Building Capacity, Creating Identity, and Shifting Decision-Making from the Bottom Up

ZAM-Lusaka West Solar Project_ (26)

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.

SDI’s overall program outcome for our previous strategic plan was:

“Creation of local, national, and transnational organizations of that build their capacity, create institutional identity, and produce multiple tiers of leadership. These trigger new institutional relationships amongst government, private sector, and civil society to alter decision making processes.”

The capacity of SDI’s global network of slum dweller federations to develop and implement their local change agenda, to create clear and recognizable institutional identity, and to nurture multiple tiers of leadership has grown considerably since 2013. During this time, the reach of the network has expanded:

  • The number of cities SDI works in grew from 409 to 482
  • The number of savings groups grew from 7,971 to 9,604
  • The number of youth engaged in SDI programs grew from 7,940 to 20,963
  • The KYC campaign grew from 7 to 136 cities

The capacities of the network have expanded, allowing for increasingly strategic deployment of SDI tools such as savings, community-driven data collection, and peer-to-peer exchange; systematic community-led learning, monitoring, and evaluation; collaborative governance of a global network; and the development of impactful interventions i the areas of energy justice, resilience, and climate change.

A clear and recognizable institutional identity was created, including the collaborative development of a Theory of Change,  a clear SDI brand identity, the KYC Campaign, and a clearer, more accessible communications strategy.

Lastly, SDI has shifted institutional relationships and decision-making through increasing impactful partnerships with city authorities at the local level, global alliances with city networks such as UCLG, UCLG-A, C40, and 100RC, private sector partnerships aimed at fostering inclusive investment and decision-making, and increased influence in shaping global policy towards greater inclusivity – most obviously evidenced by content in the New Urban Agenda and SDG 11.

One significant change story that captures the essence of SDI’s achievements in building federations, partnerships, and informing city planning is the Know Your City Campaign. At city, national and international level there is increasing recognition for the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City campaign to understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. Anchored by SDI’s community-led informal settlement profiling, enumeration and mapping, the KYC campaign supports partnerships between local and city governments and organized slum communities.

The campaign was established as a joint program between SDI affiliated federations and the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG-A), with support from Cities Alliance. It has become a powerful force for community organization, participatory local governance, partnership building, and collective action to implement global commitments to “leave no one behind.”

SDI has driven the expansion of the campaign throughout Africa and into Asia and Latin America. In addition, it has driven linkages between the Campaign and actors in the resilience, climate, private sector, and innovative finance spaces. The achievements and aspirations of the KYC campaign are well captured in the Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count publication, launched at the World Urban Forum. The publication brings together institutions at the forefront of global pro-poor data-driven solutions that hold great promise for enhancing inclusiveness and resilience at scale. It details the work of organized communities of the urban poor to collect systematic data on conditions in their settlements and fill critical gaps in knowledge. It presents examples of enlightened local governments seeking to change the status quo through collaborative and inclusive city planning and management, it captures the essential partnerships of public, private, and community actors working to make fundamental change.

Download the full publication here.

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.

Collaboration for Reducing Risk in the Coastal Slums of Freetown



As of 2017, Sierra Leone’s Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) has organized 272 groups in 5 cities. Vulnerable coastal slums in Freetown are plagued by seasonal flooding and their designation as risk prone areas means the threat of eviction is ever present and the extension of basic services restricted. For communities whose livelihoods are heavily linked to their proximity to the ocean and whose incomes do not permit residence in formal areas of the city, this presents an acute challenge. Believing in the maxim “information is power,” the federation has organized communities to profile, enumerate, and map their settlements and engage government and other partners to explore solutions that promote environmentally conscious and equitable development – upgrading where possible and relocating where necessary based on comprehensive analysis. This year, the federation completed a Freetown citywide profiling report comprising 62 slum settlements as a contribution to this effort.


