From ‘My Slum’ to ‘My City’ : Action Steps towards Global Slum Profiling

Profiling in UT Section

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat

“We are able to appreciate that we need to have a more holistic view of the cities where we are working” (Frederick Mugisa, Uganda, SDI Alliance).

“…now we are planning the profiling in the settlements we are working and also see city wide settlement profiling to help in planning of the city with the slum dwellers” (Shekar and John Samuel, NSDF/SPARC, India, SDI Alliance)

While focus on the local remains the core concern of SDI federations, the question, increasingly pertinent is, how does the global network of the urban poor make itself globally visible and relevant on the global urban development agenda? Peer exchanges have long served SDI federations as a learning space to share experiences of everyday life. They serve as a platform from which urban poor communities can share local concerns, challenges and successes. Like SDI enumerations and settlement profiles they too have traditionally been centred on particular contexts and the particular concerns of local slum dwellers. 

SDI and Santa Fe Institute’s (SFI) global slum profiling project aims to aggregate and analyse the around 7,000 federation profiles collected over the past twenty years in more than 15 countries across the global south. The objective is to yield a “science of slums” powerful enough to leverage city wide and global sustainable developmental appeal for ‘slum data’. With renewed vigour the network is looking towards two of its most powerful tools (exchanges and enumerations) as learning and innovation spaces to foster this goal.

Making slum communities visible to their local authorities has been the driving force behind local actions to stave off evictions and leverage land, basic services and upgrading of slums. Mugisa, Shekar and Samuel’s appreciation of the value of the June learning exchange around the SDI and SFI Partnership, during the SDI-SFI Field Visit Cape Town June 2013,  echoes the hope expressed by Sheela Patel, director of Indian NGO SPARC and SDI Board Member, that “communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements [will come] to believe that aggregating information about settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives” (Patel in Fieuw 2013 and elsewhere ).

Profiling in UT Section

Profiling in UT Section

Over the course of ten days in and around Cape Town’s UT Section, Khayelitsha, federation members along with NGO support staff from Malawi, Kenya, India, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia were able to test the new tools (including a questionnaire, geo-tagging smart phone application, etc.) developed through the SDI-SFI collaboration to improve and standardise the data capturing processes of the network. Rosey Mashimbye of FEDUP, South Africa, commented that the use of these new technologies is certainly an improvement from manual capturing. While there remain some concerns among federation members that the new standardised questionnaire may not speak to all their local concerns, according to the Namibian alliance’s report, “standardised rituals and practices [may have] the possibility to incorporate local concerns/issues” (Harris, Namibia Alliance).

Informal settlement communities have come a long way in showing that their settlements and communities are not just spaces of perceived and real deprivation, but rather innovation and resourcefulness. They have consistently shown that slum dwellers themselves are the most capable of showing local authorities, who they are, how they live, make their livelihoods and contribute to the economies of the cities from which they are so often excluded. By standardising profiling and enumerations and marrying our techniques to cutting edge technology and analysis through the learning space of peer-exchanges, we are well on our way to leverage on of the most powerful tools of the federations of the urban poor in creating sustainable and resilient inclusive cities.

For more on SDI enumerations and profiling see pages 46-52 in our latest Annual Report.

From Processes to Outcomes: Community-Driven Solutions to Finance, Planning & Politics

Jockin Arputham & Mayor Sidego

SDI President, Mr. Jockin Arputham (Right), signs MoU with Mr. Conrad Sidego, Mayor of Stellenbosch Municipality, in Langrug settlement, South Africa. 

Our network of urban poor federations has, over almost two decades, pioneered community organization strategies that are able to influence formal authorities in an age of quickening city growth. SDI’s “ten cities” program over the past three years has made clear the terms of engagement for building cities that include the poor. The link between the “hard” outcomes of infrastructure accessibility and economic opportunity, and the “soft” processes of planning and decision-making for provision of such infrastructure is the chief driver of urban development today.

