in recording changes in each saver’s account). It also describes how these groups support their members working together to address difficult issues such as getting tenure of the land their homes occupy or getting land plots on which to build and access to services. For each of the six national federations described, details are also given of how the savings groups help change relations for the better with local and often national governments as they demonstrate to government their capacities. This includes undertaking projects and the community-driven mapping and enumerations of informal settlements. The paper also discusses the challenges that savings groups face – for instance when they lose momentum or when households cease to be active savers – and how these are addressed.
To read the full working paper, click here.
City Finance That Works For and With The Poor
By Mara Forbes, Ariana MacPherson, and Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat
Flows of finance and the systems that perpetuate resource distribution are inherently weighted against inclusion of the poor. The inequality of rapid urban development in developing countries is a clear demonstration of this phenomenon. Banks do not supply loans on terms affordable to slum dwellers, cities sink budgets into formal taxpaying areas rather than informal settlements while policies, rules and regulations prop up a grossly uneven distribution of wealth. Traditional market finance does not work for the poor on a city scale – slums continue to grow, as does the gap between rich and poor.
Finance for the poor demands flexibility. It demands understanding how poor people save money, how piecemeal incomes fluctuate, what interest rates and loan amounts are really affordable and what investments make sense locally. It also means understanding how to incorporate community-based financial systems, in addition to those pitched at individuals and households.
Flexible citywide urban poor funds need to change existing systems of exclusionary finance. Local government is a change vector that cannot be dismissed and their inclusion in these funds has the potential to create citywide political impact. Organized communities, who can clearly articulate their demands and the rationale for their financial decisions, can negotiate this space ensuring that funds remain relevant to the poor.
Community-based urban poor federation members and support professionals from South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Bolivia came together in late 2013 to discuss citywide models for urban finance. They drew on extensive experience in managing urban poor funds in their various contexts to explore the design, political impact and practical slum upgrading benefits of flexible pro-poor finance facilities.
The context in South Africa is one of at a subsidy-based development state, where many urban poor communities’ – and governments’ – mindset is one of state delivery. This, despite the fact that evidence shows that government is incapable of delivering housing or infrastructure services at the scale necessary. This challenge is central to the experience of informal settlement upgrading, both at the level of the community and in relating to government around new practices and policies that are seen to undermine the government’s responsibility to provide subsidized housing and basic services to the country’s informal population. Despite the available subsidies, much of South Africa’s population continues to live in insecure conditions without access to basic services, secure shelter or economic opportunity. To date, there have been few alternative solutions to informal settlement upgrading in the South African context, but it is clear that new political and financial systems are necessary for the nation’s urban poor to become active participants in the development of inclusive, equitable cities. Central to this is the need for an alternative financing strategy – one that is sensitive to the needs and daily realities of the urban poor.
These issues were addressed at length during the South African delegation’s discussions of the formation of a citywide upgrading fund in Cape Town. Although the South African SDI Alliance has adopted the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF), it has faced challenges in rolling it out as tool for informal settlement upgrading at scale and with support (financial and political) from local government. CUFF was created with the aim of providing a platform for informal communities to “engage government more actively around collaborative upgrading & livelihood projects” (CUFF Project Report 2013). The Fund does this by providing seed capital for settlement improvement projects that are proposed by communities. At the same time, communities must provide a 20% contribution to the total cost of the project, demonstrating their willingness to take ownership and participate in the co-production of their settlement’s upgrading and development.
During the recent exchange in Cape Town, the South African SDI Alliance had an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of CUFF to date. The Alliance emphasized that CUFF is not just about implementing projects, but about influencing policy. The Alliance stressed the significant value of community-based finance facilities like CUFF as learning instruments designed to change the mindsets of communities and governments – to change the mindset of communities away from dependency on the state, and to chance the mindset of government towards considering that communities may be able to offer in-situ solutions to their infrastructure and housing needs.
CUFF in its current incarnation is not set up as a citywide fund to which a broad base of stakeholders, including local government, other community-based organizations and non-government organizations contribute and access resources. The inclusion of a wider base of stakeholders is critical in order to moves from a fund that is only for federation members to a collective fund that allows for loans for entire settlements. This critical point motivated the South African delegation to discuss how to move CUFF into a position where citywide scaling up becomes a real possibility.
The situation in Uganda contrasts sharply with South Africa, leading to a different thinking and organization around finance facilities. There are no government subsidies so the poor have had to find alternative ways to finance upgrading initiatives.
