Know Your City: the Process, the Platform, and the Campaign

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The end of 2017 marked the end of a four-year strategic planning period for SDI and the close-out of various projects and contracts in support of implementation of that plan. To report on the successes, challenges, and impact of our work over that time, SDI produced a Basket Fund Close Out report, available in full here. In this series of blog posts, we present excerpts from this report that highlight some of the key learnings and impact of our work over the past four years and point towards areas for continued growth in the new Strategic Plan, launched this year.

Fundamental to effective learning and influence is the quality and accessibility of the knowledge produced. SDI’s commitment to increased rigour in settlement profiling meant that 2013 – 2017 was a watershed period for this work which has come to be known widely as SDI’s Know Your City work and campaign.

The Process

Since the SDI network was founded, grassroots profiling, enumeration and mapping has been at the heart of the organizing process. Pioneered by slum and pavement dwellers in India, community profiles and enumerations have served to organize the urban poor and make informal settlements visible to city authorities throughout the Global South. These data then ground dialogue and partnerships between communities and local government aimed at improved security of tenure, basic services and housing. As such, the information becomes power for the organized slum dwellers who gathered it. Power balances shift between the community and city officials. Instead of beggars or protesters, the community asks officials to recognize them as partners with information and ideas for how to make changes that will benefit cities and informal settlements. For over 20 years, SDI’s peer-to-peer exchange programs have helped to spread and refine the practise of community-led profiling and enumeration from the congested slums of Mumbai throughout SDI’s network of close to 30 federations. As more and more federations undertook the process, it became clear that the data could play a powerful role in global advocacy aimed at enhancing the hand of each local federation to influence urban policy and practice. Without a measure of standardization in data collection tools and a transition to digital data management, the aggregation and dissemination of data is limited. SDI federations agreed to design a single, standardized informal settlement profile tool and to adopt and co-design support technologies to enhance data accessibility.

The Platform

The decision was made to create a Know Your City (KYC) data platform to house and analyze the SDI network’s slum settlement data. The federations remained laser focused on their principles and insisted: technological support and standardization could not substitute face-to-face engagement; the technology had to be simple and was pointless if not useful to local communities; and the transition had to ensure it did not exclude those without technological capacity. Two iterations of the KYC platform have been developed in conjunction with community profilers and enumerators throughout the network. KYC 1.0 proved that SDI’s profiling and enumeration processes could use standardized tools to enable global aggregation, while preserving the community organizing and inclusive social processes that give SDI’s data its power. KYC 2.0 proved this data would be of tremendous use to communities, governments and development partners in understanding informality and guiding upgrading plans. KYC 3.0 seeks to institutionalize people-driven data as the core starting point for building and monitoring inclusive and resilient city development. To do so, the platform and the community process must step up to yet another level in terms of its accessibility, data rigor, and data visualizations. This new iteration will reflect SDI’s improved TOC and measurement of resilience outcomes and will be housed on SDI’s own platform built in Bangalore by the federation’s partners.

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The Campaign

Community-managed profiling and mapping and the KYC data platform are the two legs upon which the Know Your City campaign stands. In 2014, SDI, Cities Alliance and UCLG-A launched the Know Your City campaign in order to promote the institutionalization of people-driven data in government and development partner programing. At the conclusion of 2016, SDI signed a new MOU with UCLG-A to expand partner cities and is working with Cities Alliance to embed people-driven data in all its global programing, monitoring and evaluation. Cities Alliance has supported a Joint Work Program (JWP) to expand the reach of KYC. The Know Your City campaign has proven its capacity to anchor partnership through the organization of slum dwellers at city scale to gather data on the informal settlements. Local government-community partnerships then use this data to set baselines, plan and monitor development interventions, inform policy and practice, co-produce upgrading agendas, and jointly implement urban development that fully capitalizes on the comparative advantages of each party. SDI is partnering with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) to expand the campaign throughout Asia. In phase 1, settlement profiling was carried out by communities in Davao Philippines; Jhenaidah, Bangladesh; Jogjakarta, Indonesia; Yangon, Myanmar; and Battambang, Cambodia.