The urban poor federations and professional NGOs that comprise the SDI network now have a set of experiences that speak to the main challenges that persist in engaging the link of processes and outcomes. We understand these challenges through three major themes of finance, planning, and politics. 


We have learned that financing shelter for the poor is about much more than mobilizing the resources for increasing access to land, services and housing. Most important is developing the systems for delivering projects and scaling up projects that make this finance meaningful. The urban poor federations in the SDI network have used the basic unit of the savings group as the means of building financial capacity in order to impact project planning and political capacity internally. The lessons from these experiences implicate persistent trends towards highly rational top-down project financing for city development.

Our approach to evaluating calls for funds from individual affiliates has always emphasized the need for projects to leverage: (a) funds from external sources, in addition to SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI), and (b) relationships with formal authorities that extend the voice of the urban poor in planning and decision-making. This report shows how thinking about the financial equation of urban development in this way changes the ways in which projects actually get delivered.

When SDI federations have tried out alternative development financing approaches with government authorities they trigger new relationships that can scale up project delivery at citywide scale. For example, in Pune, authorities were utilizing funds for informal settlement upgrading projects that often could not reach their promised delivery outcomes. Both grassroots leaders in Mahila Milan and bureaucratic officials acknowledge that it has not been the lack of allocated funds that made projects often fail to get off the ground. Instead, the primary impediments were the top-down mechanisms for using the funds that excluded community priorities and voices.

So the Indian Alliance worked to build partnerships with government programs to demonstrate through practice how these institutions can be better designed to put more of the financial management and decision-making in a joint relationship with informal settlement community leadership. Now the Indian Alliance has been able to make federated groups of women-led savings groups in Mahila Milan an intermediary institutional mechanism for large-scale delivery of upgraded informal settlements, especially in terms of provision of housing and communal toilets. 

IMG_1024 IMG_1022


We have learned that planning is not just about policies and physical designs on paper. Most important are the specific institutional designs and relationships through which physical planning interventions occur.  By building accountable and strategic leadership at the citywide level, urban poor federations in the SDI network are creating an institutional mechanism through which development decision-making can change meaningfully. These experiences suggest that governments, especially at the city level, need to focus on supporting and engaging the mobilization of urban poor communities to represent themselves and network across the city. Once informal settlement communities have strong, accountable leadership and network across the city, they are able to put forth an articulate vision with authentic grassroots backing. Likewise, governments are enabled to orient development decision-making to incorporate better the priorities of urban poor communities, and to counter-balance much more dominant actors that drive urban growth.



One approach has been to scale up community planning activities, such as profiling, enumeration, and mapping, to regional and citywide scale. For example, in Kenya, communities have linked across the Mathare Valley in Nairobi to enumerate every household. Further, they have documented the exact availability of public services across this major informal region of the city. These activities have allowed Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan federation, to bring together communities to link with University of Nairobi, and University of California — Berkeley, to develop a joint “zonal plan” for upgrading the entire Mathare Valley. Now, Muungano is beginning to sit with local authorities to see how the institutional environment can best be mobilized to achieve this plan.

Building institutional capacity to deliver on the promise of inclusive governance remains a major challenge as SDI gains a wider and richer set of experiences in working citywide. For example, in Kampala, Uganda, the National Slum Dweller Federation of Uganda has negotiated a joint Kampala Community Development Fund in which the Kampala City Council and the Federation sit together to manage funds specifically earmarked for informal settlement upgrading. The fund is growing in terms of available finance, and the governance of the fund proves to be the major growing pain, in order to respond to the acute demand for upgrading projects that the Federation is articulating.


We have learned that very significant impact for SDI urban poor federations occurs through policy changes. Projects and political relationships have to be geared towards enabling significant policy reform in order to make development processes more inclusive of the poor. Over the past year, urban poor federations in SDI have been able to achieve various key policy shifts. These changes have been possible because a mass mobilization of informal settlement residents has called for them and proven their viability through federation-led projects.

