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

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.

Solar for the Slums of Jinja

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As of 2017, the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) has organized 2,052 groups in 20 cities and towns. In Jinja, as in many cities in Uganda, the poor generally pay significantly more for electricity than formally grid-connected city residents. In addition, they are often exposed to grave danger by illegally tapping the main supply, or mixing kerosene with diesel to prolong its use — exposing themselves to respiratory risk and fires that quickly wipe out entire settlements. The federation has been organizing in Jinja for over ten years and is recognized for having one of the strongest community-government partnerships in the SDI network. In 2017, the federation began to organize for clean energy solutions, starting with targeted profiling and enumeration of informal settlement energy needs and priorities.


With support from SDI, the federation was able to develop and sign an MOU with Jinja Municipal Council (JMC), leveraging a 10% subsidy for 650 solar home systems and securing support for a pilot for solar-powered off-grid public street lighting. This contribution was subsequently increased to a 50% financial contribution by the Mayor. The project demonstrates an alternative basic energy service delivery model delivered by a community-based service cooperative with a membership drawn from the regional federation. The Jinja Basic Energy Service Cooperative provides subsidized access to home systems and will work in collaboration with the JMC to fabricate, install, and maintain pedestrian street lighting. The project aligns with settlement upgrading spatial plans co-produced by the federation, university and NGO partners, and the Council to provide visible and tangible change around which the community can organize to achieve more complex aims, such as land sharing agreements. Project finance is managed through the federation savings and loans systems. The project design offers a cost optimization model for clean energy service delivery for low-income households and public spaces in low-income communities.


Uganda is known for having some of the best conditions for solar energy in the world. Although the solar market in Uganda is well developed, the sector has yet to accommodate the majority of the urban population who reside in slums. With this project, Jinja has become a learning center for solar energy solutions, hosting peer-to-peer exchanges and trainings with federations from across East Africa. The project aims to improve the built environment and the lives of the poorest and, critically, build the agency of the urban poor and their capabilities related to project management and design. The project is directed by a multi-stakeholder advisory committee to the office of the Town Clerk, a body which includes federation members and has proven highly influential in the project’s success to date.

The project demonstrates the potential for inclusive and collaborative energy solutions to combat energy injustice and build greater urban resilience.

In the coming weeks, SDI will share the case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience’ here on our blog.  Emerging from the field of ecology,  ‘resilience’  describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognising that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report. 

Innovations in Solar Energy for Slums


Posting on the newly formed East Africa Solar Hub instant message group, Sammy Lema Manfere (Dar-e-Salam) wrote, “Hey guyz we nw cross the border.”

Compatriot Kasugga Abubaker (Jinja) replied from Nairobi, “Waawo, checking out now at the hotel!”

Such is the interconnectedness of the SDI Federations which inter-country exchanges enable.

Between the 24th and 29th of April 6 members of the Tanzanian and Ugandan slum dweller federations completed a 5 day solar PV technical training course in Nairobi. The course gave the 6 comprehensive knowledge for the design and optimisation of PV systems and makes them thought leaders and potential innovators in their national Federations.

“I learned all about calculations to arrange the number of batteries according to the number of PV panels, and the type of charge controller to use,” reported Sammy Lema Manfere (Dar-e-Salam, Tanzania).

The week prior Federation leaders had secured political support from Jinja Municipal Council for a targeted subsidy for solar home systems and budgetary allocation for off-grid street lighting.



Without Power: Mumbai’s Pavement Dwellers

With no electricity, kids study under a street light at night. 

**Cross-posted from the SPARC/MM/NSDF blog**

If you can read this, you’re not affected. For most urban dwellers electricity is available at the flick of a switch, to power our numerous appliances from our coffee machines to our computers and TVs, but not for all: many of the urban poor still have no access to electricity although the power cables are literally just two meters above their heads.

In the new Energy Justice program of SPARC we have just recently started a survey in order to better understand the needs and problems of the urban poor related to energy. Last week we have been at a settlement of pavement dwellers next to the Western Express Highway in Goregaon, Mumbai who have lived there for at least the last 10 years. Although none of the households have access to electricity, they have energy expenditures between 300 and 750 Rupees per month just to be able to illuminate their homes in the evening with candles and to charge their cell phones at the next kiosk. This costs them between 10-15 Rupees daily.

Pavement dwellers at Goregaon Western Express Highway. 

It is hard to believe, but most of Mumbai’s households have to manage with less than a dollar per day per capita, some of them even with half a dollar. It’s no wonder then that these households seek to avoid spending any money where it is not absolutely necessary and therefore cook their meals on traditional three-stone-stoves. Because most of the men work as casual laborers and are out of the house, it is the task of the women to collect the wood which lasts between 1 and 2 hours every day. Cooking with open fire or on three stones is not only time intensive but also health threatening as the smoke causes respiratory diseases. And this is not done with a cough – the Worlds Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually more than 4 million people die because of cooking with solid fuels, of which 50% are children below the age of 5. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/)

We have started our new Energy Justice program in order to develop solutions jointly with the urban poor that will provide better access to modern energy and reduce costs. We will keep you updated here about the further development of this project.

Author : Vincent Moeller is working for SPARC as an advisor on Renewable Energy and Climate Change since June 2014.