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Change Story 2: KYC Campaign Touches Down in Latin America

This year, SDI expanded the Know Your City campaign to Latin America to support organized urban poor communities looking to use community-led profiling and mapping to catalyze dialogue with government and/or other potential collaborators to improve the lives of the poor. Small support grants for this work will be available to organizations who show that organized urban poor communities are working toward outcome level change in their settlement or city linked to: Improved public health and safety; Improved livelihoods; Improved land tenure security; or, Improved strategic influence of the urban poor.

Selected groups will have access to the standarized KYC profiling tools, use of the KYC platform and increased visibility as part of the KYC campaign. The expansion of KYC to Latin American provides an opportunity to connect and network urban poor social movements in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. At the World Urban Forum, SDI secured preliminary commitments from UCLG and partnersh such as TECHO and HFHI to partner in this initiative.

In Recife, the community and support organization INTERAÇÃO (SDI’s Brazil Affiliate) and Habitat for Humanity International are using the KYC framework to strengthen the organization and capacities of poor and vulnerable groups threatened by eviction. Using the data, communities can defend and negotiate for improve tenure security and services. Particular importance will be given to the residents of informal/precarious settlements in the areas most valued and subject to real estate pressure. Information on the different favelas will also be used to develop a city-scale vision that communities will use in proposing or establishing alliances and influencing urban policies. This will serve to strengthen the involvement of these communities and influence the revision process of the Recife Master Plan through spaces for dialogue with the local government in the perspective of ensuring adequate housing spaces for the poorest.

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Profiling Progress per Hub, 2013-2017

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SDI’s Basket Fund represents a commitment from SDI’s partners to join a global network of slum dweller organizations in their long-term struggle to combat poverty and exclusion in cities. In a development sector dominated by consultants and specialists, SDI adds value as a unique organization channeling resources directly to the poor for the development and implementation of their own strategies for change. This arrangement represents an understanding by SDI’s partners that systemic change won’t be projectized or fall neatly into a funding cycle, but requires long-term multi-pronged collaboration to continuously garrison the gains and push the boundaries.

On both fronts SDI made substantial inroads during the 2013-2017 period. Download the full publication here.

Ten Essentials of the New Urban Agenda


This article was originally published on the IIED blog shortly before PrepCom 3 in July 2016, where intense negotiations on the New Urban Agenda took place ahead of Habitat III in October. 

By David Satterthwaite, IIED Human Settlements research group

Habitat III will seek global political commitment to making urban centres more sustainable, inclusive and resilient. But the latest draft of the New Urban Agenda – to be agreed at the summit – is long, impenetrable and gives little attention to urban governance. Frustrated by this unwieldy document, we have developed an alternative version of the New Urban Agenda – in one page.

Borrowing the format of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient (PDF) these short and practical points provide national governments with clear direction for a workable outcome from Habitat III.

The text does not include many important goals. It seeks instead to push attention away from long lists that repeat commitments already made to the means by which these can be met.

Ahead of the last negotiation meeting before the summit we share these guidelines and are keen to hear comments.

The 10 essentials

We, representatives of national governments, recognise the two key stakeholders crucial for implementing the New Urban Agenda are urban governments and their local populations whose needs are not met – including representative organisations of slum/shack dwellers. Only with their buy-in will a New Urban Agenda will be effective.