Indeed, the challenge here is to innovate through practice, and then to institutionalize the learning that occurs. In Cape Town, South Africa, the South African SDI Alliance now has multiple precedent-setting projects for “re-blocking” dense informal settlements. This approach to community-based design of shack alignments, has generated new community leadership structures, and enabled the city government to install basic services for residents. And this is in settlements where the government had initially planned to relocate large percentages of residents because the neighborhood was deemed too dense for upgrading. 

Sheffield Road, Cape Town

The South African Alliance has utilized a formal partnership with the City of Cape Town to make the case that these pilot approaches to in situ upgrading of informal settlements can be scaled up to the city level. And the city has responded. Now the city council has approved a new policy on “re-blocking” citywide. This emphasizes both the need to redevelop informal settlements in their current physical location and the extent to which influential participation of the community is a prerequisite for successful implementation of such a physical intervention. 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Mshini Wam Site Visit

This article highlights the lessons of SDI’s work to trigger city development processes that are more inclusive of the poor. In our 2012 / 2013 Annual Report, we begin to uncover the process of learning that is taking place within the network for impacting the flows of finance, planning, and politics that drive urban development. The lessons learned are the basis of a poor people’s agenda for triggering the relationships between the poor and formal authorities that will produce more inclusive city growth. 



A People-Centred Approach to Citywide Sanitation

Construction in Nakawa

As the global development discourse formulates the post-MDG agenda, sanitation is a core area that demands attention. Having for too long been neglected by governments, as is reflected by sporadic service and dilapidated infrastructure for the urban poor, it is one of the MDG’s that will not be met by 2015. Sanitation provision has a key role to play in creating the political and legislative conditions for well-located land to be made available to the urban poor. The work of the urban poor in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, India and many other countries across the SDI network demonstrates explicitly that sanitation is not just about toilets. It speaks to issues of equitable access and tenure security. If governments and urban poor communities provide sanitation facilities in partnership (as has been the case in countries like India and Uganda), then an in situ political and financial investment has been made in slum areas and, as a result, eviction (or relocation) become far less likely. Additionally, sanitation provision implies discussions around water provision, drainage, solid waste management and connections to bulk city infrastructure. 

Alongside evictions, inadequate sanitation is a central crisis in slums. For several decades the sanitation development framework was driven vertically by engineers, with those in greatest need of sanitation facilities given the least in terms of access, design, usage and management. SDI federations have begun serious local and national discourses exploring all elements involved in ensuring that slums are initially open defecation free, and subsequently, have adequate sanitation for all.

Debates about whether toilets should be located at the household or community level continue worldwide. Within SDI, the pragmatic sequence is as follows. 

  • For slum dwellers, sanitation is a governance issue. It is the duty and obligation of cities to ensure all fecal matter is collected and disposed of hygienically in a manner that is non-threatening for citizens and the city.
  • The present deficit is huge and cities having ignored the issue for many decades, which now makes initiating solutions very difficult.
  • Cities have to participate in the challenge of ensuring universally available sanitation. It is an essential contribution of community networks to document lack of facilities and engage the city to ensure sanitation access.
  • Infrastructure (water sewer lines), density, finances (of communities and the city) and available technologies are key factors in the choices that cities and communities make about the best approaches to sanitation provision.
  • In old, densely populated slums where houses are very small and sewerage access does not exist to clear fecal matter away, community toilets with safety tanks remain an imperfect solution. 

An incremental approach to informal settlement upgrading remains key to a long-term process that develops community capacity alongside infrastructure. Toilet construction and management has the potential to bring organized communities and local governments together in partnerships that have the possibility for replication in other settlements across the city. 

In addition, making a citywide impact through sanitation opens up the space for other relationships with government to be developed around associated services and infrastructure (e.g. solid waste management, grey water recycling or the provision of water).  Communities are also able to access upgrading funds and, as in India and Uganda, become the contractors who build, maintain and manage sanitation infrastructure. The momentum this generates has potential for both local and national policy reforms and articulations.  It is becoming increasingly clear that sanitation interventions and the partnerships that they create can lay the groundwork for partnerships and outcomes at a citywide scale. 