Uganda has set up a national urban poor fund and used lessons learned to think through and design potential citywide funds. The goal of the fund to is to provide capital in the form of loans to members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU). The decision to only provide group loans from the fund is deliberate. These funds are intended to benefit the larger community through group upgrading projects that set precedents for community urban development projects. Loans are given out for housing, sanitation, and group livelihood projects. To date the fund has extended loans for 44 projects in Kampala. The fund is designed as a sustainable revolving basket fund. It receives funds from a variety of sources, including contributions from NSDFU and community saving groups, fundraising activities, government contributions, donations from local and international institutions, subscriptions fees, and UPFI loans. Particular to note about Uganda’s fund is that loans are not available to individual members, but to savings groups for community upgrading projects.
Although the fund provides alternative financing solutions to the poor in Uganda, it has a larger purpose and vision. The federation uses the fund to build precedent-setting pilot projects that will attract government and other urban development stakeholders. It is not just about urban poor participation and decision-making but about using the fund as a tool to push an urban poor agenda, with sanitation being the key issue advocated in the Ugandan context. The community is able to demonstrate they are able to contribute savings to grow the fund which allows them to access a group loan to build a community sanitation unit. This process demonstrates the community’s ability to prioritize, contribute, and implement slum-upgrading projects. This work has altered the city government’s outlook on sanitation, the first step to effecting policy change.
The Ugandan federation has been able to use the urban poor fund not only to pilot community projects but also to shift the mindset of local government to eventually bring change in city policies. They have connected the role and strength of women-led savings schemes to each level of the fund.
Why is a city fund needed if a working national urban poor fund is in place? These were some of the questions examined during the exchange. Delegates were convinced that a citywide fund moves from a fund that is only for federation members to a collective fund that allows loans for entire settlements. This would allow local governments and other urban development stakeholders to channel money directly to communities to support infrastructure and upgrading projects that benefit whole communities and cities.
The Zimbabwean context is one in which the state has practically no internal resources available for the urban poor. Donor funds are channeled through departments at the local government level, but this is not a sustainable means of income. Despite acute resource scarcity the Zimbabwean federation has forged deep and meaningful partnerships with local government, changing attitudes towards evictions, introducing new sanitation technologies and leveraging technical and political support.
A dearth of government finance motivated urban poor communities to organize their own savings, not just for daily needs but also nationally through the Guungano Urban Poor Fund. The fund not only provides low interest rates on loans for the upgrading needs of poor communities but also has a political agenda that opens space for negotiation with local governments. Ideally the fund would like to attract government finance, but this has not yet been the case. The overly bureaucratic and politicized nature of government institutions undoubtedly contributes to the difficulties associated with accessing government funds.
Based on their experiences of administering an urban poor fund at the national level, the Zimbabwean federation decided to decentralize the fund to regional (Bulawayo & Matabeleland South) and citywide scale (Kariba and Masvingo). This speaks to the differences between national funds and citywide funds at a larger scale – a strategic move that is beginning to play out across the SDI network in divergent contexts.
In Harare, the Zimbabwean federation is in the advanced stages of negotiating a fund with city authorities. The lessons learnt through the administration of the Guungano fund both nationally and in its newer regional structure come to bear on these negotiations. The fund will become part of the implementation strategy of the cities new slum upgrading policy. The federation will contribute $25,000, the UPFI $50,000 and the City $125,000. The fund will not be housed in either the federation or the City Council and will focus on slum upgrading (incremental housing, water & sanitation and other infrastructure). Projects will be determined through community profiles and enumerations and loans will revolve. The city pushed for the fund to be registered as a microfinance institution, however the community was adamant that this would lead to systems that excluded the poor. The city has now agreed to register the fund as a trust.
While negotiations continue it is clear that an organized community who can clearly articulate the rationale (the why) behind a city fund can have significant traction in shaping its structure and mechanisms. If these regulations are entrenched in a constitution the potential for a new type of financial instrument is created.
Despite attempts by Bolivia’s central government over the past decades to implement a social housing policy that addresses the country’s growing housing deficit, little progress has actually been made in providing a housing and infrastructure finance system that is accessible to the country’s urban poor population. It is estimated that about one third of the housing constructed each year in Bolivia is informal and largely illegal, with urban poor families occupying self-constructed, insecure structures with little or no access to basic services like water, electricity and sanitation.
In light of this it becomes clear that an alternative solution is necessary to begin to meet the growing demand for affordable housing finance and informal settlement upgrading at a scale that can adequately address these needs in light of Bolivia’s rapid urbanization.