  1. The New Urban Agenda must support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We commit to supporting urban governments to develop their responses to the SDGs and work with them so no one is left behind. This means shifting attention from defining goals to creating the institutional and governance basis in each locality to meet commitments already made in the SDGs and in the Paris Agreement on climate change
  2. We recognise how much can be achieved through strong local democracies and organised urban poor groups. We acknowledge a form of governance where local governments work in partnerships with civil society that can be rooted in local needs and possibilities as well as being more accountable and transparent
  3. We recognise the importance of local leadership for the New Urban Agenda and of learning from the experiences of innovative city governments, mayors and civil society groups – especially those that combine prosperity, good living conditions, and low ecological footprints
  4. New sources of finance are needed to support local governments and urban poor organisations to meet the SDGs. This includes raising local revenues and national government and international agency support (most international agencies pay little attention to addressing urban poverty)
  5. We support good local practice such as participatory planning and budgeting, citizen-based monitoring and community-driven upgrading in informal settlements. Importantly, these encourage voice and engagement by groups who face discrimination (for instance on the basis of gender or being a migrant or refugee)
  6. We commit to improving the quality and coverage of local data so this information is available to all and can inform local governments where needs are concentrated. This includes recognising the capacities of community-driven enumerations and mapping to generate data needed for upgrading informal settlements
  7. Urban centres need infrastructure and services that reach everyone (so no one is left behind). And that contribute to good health, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (there are many co-benefits between these). Urban centres also need to contribute to climate change mitigation and thus to the realisation of the Paris Agreement and the avoidance of dangerous climate change
  8. Buildings and infrastructure must be safer and constructed in line with realistic, risk compliant building and land use regulations. But these must be grounded on what is possible and affordable in each location. There is an urgent need in most urban centres to identify safe land sites on which low-income citizens can build and to upgrade informal settlements (and address infrastructure deficits)
  9. We support investment in risk reduction in urban centres and their surrounds and in the information base it needs to be effective (so data are collected on causes of injuries and premature death and the impacts of small and large disasters). We also commit to preserving the productive and protective services that ecosystems provide for urban centres, especially for water management and flood risk reduction, and
  10. We agree to develop local government capacity to respond rapidly to disasters, conflicts, shocks or stresses, ensuring that the needs and capacities of the affected population are at the centre of responses.

Key factors influencing the agenda’s success 

Of course, effective local government depends on supportive national governments and appropriate legislation, rules and regulations – such as planning, health and safety, building standards, disaster risk reduction, climate change – and systems of devolved finance. It often depends on metropolitan or regional systems through which local governments can work together on the 10 essentials.

There is also an urgent need to generate new employment and income streams and what the SDGs describe as ‘decent work’ particularly for youth. But the SDGs say little about how.

Most local governments have limited capacities to directly expand employment, but much of what is outlined above (and the building of low carbon urban economies) will generate many new jobs including from the private sector and widen opportunities for young people.

Click here for an overview of SDI’s activities at Habitat III, and here to read the final version of the New Urban Agenda, adopted by member states at Habitat III. 

SDI at Habitat III


SDI is participating in over 60 events over the next week at the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador, including participation in at least 9 high-level events and co-hosting of at least 11 side, networking, and other events.

This packed schedule includes a joint networking event hosted by SDI, UCLG-Africa and Cities Alliance. This event, entitled “Know Your City: Creating a Joint Knowledge Base to Transform Cities and their Relationships with Informal Settlements,” will unpack the Know Your City (KYC) campaign – a joint initiative of the three partner organisations – that supports community-driven urban data collection and collaborative planning between local governments and organized communities of the urban poor. These collaborative planning processes produce implementable strategies for inclusive and resilient cities that are owned by a broad base of the city population.

This project demonstrates the critical role and potential value of partnerships for collaborative planning that are rooted in community-collected data at the city and global scale. The event will showcase examples of how already this project has facilitated governments and civil society to develop effective strategies to implement the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 11 to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and SDG 17 to “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

The event will highlight the ways data collected by the poor, about the poor and for the poor is being used as standard benchmarking data for city governments, urban policy makers, and planners across Africa. It will also reveal the power of profiling and enumeration to organize and energize communities and position them as partners, rather than beneficiaries of development. This event will draw on examples from SDI, the South African Government, Cities Alliance and UCLG-A’s joint work in Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, to highlight the effective use of community-collected data as the basis of collaborative planning between organized communities of the urban poor and local and national government authorities.

The key takeaway from this event is that community-driven profiling and enumeration of informal settlements has the following benefits:

  • urban poor communities are organized and become active citizens,
  • organized communities gather much needed data on informal settlements that feeds city planning,
  • organized communities feel ownership of this information and use it to plan improvements in their settlements,
  • organized communities become partners with city government for development,
  • organized communities build skills and collective capacities,
  • organized communities gather data at a much lower cost than consultants.

This event will explain how and why some cities and national governments have invested in this process. It will present case studies that explore how partnerships around data collection are leading to innovative upgrading solutions and will challenge other city governments to follow suit.