To read more about SDI affiliates’ work creating people-centred sanitation solutions at the citywide scale, check out the following blog posts & our Annual Report


Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale


Project Diary: Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda 

Improving Sanitation in Kinawataka Market, Uganda

Financing Sanitation Solutions in Uganda

Uganda Loses USD $177m Annually Due to Poor Sanitation: What is the Federation Doing?


In Tanzania, Scaling Up Sanitation for the Urban Poor 

In Tanzania, Reaching the Wider Community Through Improved Sanitation 

 Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet


In a Risky Place: Women & Sanitation in Nairobi’s Slums


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction & Maintenance in India

South Africa: 

Partnerships through Upgrading: 5 Cities Delegation Visits Langrug Settlement

Waterborne | Water & Sanitation in Slovo Park, South Africa 


Sheela Patel attends IMF AGM in Tokyo


Sheela Patel at the Annual General Meeting of the International Monetary Fund, held in Tokyo last week. 

Pictured: Far Right, Sheela Patel (Chair of SDI). Next to her Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank) and second from left Christine Legarde (President of the International Monetary Fund).  

 At a related event, Sheela Patel spoke about the role of the urban poor in building our urban future: 

“I come to this session with a very confused sense of identity. Everyone has a different idea of what a civil society actor is, so perhaps it will be easier to say why we do what we do, and how we seek to influence.

My organization in India, and the international network of organizations that I represent, Shack Dwellers International, represents people who have found that global investment in cities, infrastructure, and other capital investment, have found these processes produce exponential increases in eviction. As a citizen, the right to be provided services, and so on, cities do not plan to accommodate the poor. Most people that work in human rights in this field, will know that the law upholds the development plan of the city. By giving you a notice, the city has the right to evict, without a responsibility to give you anything in return. The inability of having the right to reside, of citizenship, means the civil society movements emerge form people who feel they do not have the rights that they are entitled to.

Why a global network? Because many of the aspects driving these processes including the thinking, are globalised. All finance ministers control the purse strings, most in the South have rural constituencies, and see the city as simply a place to manufacture and produce.

Our architecture is from grassroots up to local. Secondly that the processes to provide voice, has not yet succeeded. Hence our community leaders who have fought evictions and others, eventually we aspire to have them instead of me and professional advocates sitting here, I and others are seat-warmers.

My colleagues are not enabled to speak in these forums, so if you are in the business of development, learn the language of development, rather than force them to learn the language of these places.

My most important lesson is that most instances the government does not know what the poor want, nor how it could be delivered. Treating poor people as consumers of development is a mistake. The poor survive despite development, and can participate in providing new solutions that go to scale if they are part of the process, its execution and design.

Fourth, the whole issue of engendering development – most of our partners were mainly men who used to fight eviction and development. The issue of habitat, creating safe neighborhoods, the responsibility of doing so is also women’s. So what agency are we giving to them? We promote new generation of women’s leaders.

Note, everything that poor people want in cities is ‘illegal or inappropriate’. We produce our efforts to challenge development norms. We have examples of interaction with the WB, and in many instances WB projects involve eviction – termed ‘involuntary resettlement’. We have shown again and again, that involving poor people in design and execution of projects, you succeed in far more successful projects.

Local economies and processes can hugely benefit form participating in this process. Our work is challenging processes, from local to global. We seek a voice, not by saying ‘we have a right to be there’ but by demonstrating that we can succeed by taking different approaches.

We as development actors require new strategies of interaction – one of the biggest challenges is that the world is becoming more urban. Most people in cities will be working and living informally, so how are these exclusionary practices going to impact that, and what does it mean to be this intermediary in institutions or with individuals who seek development.”