The complexity of the issues facing coastal slums should not be underestimated and collaboration with other federations facing the same challenges, as well as other organizations with expertise in these issues, is essential. In Sierra Leone, the federation has collaborated with the Sierra Leone Urban Research Center (SLURC), established as part of the Comic Relief-funded Freetown Urban Slum Initiative dubbed, “Pull Slum Pan Pipu”. SLURC brings together national and international research institutes and local stakeholders to enhance the well-being of informal settlement dwellers. The federation also works closely with Y-Care International, the local YMCA, and their support NGO Center for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) to organize youth and bring them into the profiling, enumeration, and local advocacy efforts of the federation.


The federation is proud that many officials formerly in support of evicting coastal slum settlements are now engaging communities and other stakeholders in a search for alternatives. The collaborations as part of the Freetown Urban Slum Initiative have been critical to this shift. The partnerships have also served to increase understanding that the daily risks faced by informal settlement dwellers in these areas actually serve to entrench vulnerability to an even greater extent than episodic shocks. As such, there is an effort to collaborate on reducing such vulnerability as the longer-term alternative to forced eviction. This is an important first step on a long road to resilience for these highly vulnerable settlements.

The Sierra Leone slum dweller federation efforts contribute to improved city resilience by building the capabilities of actively engaged citizens and working as part of proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration to reduce exposure to fragility and achieve inclusive integrated planning.

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

The Collaborative Urban Resilience Exchange: How KYC data & partnerships support more inclusive development outcomes

The Collaborative Urban Resilience Exchange

Resilience building has emerged as an important priority for cities worldwide. With an increasing number of cities developing Resilience Strategies, there is a pressing need to understand how these strategies intersect with issues of exclusion and poverty. In cities with large portions of their population living in informal settlements it is critical that more attention is given to understanding these intersections. Triggered by a collaboration established under the Community of Practice for Resilience Measurement , SDI100 Resilient Cities and Itad have begun this work.

Given the centrality of peer-to-peer exchange in its learning approach, SDI decided to host a Collaborative Urban Resilience Exchange in its recently launched Know Your City Resource Center in Woodstock, Cape Town. As part of the exchange, which took place from July 16th-18th 2018, SDI brought together city officials and community organizations involved in resilience planning and implementation in Cape Town, Accra and Durban. The exchange supported reflection by officials and communities from the three cities about how community-collected data on informal settlements and partnerships between government and organized communities (a package of strategies known as Know Your City by SDI and its partners) can support resilient city strategies capable of generating more inclusive city development outcomes.

Learn more about the reflections and outcomes of the exchange by clicking on the image above.

Developing Alternatives to Waterfront Evictions in Lagos



As of 2017, the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation has organized 162 groups in 2 cities. As with most federations in the SDI network, combating evictions is the federation’s key mobilizing force. In the past 5 years, waterfront evictions have escalated owing to land grabs associated with an inflow of finance for luxury coastal development projects. The federation has used a combination of organizing strategies to try to stop the brutal evictions – evictions characterized by the overnight bulldozing of settlements housing tens of thousands, police setting fire to peoples’ homes and belongings, and the firing of live and rubber bullets to drive communities off the land. Federation profiling data on 40 waterfront communities with an estimated combined population of over 300,000 has been essential to informing the #SaveTheWaterfronts campaign to end forced evictions and ensure eviction alternatives are prioritized.


Despite a highly hostile environment, the federation has continued to work to build relationships with government. In the past year, progress has been made with the Lagos State Ministry of Health and the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) with whom the federation has signed MOUs and is undertaking pilot projects to demonstrate eviction alternatives and city development that is in line with New Urban Agenda commitments. Peer-to-peer exchanges with other SDI federations and their government partners have been an important contributors to shifting perceptions in some government circles. Collaboration with other civil society actors has also been critical for raising awareness among the Nigerian public that – aside from contravening national and international law – the demolitions of peoples’ homes and livelihoods is neither a strategy for eliminating slums nor a strategy for building secure and prosperous cities.