A breakdown of our other events is included below (click on the image to enlarge). For more information on these events and more, please email us at, and check our Facebook and Twitter feeds throughout the week to keep tabs on what’s going on as it happens. 



SDI at Habitat 3 Regional Meeting for Africa


As the UN-wide Habitat 3 Conference draws closer, SDI is being invited to and involved in an increasing number of events to prepare for both the conference and the release in May of the Zero Draft of the much anticipated New Urban Agenda. Over the course of preparations for Habitat 3, SDI continues to pursue our global advocacy mandate of promoting a people-centred citywide upgrading approach in the global arena. Most importantly, our advocacy work is rooted in the experiences and struggles of our grassroots federations of the urban poor, and our partnerships and activities on the global stage are determined by the anticipated impact they will make on federations’ local processes. The aim is that participation in high-level advocacy events will afford federations with opportunities to showcase successes and share lessons learned in order to build citywide, regional, and international alliances that escalate impact.

Towards the end of February 2016, SDI delegates from the Nigerian and Ghanaian Federations, and support NGOs Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) Nigeria, Peoples Dialogue on Human Settlements in Ghana, and Kenya’s Akiba Mashinani Trust, participated in the Habitat 3  Regional Meeting for Africa held in Abuja in preparation for Habitat 3. The Regional Meeting convened stakeholders from across Africa to discuss the issues and priorities of African countries. The formal outcome of the Africa Regional Meeting was the Abuja Declaration — a unified statement adopted by all of the African governments present identifying “Africa’s Priorities for the New Urban Agenda.”

Because this regional meeting was held in Nigeria, it was hosted by the Nigerian Federal Ministry for Power, Housing, and Works (led by former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola), and numerous Nigerian government officials were in attendance. This was a unique opportunity for JEI and the Nigerian Federation to engage with government officials from both Nigeria and other countries simultaneously, and have more informal discussions during side events where they met a Permanent Secretary within the Federal Ministry of Power, Housing, and Works, as well as the Rivers State Commissioner for Housing. Additionally, the delegation met with the Special Advisor to the Nasarawa State Government on the Sustainable Development Goals, who requested a pitch from JEI and the Federation for partnership in supporting work in informal settlements in Nasarawa.

These opportunities for informal meetings with government officials are invaluable to SDI’s federations. These are people who usually take months to see, if they get to see them at all. The experience of SDI federations from across Africa shows that when these connections are nurtured, they can lead to meaningful activities that actually make a concrete difference in the lives of the urban poor. We look forward to hearing more from the Nigerian federation about these developments!

In addition to these connections with Nigerian government, the SDI delegation worked together with SDI’s two key ‘grassroots’ partners, WIEGO and Huairou Commission to put forward collective messaging in order to have greater reach and hopefully greater impact.  Jane Weru (SDI), Victoria Okoye (WIEGO), and Limota Goroso Giwa (Huairou Commission), were all nominated as members of the Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing and making direct inputs on the final Abuja Declaration. Additionally, Limota Goroso Giwa was selected to present a short speech within the main plenary session on the final day highlighting the ‘women’s caucus’ views on the New Urban Agenda. Together SDI, WIEGO, and Huairou drafted a joint statement that incorporated the perspectives of grassroots women, urban informal workers, and the urban poor. Some of the key demands include:

Excerpt of Joint Statement by SDI, WIEGO, and Huairou Commission at UN Habitat 3 Africa Regional Meeting

We want a women-focused New Urban Agenda that calls for the following:

  1. Formalise engagement and partnerships between local government, national government and grassroots groups to sustain collaborative planning, implementation, and monitoring of housing and urban development initiatives
  2. Recognise and support organised networks of grassroots women, slum dwellers and informal workers who contribute to urban economic growth and build movements towards influencing and enhancing their own development and the cities in which they live
  3. Support and utilise community led data collection documenting tenure and informal settlement upgrading priorities and encourage grassroots community learning in the areas of land and housing planning and administration, especially those where women take the lead.
  4. Develop pro-poor laws and other urban policies that mitigate risks of land grabbing and displacement to promote the economic and social security of women and their families and their contributions to the local economy.
  5. Guarantee security of tenure from one generation of women to another through strong inheritance protections and through measures that help women protect the vitality of land against climate change and other environmental threats
  6. Empower local government to be the primary provider of basic social and municipal services, such as sanitation, water supply, healthcare and primary education.
  7. Empower the urban poor and especially women to participate in equal partnership with local government in all urban planning and decision-making, including participation in the budgeting, implementation, and monitoring processes.
  8. Create pathways for incremental formalisation and integration of informal workers and settlements, rather than criminalising the urban poor.
  9. Develop partnerships with communities, the State, and private sector to provide accessible housing and livelihood finance for the urban poor.

Although not all of our suggestions were ultimately reflected in the Regional Meeting outcome document, termed the Abuja Declaration, many of our key priorities appeared in its recommendations. Below are portions of the first three recommendations contained within the Abuja Declaration, with the sections reflecting our contributions in italics.

While we believe that many of the above points wouldn’t have been reflected in the Abuja Declaration without our direct participation, the Abuja Declaration remains imperfect. Areas where the Abuja Declaration is lacking, and where more advocacy is needed during the remaining thematic and regional meetings as well as at the Habitat 3 conference in Quito in October 2016, are as follows:

Excerpt from Abuja Declaration (full Declaration available here)

  1. Harness the potential of urbanization to accelerate structural transformation for inclusive and sustainable growth
    1. Allocate adequate financial resources to promote sustainable urbanization and human settlements development to drive structural transformation for the benefit of all citizens. This should include promotion of land titling and registration, as well as resource generation through land base revenue and land value capture;
    2. Promote inclusive economic growth that translates to full employment and decent jobs as well as improved living standards for all
  2. Enhance people-centered urban and human settlements through
    1. Ensuring access to affordable basic services including clean water, sanitation, energy, health, education and sustainable transport and employment by all citizens in order to realize their full potential, especially youth, women and people in vulnerable groups;
    2. Strengthening institutions and spatial planning systems to foster urban safety and security, as well as healthy environment and promotes inclusion through participatory approaches and consultative frameworks;
    3. Ensuring access to sustainable, affordable and adequate housing and land, and promoting slum upgrading to ensure security of tenure and access to socio-economic facilities, taking into account the diversity of contexts, the potential of informal economies and the rights of the inhabitants;
  3. Strengthen institutions and systems for promoting transformative change in human settlements including through:
    1. Enhancing capacities for rural and urban planning, governance and management, underpinned by sound data collection and use;
    2. Promoting effective decentralized urban management by empowering cities and local governments, technically and financially, to deliver adequate shelter and sustainable human settlements
    3. Facilitating the participation of urban dwellers in urban governance and management

While we believe that many of the above points wouldn’t have been reflected in the Abuja Declaration without our direct participation, the Abuja Declaration isn’t perfect. Areas where the Abuja Declaration is lacking, and where more advocacy is needed during the remaining thematic and regional meetings as well as at the UN Habitat 3 conference in Quito in October 2016, are as follows:

  1. Nowhere in the document are the “urban poor” specifically identified as a key constituency in the New Urban Agenda. Although the general reference to “participatory approaches and consultative frameworks” in Recommendation 2 is important recognition of the need for inclusion in urban planning and governance, the Abuja Declaration doesn’t clearly spell out who must be included.
  1. The terms “slums” and “informal settlements” only appear once (and only in reference to creation of disaster resilient infrastructure in Recommendation 5). Instead, the Abuja Declaration focuses intensely on the concept of “human settlements” (which specifically appears on 21 occasions throughout the document) – which are notably neither specifically poor or even urban. Indeed on no less than 8 occasions in the Abuja Declaration there is reference to “urban and human settlements” which suggests that the New Urban Agenda is not necessarily urban-focused.
  1. There is only one mention of “rights” within the Abuja Declaration (in Recommendation 2), which merely suggests that they should be “taken into account,” rather than referring to the foundational human rights framework of ‘protect, respect, promote, and fulfill.’ This is a notable shift from the UN Habitat 2 outcomes, which were more firmly grounded in the human rights framework and language. This is particularly problematic where development-based displacement, and violent forced evictions of the urban poor continue unabated in many African countries. It is also notable that there is no mention of alternative land tenure models or land and property rights specifically in the Abuja Declaration – although this is not surprising, as there was very little mention of either throughout the plenary discussions by the governments and experts in attendance.
  1. There are only two mentions of “local governments” and one mention of “decentralised urban management” within the Recommendations of the Abuja Declaration, suggesting that the local governments are merely one of a list of actors that need to be “empowered” (see Recommendation 3) and “strengthened” (see Recommendation 5). Moreover, there is no mention of the need to links and active partnerships between local governments and organised communities of the urban poor.
  2. The only mention of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is with regard to strengthening UN Habitat (see Recommendation 7), and there is no mention of the need for the organised urban poor to be key partners in implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDI, WIEGO & Avina: Growing a Global Coalition of the Urban Poor