For a full report of the event, click here


Taking the Reigns: Slum Dwellers Drive the Upgrading Process in Pune, India

Pune, India

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

In March I came across Mukta Naik’s piece for Global Urbanist blog on her firm’s involvement in a project to redevelop two slum clusters in Delhi as part of the national Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) housing scheme. While her piece highlights a number of key principles in the creation of cities that include rather than marginalize the urban poor – arguing, for example, for in situ upgrading rather than relocation, and the central participation of slum dwellers in the planning process – I felt as though in the end, there was at least one critical departure from my take on the role of slum dwellers in the production of future cities. Naik concludes her piece with a statement that, “in the end, many of the demands of slum dwellers are not implementable” and the onus lies on the urban planning professionals, architects and engineers to advocate on their behalf for more realistic solutions, and to convince local governments of their rationale and viability. 

The experience of urban grassroots social movements and individual communities proves that slum dwellers are more than capable of devising realistic, implementable, solutions to their own housing and infrastructure needs. Although the process may be longer than one driven by professionals, its success is often more sustainable, and more relevant – characteristics that benefit both the government and the slum dwellers in the long term. To this end, local governments across India and the developing world have in many cases (and often after much negotiation, exchange visits to other projects, and even some heated disagreements) been brought into the process, convinced of the viability of these projects, and seen the concrete benefits of involving communities in all stages of the upgrading process – from planning to design to construction to maintenance. In addition, I would argue that the role of the professional is not to provide the right answers, but instead to ask the right questions; not to advocate for the urban poor, but rather to support their voice so that they can  advocate for their own needs and, ultimately, their own solutions.

One of the most notable examples of this is happening 1,500 kilometers from the scene of Naik’s article, in Pune, India, the second largest city in Maharashtra state after the megacity of Mumbai. Here, organized communities of the urban poor have been working for roughly twenty years to build a social movement that results in concrete improvements in the lives of slum dwellers. This alliance includes a national collective of women’s savings groups, Mahila Milan, a national slum dweller federation, NSDF, and their support NGO, SPARC

During a trip to Pune in January, I met the leaders of Pune’s Mahila Milan (MM) in their local office above a community toilet project constructed and managed by the women of MM. This group of women manages projects ranging from housing construction to water and sanitation to large-scale government-sponsored resettlements. Starting with management of daily savings, the MM women have learnt the necessary skills for management and coordination of human as well as financial resources. 

Pune’s Mahila Milan began their upgrading work by taking up an in-situ upgrading project for 1,200 households in the settlement of Yerwada under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission’s (JNNURM) Basic Services to the Urban Poor scheme (BSUP).  Here, old tin shacks have been torn down and replaced with one, two and three-story single and multiple family homes in the style of townhouses and small apartment blocks. Inevitably, political battles crop up during this aspect of such projects. The process of demolition and reconstruction requires the facilitation of intense negotiation by MM’s members and leaders. The ways of managing these grievances are maybe the most important lesson of all, and highlights MM’s integral role in the process.

In Yerwada, MM have driven all aspects of the project: from community mobilization to design of re-blocking plans and upgraded houses to negotiations with city government around building regulations and provision of infrastructure and basic services. Using social technologies such as self-enumeration, community mapping, and daily savings, the women of Mahila Milan have been able to engage at all levels, bringing empowering tools and information to both the people on the ground and the officials in town hall.

One of the most fascinating things about this project is the use of space. Most of the homes’ footprints are no bigger than 250 square feet. By adding a second floor, this footprint is nearly doubled, allowing extended families to live comfortably together. One woman’s home is a narrow triangle of only 170 square feet. The second story nearly doubles this, and MM has ensured that she has permission from the municipality to build a third story once she can afford it. 

In addition to reconstructing the homes, MM worked hard in Yerwada to realign the structures, widening pathways and making space for municipal water, sewerage and electricity connections. Management of construction was made easier thanks to MM’s direct involvement as overseers of the construction process. Footpaths, widened from crevices to lovely pathways, are now lit by street lamps. MM worked with the families to construct homes suited to their needs and personal aesthetic. Homes are painted bright colors, and front doors hung with bright flowers. It is clear that this is a community. Not a slum. Not an informal settlement. It is a neighborhood, with families living and working, improving their homes and walking their kids home from school. 