Much is at stake in these efforts to demonstrate eviction alternatives and show there is another way. Since the absence of services in informal settlements is often used to justify removals, an effective first step in navigating the land tenure continuum can be the extension of these services to informal communities and the setting in motion of processes to upgrade in situ. It is an uphill struggle to say the least. In a city such as Lagos, with some of the most expensive land and housing markets on the continent, the forces against the federation are fierce. Poverty and deepening inequality are acute threats to the resilience of Lagos.

The Nigeria slum dweller federation efforts contribute to improved city resilience by reducing acute human vulnerability resulting from forced eviction, mobilizing cohesive communities, and organizing them to act as engaged citizens. These efforts are geared toward driving proactive multi-stakeholder engagements and building mechanisms for community engagement with government in pursuit of inclusive safety, security, and wellbeing in the megacity.

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

Kenya Federation mobilises to prevent & negotiate alternatives to evictions in Nairobi



We, the Kenya SDI Alliance, appreciate the solidarity and support from everyone on the fight against forced evictions. The Kibera demolition caught most of us flat footed despite ongoing efforts and negotiations between the Kenya Urban Roads Authority, residents of Kibera, members of Muungano wa Wanavijiji living in in Kibera, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, the National Land Commission and other rights based NGOs.  As of today, these organizations have gone to court to seek justice for the affected persons.

As soon as Kibera was demolished, other eviction notices were issued to settlements located under power lines, within riparian reserves, and along railway lines. Yesterday, the Kenyan federation held an urgent meeting  and resolved to do the following;

  • Identify all settlements under threat on maps. This began yesterday and established that the following areas are under eviction threats: Makongeni, Kaloleni, Mbotela, Dandora, Deep Sea, Mukuru, Mathare and Kamae, with 4 areas having been marked for evictions tomorrow.
  • Mobilize and conduct rapid enumerations. A federation team is working to establish contacts with residents, create awareness on the need to resist the forced evictions, and train community members to conduct rapid enumerations.  The team is also mobilizing residents of the affected areas and federation members from all settlements for a protest march on 8th August 2018. Slum dwellers will use this peaceful march to deliver a petition to the Cabinet Executive Secretary in charge of Roads, Infrastructure and Housing as well as the County Government.
  • Campaign Slogan. The team has developed a campaign slogan #StopForcedEvictionsNow and is asking people to use this to bring awareness to these events. The Kenya Know Your City TV team will spearhead a week-long social media campaign, raising awareness and calling on government to engage the community to seek alternatives . This will be supported by a media campaign on both mainstream and community media.
  • Upward engagement and networking. The Kenya SDI Alliance is working with Katiba Institute, Kituo Cha Sheria, Haki Jamii and Amnesty International. The organizations are meeting frequently and hopes to meet with government officials in the next week in order to negotiate alternatives. This work will be largely supported Muungano wa Wanavijiji with support from Amnesty International.


We seek the support of everyone on this matter.

According to Ezekiel Rema, the founding Muungano Chairman, “…let us now bring back our advocacy tools from where they are gathering dust to STOP FORCED EVICTIONS NOW!”


Know Your City Touches Down in Botswana



As of 2017, the Botswana Homeless & Poor People Support Federation has organized 106 groups in 6 cities and towns. Thanks to impressive organizing by the Botswana federation, it was able to negotiate the development and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Francistown City Council in 2016 to launch a Know Your City campaign. This year saw the federation organize to turn words into reality. In May 2017, the federation organized a learning-by-doing peer-to-peer exchange to bring their Namibian, Zimbabwean, and South African comrades to Francistown to kick-start the citywide profiling and mapping effort.