**Cross posted from the SA SDI Alliance Blog**

By Yolande Hendler, SA SDI Alliance

Piesang River – the home of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), a meeting place filled with sounds of Portuguese, isiZulu, Spanish and English,  a place filled with expectations of what a four-day learning exchange might hold for its participants – representatives of urban poor networks from across Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and South Africa. Are there joint mobilisation strategies? How does each movement build partnerships? And what does advocacy from the perspective of community leaders look like? These questions shaped the purpose of the four-day learning exchange from 21-24 September in South Africa’s east coast port city, Durban.


The participants included community leaders and supporting organisations from

  • the Brazilian Alliance of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI)
  • the Ecuadorian Waste Picker Network
  • the Ecuadorian Network for Fair, Democratic & Sustainable Cities
  • the Association of Recyclers in Bogota, Colombia (Asociación de Recicladores de Bogota)
  • Fundacion Avina in Peru & Ecuador
  • Women In Informal Employment : Globalising & Organising (WIEGO)
  • Asiye eTafuleni in Durban (AeT, network of informal workers)
  • The South African SDI Alliance as hosts: Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC)

What brought together representatives from such different locations? Their affiliation to SDI (Brazil & South Africa), WIEGO (Colombia & Asiye eTafuleni, South Africa) and Fundacion Avina (Ecuador). All three are global movements of the urban poor. Although their approaches may differ, SDI, WIEGO and Avina share the vision of building equitable, just and inclusive cities. The learning exchange was convened by Cities Alliance, of which WIEGO and SDI are both members. Envisioned as a two-part exchange, the first was hosted by SDI in South Africa, while the second will be hosted by WIEGO in Colombia.

The exchange focussed on exposing the visitors to the South African Alliance’s approaches to- and outcomes of community organising. This included a visit to housing and informal settlement upgrading projects, a savings scheme, conducting practical data collection, a partnership meeting with government and getting to know the context of informal workers.

A People’s Approach to Housing and Upgrading

Visiting a people driven housing project at Namibia

While each movement shared its main focal areas and organisational approaches in presentations on the first day, a real sense of getting to know each other occurred through questions and anecdotes that opened windows into personal and collective experiences:

“In Colombia waste-pickers have been organising for more than 30 years – recycling is an option for poor people who are old or don’t have access to jobs. I was displaced during the war. My husband was killed by guerrilla fighters. Through recycling I was able to support my family” (Ana Elizabeth Cuervo Alba, Colombia)

“As waste pickers in Ecuador we lobbied the government to a point where we now have a national agreement that pays waste pickers for recycling” (Elvia Pisuña, Ecuador)

“Urban informal workers usually face extreme challenges with people resisting their presence in public spaces .We called ourselves, Asiye eTafuleni because it means – come to the table. Let us negotiate for the inclusive future of the working urban poor.“ (Richard Dobson, Asiye eTafuleni, Durban)

Incidentally, Piesang River also displays the fruits of FEDUP’s militant negotiation with national government around housing delivery. FEDUP leaders explained that the vast housing settlements in Piesang River and Namibia Stop 8 (a further area visited that afternoon) are a result of their success in convincing government to grant members direct access to their housing subsidy. This enabled them to self-build larger houses, culminating in the adoption of the People’s Housing Process (PHP) policy. Although it has not been without its challenges, PHP represents a breakthrough in altered approach from “delivery” to “collaboration”.