Following the successful upgrading in Yerwada, the Indian SDI Alliance’s community-owned construction company was contracted by the city to construct 750 homes in 7 additional settlements across Pune: Bhatt Nagar, Chandrama Nagar, Mother Theresa, Netaji Nagar, Sheela Salve Nagar, Wadar Wasti and Yashwant Nagar. 

Prior to PMM’s involvement in slum upgrading in Pune, city government had experienced local resistance in their attempts at slum upgrading. This was due largely to a lack of community involvement in the development of upgrading plans. The state was proposing high-rise housing projects or individual subsidies and loans, neither of which appealed to the communities. Once Pune’s MM got involved, they were able to assist the wider community to develop housing solutions for in situ development and relocation that are at the same time community designed and delivered and viable in the eyes of the city government. So far, Pune MM has constructed roughly 3,000 units in situ across Pune using a blend of subsidies, loans, and community contributions.

These citywide successes provide an important node for learning across a transnational network of organized slum dweller federations that spans the Global South.  Groups of slum dwellers, support professionals and government officials from across India and the developing world travel frequently to Pune to learn from the experiences of the Pune MM and city officials. In the past few years, these exchanges have inspired groups from neighboring Orissa to South Africa to Brazil as to the power of community participation in the upgrading process.

In addition to serving as a center of learning, Pune has become an example of successful slum upgrading for the wider urban development community. Students from Pune University and KRVIA in Mumbai, as well as universities in Sweden, Australia and the United States have all traveled to Pune for research work and urban planning studios.  

The upgrading experience in Pune clearly disputes claims that slum dwellers are not capable of conceiving and implementing their own solutions. Of course, professional expertise is often necessary in implementing large-scale upgrading projects, but it must be deployed in ways that support the experience-based knowledge of slum dweller communities. Indeed, it is this experience, skill, and history that led this community to come into being in the first place. We have to constantly be thinking and acting with the question in our mind: Does this further marginalize the urban poor? Does my work as a professional minimize the decision-making influence of residents in planning for physical upgrades that will affect their lives? Do my thoughts, actions and words serve the creation of an inclusive city, or a fragmented one, where the urban poor are kept on the periphery?

For it has been proven that through the mobilization of organized slum dweller federations like Pune’s Mahila Milan, the urban poor can take the reigns of their own development, and that city governments are often quite happy to come on board.


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction and Maintenance in India


**Cross-posted from the SPARC CitywatchINDIA Blog**

Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.

SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums.  SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping.  Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention.  Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.

Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways.  Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance.  SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity.  SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children.  SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility.  This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction.  Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses.  This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.

SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.

SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities.   SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured.  SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.


A toilet in one of the most successful community toilet blocks in Dharavi, Mumbai. 

After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”

Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement.  Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.


Community Policing in Slum Settlements


By Skye Dobson, CCI, & SPARC

As with many projects in the SDI network, the Tanzanian federation’s community policing project was in large part inspired by the experience of slum dwellers during a peer-to-peer exchange. These exchanges are a key ritual in the SDI toolkit and the principal mechanism through which lessons are shared amongst the 1.2 million slum dwellers in the SDI movement. The exchange that catalyzed the Tanzanian project involved members from the Tanzanian Urban Poor Federation visiting the Indian federation in Mumbai.

In most of the slum settlements in which members of the Tanzanian Federation live, crime is an ever-present threat and police response has been inadequate. Slum dwellers in the Tanzanian Federation were frustrated by the inability of the police to effectively meditate conflicts within the community. The Tanzanian Federation learned that their fellow slum dwellers in India were running an effective community policing project and organized an exchange to Mumbai. To ensure maximum benefit from the exchange, the federation invited the Commissioner of Police for Dar-es-Salaam to accompany them.