At the exchange the Bolivian delegation spoke about their own solution to some of the housing and basic service challenges faced by Bolivia’s urban poor. The Fondo Para Vivienda Popular (Popular Housing Fund) was created in 2011 with a small donation of only USD 160 to be used for loans to assist with the costs associated with regularization of shelters in informal settlements in Cochabamba, Oruro and Santa Cruz. After about a year of operating as a national fund it was decided to split the fund into three localized city funds. Now, only two years later, the fund has grown to USD 10,000 through a combination of community savings and donations from individuals, the private sector and donor agencies. The objective of the Fund is to serve as a tool for the federation of women’s savings groups, Tejiendo Ciudades (Weaving Together Cities), to provide low-interest loans for the needs and demands of savings group members. These include: housing repairs, regularization papers, water, electricity, sanitation, furniture and appliances.
In 2012, the Federation disbursed twenty individual loans and one collective loan. In 2013, these numbers rose to thirty individual loans and two collective loans with all loans in both years having been repaid in full. While the Fund is off to a steady and impressive start, there is a need to involve a wider network of stakeholders, including local government, in providing capital for the fund, if it is going to become a scalable solution to housing and basic service finance in Bolivia’s urban sector.
The Zambian federation has two funds, an urban poor fund and a city fund. The urban poor fund currently operates regionally and is controlled and managed by the federation. The urban poor fund has been working at a larger community level with both federation and non-federation members.
The city fund emerged from a need that was generated by profiling and enumeration in Lusaka. A potential commitment from the Lusaka City Council to contribute 35% to the fund has been tabled.
One of the crucial learning’s from the Zambian federation is the need for a citywide fund to be accessible and benefit not just federation members, but all of the urban poor. The fund can also then be used as an advocacy tool that introduces communities to savings culture and rituals of the federation. In order for a citywide fund to go to scale alignments and partnerships with other actors, such as local government, must be made. The Lusaka city fund has demonstrated how federation rituals (profiling and enumerations) can be used to get the local governments attention and bring them into the process. The Zambian example demonstrates how a fund was used to change the way government relates to and includes the poor.
The Malawian context is one in which government has made limited investment in slum upgrading. Foreign NGO’s and donors have invested in the various facets of the development sector but foreign aid is not a long term and sustainable solution, and the donor community is beginning to pull out of Malawi as well, further highlighting the need for a sustainable source of funds for slum upgrading projects.
Daily savings for basic needs is the core strength of the Malawian federation. At a larger scale, the Mchenga urban poor fund has allowed community members to take out loans to build eco-san toilets and water connections. A community contribution of 10% is required and all community members, not just the federation, can access loans. Loan repayments are revolved back into the fund and used to provide further loans and attain maximum scale.
More recently citywide funds, and the challenges that they can present, have come into focus in Lilongwe. Donor finance was used as seed capital for a citywide fund for slum upgrading activities. The fund was envisioned as one in which the city and communities would collectively plan for slum infrastructure improvements. However the communities found it difficult to engage the city and access the funds – or even have a significant role in decision making around their distribution. The city only began to include communities in decision-making processes when the donor threatened to take the money back. The fund has since been used to construct markets, install water points, improve drainage, install water tanks and build roads and bridges. Funds were distributed as grants and not loans, prompting the question, “If communities don’t have to repay the funds, how do they influence government to use funds to their advantage?”
The introduction to this report stresses that new types of finance are needed to make affordable capital available to the poor. A concomitant political shift at the local government level has the possibility to entrench these new modes of financial distribution at a city scale. However this can be a double-edged sword, with government retaining de-facto control of city funds and communities relegated to the role of passive beneficiaries. Strong and organized communities are able to negotiate the terms of funds clearly articulating structures and rules that make sense on the ground. Thus while citywide funds need local government participation to reach scale, they often do not need the traditional systems through which state funds are distributed and managed.
Click here for the full report, and here for the City Funds Manual that came out of this exchange.
 According to the 2001 census, approximately 2 million households live in informal housing across South Africa, the majority of those in urban informal settlements. South Africa: Informal settlements status, The Housing Development Agency, 2012.
 The SA SDI Alliance is made up of two community-based organizations, the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), and three support NGOs, the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC), uTshani Fund and iKhayalami. To learn more, visit: www.sasdialliance.org.za.
 “Over half of Bolivia’s poor (2.9 million) and 43% of the extreme poor (1.4 million) were living in urban areas in 2002, up from one third (1.8 million) and one fourth (800 thousand) in 1997, respectively.” Housing Finance Mechanisms in Bolivia, UN Habitat, 2008, p.25.
 Basic service coverage remains highly unequal in Bolivia, with coverage sitting at 93% (water) and 80% (sanitation) for the richest income quintile, but only 38% (water) and 14% (sanitation) for the poorest quintile (in 2003). Ibid, p. 28.