Recycling Exchange

In contrast, community leaders of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) elaborated on their difficulty in achieving breakthrough in municipal support for informal settlement upgrading. With over 2700 informal settlements in the country and an increasing housing backlog, the ISN supports communities with tools and plans for negotiating with local government around service delivery through incremental upgrading. During a visit to Mathambo settlement, community leader and regional ISN coordinator, Ndodeni Dengo explained that despite the settlement’s relatively small size, existing structures were located in high density to each other, with most not larger than 9m2 – and a deficit of water, sanitation and electricity services. The community had collected data about its settlement through a detailed household level enumeration that helped them negotiate upgrading plans with the local municipality. By using wooden boxes for planning a new layout that would enable service installation, the community established their ideal design for the upgraded settlement.

How do urban poor communities organise?

Over the next two days the visitors were introduced to the driving force behind FEDUP and ISN’s housing and upgrading projects: the practice of daily savings and data collection as tools for community organisation.

Explaining savings Kwa Bester

At Kwa Bestar savings group, the visitors saw that saving is not primarily about collecting money, but about collecting people. Savings groups are a space where trust is nurtured through daily saving, sharing needs and identifying common solutions. At present, the group of 39 active members has saved US$ 2800. It is also engaged in forming smaller saving units to access loans by generating income through small businesses. The keen involvement of young people aged 8 – 25 in the savings process was a special highlight. Once more it became evident that savings is about growing and enabling people, showcased by the rich dance, drama and music performances by the youth.

Youth savings group shares dance performance

Where savings builds self reliance, data collection builds knowledge: upon arrival at Zikhali, a small, rural settlement in the northern sugar cane fields of Durban, Rose Molokoane, National Coordinator of FEDUP and SDI deputy president, explained:

“When a community knows clearly who they are, which are their problems, it is much easier to negotiate with municipal officials”

This is how data collection through settlement profiles (of a settlement’s history, infrastructure, conditions) and enumerations (detailed household level surveys) enables partnership with local government officials. When walking around the area, the group mapped the settlement boundaries and landmarks such as water and sanitation points on GPS devices while others spoke to residents, collecting household data by using the Alliance’s enumeration form.

GIS mapping in Zikhali settlement

Household Enumeration in Zikhali

Approaches to building partnerships with government

It is through savings and data-collection that SDI’s urban poor federations leverage partnerships: saving contributions show self-reliance and community will; settlement-wide data powers a community’s negotiation capacity. On day three the visitors accompanied the Durban Alliance to a meeting with the local municipality, province and a representative from national government, discussing the progress of housing and upgrading projects.

The South Americans perceived

  • A strong relationship with government officials
  • A measure of trust and flexibility in receiving visitors at the meeting
  • Political willingness to listen and debate

Insights from the South African participants

  • The perceived trust and partnership with Municipal Government was “built by doing”, demonstrating results and inviting the municipality to be part of the social process
  • Despite the working group and formally conducted meetings, the municipality often does not give prompt answers to the most urgent needs of communities

The visit to Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) added rich insight to the experience of informal workers and an added dimension to partnership building with local authorities. The group was introduced to AeT’s work in developing inclusive spaces that support sustainable livelihoods for informal workers. The shared realities of informal settlement dwellers and informal workers became particularly evident on a walk-about through the bustling Warwick market in Durban’s inner-city. For AeT and the SA SDI Alliance the encounter highlighted similarities and differences in approach but most of all established a platform for increased collaboration in the future.

Government Partnership Meeting

View on to a section of Warwick market


Walkabout in Warwick Junction

Reflecting, Learning and Joint Advocacy

With a rich collection of experiences and impressions, the group gathered on the last morning to reflect and share on the ….