The exchange participants learned that in Mumbai, where slums are notoriously under‐manned in terms of police personnel, the Indian federation launched the Panchayat project. The project has been successful in increasing citizens’ safety rights and addressing the distrust that exists between the poor and the police. Despite the fact that more than half of the population lives in slums, the Tanzanians learned that the proportion of the police allotted to these areas accounts for less than a third of the force.

The exchange revealed that the idea behind the Panchayat is that community disputes should be resolved at the local level whenever possible. The Panchayat mediates family and neighbor quarrels as well as instances of domestic violence. They have been able to do this effectively and thus greatly reduce the caseload for the police. Women form the majority of the Panchayat due to their in depth knowledge of the community and time spent at home.

The Panchayat members have gained such a positive reputation that they are now asked to help the police maintain peace and order when there are festivals in the city. They are also invited to meetings by the police department on critical issues. At present, there are 64 active Panchayats in Mumbai and the federation anticipates this number will grow.

The Tanzanians appreciated the community policing principle of dispute resolution at the local level. These slums disputes if not resolved can lead to serious and pervasive crime. Upon returning home, the Tanzanian Federation decided that this principle would form the core driver of the Tanzanian project, as well as civic education and counseling to youth and children on safety and crime prevention.

Implementation of the Tanzanian Federation community police program began with an enumeration focused on crime and safety within slum settlements in Dar es Salaam. The enumeration – a community conducted household survey – allows the federation to identify key priorities of the community.

Following the identification of areas and issues to be prioritized, the Federation established community police teams. Training and orientation of the community police on their roles and responsibilities was conducted and the federation worked hard with the regional police force to ensure the linkages between its work and that of the community police were clear.


In Tanzania, as with the Panchayat in India, the federation has been especially effective addressing domestic quarrels and disputes among neighbors. The central role of women in the implementation of the community policing is setting a new precedent for crime prevention within cities. Moreover, through the counseling program, slum youth are taught about the effects of drugs and the importance of attending school, which it also believes is reducing crime prevalence.

The implementation of Federation community policing program has thus prompted new thinking in the country’s slums, particularly regarding issues of crime and safety – so much so that the Chief of Police of Tanzania has encouraged all regions in Tanzania to initiate community police programs. Indeed, while the Federation community police program started in Dar-es-Salaam – where five Federation groups are now engaged in community policing activities – the initiative has since been expanded to Arusha, Dodoma and Mara. In each of these cities, the Tanzanian Federation has developed a very close working relationship with the Regional Police office. This has resulted in a shift in the way slum residents are viewed in matters of crime prevention.

As the Tanzanian Federation moves forward with its community policing project, it seeks to establish livelihood projects to support the work of the volunteers. While the federation has received financial support in Arusha and Dodoma from the regional police office, the federation thinks it wise to bring additional resources to the project to ensure a continuity of service. The community policing teams require small funds for communications, transport, and trainings. One group in Dodoma, for instance, has already begun supporting its activities by selling soft drinks. In addition, the federation hopes to secure more funds from the Government and private sector.

Diary from Mumbai: Part III


By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

It is nearing the end of my stay in Mumbai, and I know I am going to miss this city as soon as I board the plane. I have spent the past week getting to know her streets and her people, and it is an experience I will certainly not forget. Mumbai is the kind of city that stays with you – the fragrance of the food, the colors of the sky at dusk, the buzz of people and traffic in the streets. Like other great cities of the world, its rhythm is invigorating and awe-inspiring – the vibrancy and speed of everyday life, set against the beautiful backdrop of history. 

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to revisit Dharavi: to walk the streets and narrow alleyways of the potters’ village and the recycling areas of the vast informal city-within-a-city, the world’s most well known slum. 

We make our way from Bombay Central to Dharavi by train. It is past rush hour, so the great crowds I have heard so much about have subsided. The train is cool and quiet as it rumbles along the Central Line, and it is not long before we arrive at Sion station, the entrance to Dharavi. Actually, there is more than one train stop in Dharavi, making it very easy to access from almost anywhere across Mumbai. This, along with its central location, is one of the main factors contributing to increased interest in Dharavi as a site for private re-development. But re-development plans have not taken into account Dharavi’s place as a commercial hub in Mumbai’s informal and formal economies. They have not accounted for the outdoor kilns in the potters’ village, or the vast workshops where all means of recycling take place. Nor have they accounted for the long tradition of food production, leather shops, and textile mills. For now, plans are at a standstill. But there is a long road ahead if the vibrant economy of this bustling town is to be preserved.