 Between 1976 and 2001, the urban population increased 168%. In 2001, the urban growth rate in three of the main urban areas (La Paz, El Alto & Santa Cruz) reached beyond 5%. Ibid, p. 24.
 Interest rates are .5% per month for a period of up to 6 months.
Community Savings for Urban Change: Building a Women’s Leadership for Slum Upgrading
Savings groups form the basis of collective action in urban poor communities. The establishment of community savings is a core ritual of the urban poor federation building process, and the central participation of women in community savings significantly improves the quality of the process and the probability of sustainable change. Community savings schemes help meet the needs of low-income urban dwellers and create the foundation for building urban poor federations that provide their savers with more influence and scope for action.
By being members of small daily savings groups, women with the lowest and least stable incomes are able to create a consolidated voice to help bring about the changes they seek in their city. They also realize their capacity to influence and change the nature of leadership from individual to collective, within and between communities, and thus effect even greater change. This is the essence of the federation-building model in SDI: it is by addressing the needs and aspirations of the city’s poorest women that the rest of the community begins to see meaning in coming together.
Sheila Magare of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation recounts the effects of community savings in her life and her community:
“…I started getting small loans as well from the group to improve my vending business and I repaid the loans. I then joined other members of the group and got a big loan and we started a collective business of buying and selling snacks from our vegetable markets. This was a huge success and we never looked back. The profits from the business we used to buy building materials for houses even though we were landless. We used our savings booklets as evidence of the capacity of the poor to save and to collectively build their own houses. Armed with our savings records we engaged the City of Harare to allocate us land to build houses. The officials were surprised by how much we had saved. We earned their respect. In turn they changed their conditions for registering on the Municipal waiting list for accommodation… Even though it took us 5 years the City eventually allocated us land to build houses.
Using the same method we started talking to national government ministers as well. Our message was simple – that we were slum dwellers but we were not hopeless. We wanted government to change the policies that make it difficult for the poor to live decently in towns. We wanted the government to give us money to add to our savings. That way more poor people can have decent homes and safe water to drink and proper toilets. Mayors and government ministers in Zimbabwe now know me by name because, with other federation leaders we never get tired of fighting for other poor families.”
In addition to community savings, members of many savings groups also save towards a national fund. This is a fund that is used to leverage the savings of the urban poor to support larger investments in slum upgrading. As savings groups come together (or “federate”) at the settlement, city and national level, they begin to look beyond the needs of their savings group alone to the needs of the federation and the urban poor at large. In the same way, committees found at the level of the local savings group are replicated at network, regional, and national levels. This enables the generation of a self-governing national movement that is rooted in the hopes, aspirations, and challenges of its members.
Both functions reinforce each other. The savings and loans systems at the group level prepare communities for much bigger loans and project management demands when upgrading is undertaken. Federation savings groups see savings as uniting the community and building collective capacity to address larger issues with a wider impact beyond a particular group. Traditional savings associations work to the benefit of the members of the group. Within the federations, however, savings groups serve as building blocks for community institutions that in turn enable them to address and invest resources in issues that affect the entire community or city, stretching beyond those of livelihoods alone.
The development of the city-level federation is inextricably linked to the federating of the savings groups. The city-level federation grows out of the networking and institutional structures that arise from the coming together of savings groups in the same settlement or network, regional, and national level. In Uganda, this process started in Kampala and Jinja regions, and then spread to other areas through community learning exchanges.
Leaders groomed at the saving group level that demonstrate their capacity and dedication have the opportunity to rise to positions of leadership at higher levels, where they can provide mentoring to the citywide agenda that is firmly rooted in the ideals of the savings groups. In this way, the voices of the poor are taken from savings group level meetings to network-level meetings, and from there are able to inform the city agenda. Thus, the city federation is driven from the bottom, not the top. Network, regional and national level meetings are critical to maintaining this bottom-driven process. These, rather than projects, are what make the savings groups feel part of a larger process, a larger agenda, a movement.
One example of this is in Jinja, Uganda, where there are 42 savings groups across the city. These savings groups come together as six networks, each network having eight program facilitators – 60% of whom are women. The program facilitators (for issue-based committees on evictions, health, loaning, auditing, etc.) come together to form the regional council. The regional council provides a space where representatives of the savings groups are able to come together to plan and strategize. Facilitators are chosen for the capacity and accountability they have demonstrated in their savings groups. Five representatives from the Regional Council – three of whom are women – sit on the National Executive Council – the space for national planning rooted in the struggles and ideals of the savings groups.
Check out SDI’s 2012 / 2013 Annual Report to read more about how community savings impacts urban change through organized communities and strong women leadership.