  • Non-monetary value of savings. Savings are about collecting money and people (building social capital, trust, self-reliance)
  • Power of information: data collection is crucial for building self-reliance, identifying common goals and establishing negotiating power
  • Key role of women as cultivating transparency and accountability
  • Cultural factors present in South Africa: welcoming, joyful people, ability to join efforts and to coordinate
  • Youth work: value of young people generating and managing their own savings to use in initiatives of their choice (e.g. creative arts)
  • Global similarities in poor people’s struggles
  • Recycling as Income Generation: value in using opportunities around you (e.g. waste = recycling opportunity = income generation)
  • Increased awareness of interface between shack dwellers and informal workers

… and on strategies for the road ahead:

  • Mobilisation Strategies: Gain understanding of waste picker movements in South America
  • Building Partnerships: Plan further exchanges with local (i.e. national) counterparts of global movements
  • Prepare for Joint Lobbying at Global Events such as Habitat III.

As the global development community gears up for Habitat III, global movements of the urban poor are establishing a firm coalition. This learning exchange forms an integral part of that process, “allowing networks organised around livelihood and habitat to come together, share their experiences and strengthen their capacity to organise and advocate in favour of the urban poor” (Cities Alliance, Exchange convener). When speaking with a united voice, advocacy has the potential to influence policy discussions on increased collaboration between communities and governments.

“By referring to our connection with one another, WIEGO, SDI & Avina can make a strong case for a pro-poor agenda. Only if we come together as poor people we can show our governments that we are influencing their policies to meet the needs of the people. “ (Rose Molokoane, FEDUP Coordinator & SDI vice president)

Takeaways from New York: Reflecting on the Path to Habitat 3

Upon her return from the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York City, Beth Chitekwe-Biti shared some key takeaways on SDI’s participation in the processes and activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Beth highlighted in particular the challenges of grassroots organisations operating within such formal systems, the need to target city governments for implementation of the SDGs, and the obvious links between implementation and the work of SDI, particularly around the Know Your City campaign, which calls for community-driven data collection as the basis of active partnerships between organised communities and their city governments in order to co-produce inclusive upgrading and development solutions:

“The SDGs on paper seem an improvement. But of course it’s about how much political will there is on the ground to actually create tangible benefits to the urban poor. There seems to be a commitment to get the urban poor involved, but there is always a chasm between intention and what actually happens.

The systems seem very formal, so you are forcing grassroots people to be quite formal in how they work and engage with each other… I wonder if this really allows for creative engagement between different grassroots organisations and whether this really works with getting the grassroots voice heard in the UN. But at least the space if there for us to use the best way we can…

…Some of these commitments are pitched too much at the national level when it is really city government that will make a difference.  This was emphasised at the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme event, but is missing in a lot of other discussions. This fits in with SDI’s Know Your City message and hopefully governments who sign on will realise that it is at the city level that things really need to be implemented.”

To read more, and listen to an excerpt from Rose Molokoane’s talk at an even on implementation of the SDGs, click here. 



Less Talk, More Walk: Rose Molokoane on Localising Implementation of the SDGs

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Last week New York City was buzzing with events surrounding the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit for the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were formally adopted on the first day of the summit. SDI’s Rose Molokoane and Beth Chitekwe-Biti were in New York City for the week and participated in a number of events, many of which focused on how actors in the development sector – particularly urban development – can effectively work together to implement the SDGs.

Rose Molokoane was invited to speak at a high level plenary and workshop on “the implementation pathway for the post 2015 development agenda and its SDG on cities and human settlements” hosted by the UrbanSDG Campaign. In her talk, Rose addressed the importance of productive, effective partnerships between organised communities of the urban poor and local and national governments in the planning and implementation of development priorities. She emphasised the frustration that is building in communities after more than twenty years of global conferences and forums with little change on the ground:

“…It is really creating an issue of depression to us as the people at the community because we are very happy to listen to you when you say community participation. What kind of participation are we talking about? Is it participation of coming here, sitting here, listen to Rose Molokoane making noise then after that Rose goes back to South Africa and nothing happens? Or is it participation of saying let’s create the forums that will continue to happen even after the SDGs and the Habitat 3s; where we go back locally and sit together and say ‘What did we learn from Habitat 3?What is it that we can do together?’ and the important part is planning, information, and recognition of what it is the people are doing on the ground and then institutionalising the forums we are talking about.”

Listen to Rose’s entire address below:

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