We start off in the potters’ village. Here, thousands of local people work with hundreds of pounds of clay every day, stamping, pounding, molding and spinning it into beautiful pots, urns, serving dishes, candle holders for Diwali and statues of the Indian god Ganesh. Orders come in from all over Mumbai. Pottery is sold to housewives and retailers. We walk for half an hour, past shops and workshops, each one with a home overhead. Men sit inside, spinning handmade pots on wheels. A woman is polishing water pots outside her home, rubbing wet clay onto just-fired pots to smooth over imperfections. There are hundreds of the same pots lined up a few feet away. I ask her how much these sell for. Sharmila, one of the women working at the Indian support NGO, SPARC, translates for me. “About 100 or 120 rupees,” she says. This is equivalent to about US $2. This isn’t much, of course. But it is US $2 more than nothing, and when you multiply it by the 50 or 100 pots beside her, it’s a significant income. Multiply that by the many other workshops around her, and it becomes clear that Dharavi is more than a small piece of Mumbai’s vibrant economy.

From here, Sharmila takes me to another area of winding streets, this time lined with one recycling workshop after another. I have heard about Dharavi’s recycling industry, but again it is something else to see it up close and personal. Each workshop is busy with men and women sorting through, cleaning and producing every type of plastic imaginable. Women sit outside in the alleyways sorting through plastic cutlery and take-away boxes, as men work away inside on melting and shredding them to be reused across India and beyond. Dharavi is home to the largest plastic recycling industry in India. If the proposed redevelopment took place, where would this industry move to? How could it not be accounted for? How could it be seen as anything less than integral to the very heart of the city’s economy?

The next day I visit the Mahila Milan-NSDF office in Byculla. This was the neighborhood where SPARC first began its work back in the 1980s, when they made links with the community of pavement-dwellers who had their homes along these streets. Today, the streets are still lined with homes and shops, people milling about, living and working in the heart of central Mumbai, just blocks away from Bombay Central train station. Again, I am struck by the presence of the informal right alongside the formal city. Not even alongside it, but smack in the middle of it. Part of it. Contributing to it. We spend some time speaking with the women of Mahila Milan living here. They have been members of MM for over twenty years. They have negotiated with local government for toilets, for water taps, for electricity. Now each home is hooked up to the electrical grid, they have access to community toilets, and many people have water taps inside their homes. And they have prevented demolitions, prevented the threat of middle-of-the-night bulldozers and unannounced evictions.

The women know they will not be able to stay in Byculla forever, but in many ways it is better than moving out to Mankhurd, further away from jobs and schools. They made their homes here on purpose, and although they know they will have to leave eventually, it becomes clear yet again that a home is so much than a formal house. It is a community, a sense of security, access to the services and opportunities that bring rich and poor alike to the cities of the world. Why then should the right to enjoy these be a privilege only afforded to the rich? In Mumbai, the poor have claimed their space in the city – their right to it. Now the question is how they will hold onto that, and how the rest of us will support them.

For more photos from Ariana’s trip to Mumbai, visit our Facebook page.

Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty

The Indian SDI Alliance, SPARC-NSDF-Mahila Milan, alongside long-standing partner PRIA initiated events in various states in India to seek deeper community participation on government poverty linked programs in cities. Participants explored ways that state and city authorities and NGOs can facilitate effective partnerships with communities, making space for them to be centrally involved in upgrading, infrastructure and design projects.

This small video attempts to share glimpses of initial workshops help in Patna, Bihar, and Ranchi in Chhattisgarh, India. These initial workshops will be followed up more in depth engagements, so stay tuned to the blog for updates.