The collaboration exhibited during the exchange was impressive. Local community members, the Botswana federation, local tribal authorities, Francistown City officials, Botswana Statistics, and slum dwellers from Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe all gathered to kick-start the profiling of Francistown settlements. The learning-by-doing approach favored by federations throughout the SDI network ensured learning was practical and action-based. The teams learned to use GPS devices and tablets as they did the work, ensuring they tested their knowledge in real time and produced results as they learned. The teams uncovered hidden informality manifested in backyard shacks and considerable sanitation deficits in many areas.


The Know Your City campaign is off to a great start in Botswana. Meetings have been held at the national level with the federation and its peers from SDI to work towards replication of the Francistown MOU at national scale. Impressive commitments by various national government offices to work together and ensure they harmonize and streamline information gathering in low income areas has encouraged the federation that Know Your City has landed at an opportune time. The MOU signed in Francistown and the one in development at national level outline a commitment to implement a number of innovative, precedent-setting pilot projects (supported by the federation’s Bhabhanani Urban Poor Fund) emerging from the needs identified in the Know Your City Campaign.

The Botswana slum dweller federation efforts contribute to improved city resilience by demonstrating effective mechanisms for community to engage government through Know Your City, the promotion of active citizenship among the urban poor, the building of cohesive communities, and support to collaborative urban planning.

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

Stories from the ground: Know Your City settlement profiling in SDI’s Asian Hub

Settlement Profiling Report_Bangladesh4

In July 2017 during the Asia Hub meeting, members made a renewed commitment to explore links between SDI and a longstanding partner organization in the urban space, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), through the Know Your City campaign. They developed a plan to initiate, implement, and activate the settlement profiling process in 25 cities in 6 countries across Asia.

The five country teams who were present at SDI’s Asian Hub meeting were selected for the first phase of the citywide community-led profiling project. All five teams have a history of building urban poor networks in their local contexts. The support NGOs in each of these countries actively assist the urban poor networks with community savings, community mapping, initiating community-managed development funds, and exploring solutions to problems of land and housing through initiatives in community and housing development.

As of April 2018, great strides have been made.

  • 23 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in in Davao, Philippines
  • 7 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Jhenaidah, Bangladesh
  • 9 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Jogjakarta, Indonesia
  • 51 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Yangon, Myanmar
  • 26 settlement profiles and GPD boundary maps are underway in Battambang, Cambodia

The present strategy for citywide profiling builds on the community surveying and mapping processes which community networks in Asian countries have been practicing for decades. The idea of this profiling initiative is to help urban poor communities in these countries to collect settlement and citywide information in a more systematic way and to strengthen the capacity of their networks to engage with local authorities on issues of land, housing, and access to basic services.

The mapping and profiling tools systemize the process and produce baseline information for each city. The profiling process also helps identify new community members and new leaders and encourages community members to look beyond their own settlement to understand that the problems they face are structural problems of the whole city and to think strategically and collectively for solutions that will work at city scale.

The process of citywide network-building through savings, surveying, and mapping builds trust, voice, and identity for urban poor networks. The information they collect about their settlements helps them craft alternative solutions that address the problems of individual communities while simultaneously developing a framework for addressing the problems of land and housing for poor settlements for the city as a whole.

The focus of this particular initiative is on strengthening settlement profiling and mapping as tools for urban poor community networks. These tools only have meaning and gain momentum when they are part of the network’s larger mobilising strategy. If this process is to be led by communities from the start to finish it has the capacity to build the confidence and capacity of local communities to engage with their local authority around alternative solutions that are based on real information – knowledge that most city planners do not have access to. Thus, the emphasis of this first phase of the profiling process is on training and learning to strengthen the building blocks of citywide profiling.

Training workshops were conducted in all five cities. An important part of these training workshops was making sure that the local groups understood the big picture along with the details and could understand the value of this new learning within their ongoing work.

The two main activities in this phase include:

  1. Learning to build tools for a citywide information collection strategy
  2. Learning to prepare a GIS map and fill out a settlement profile questionnaire for a few settlements

The settlement profiling training lasted three to four days in each city. The content of the training was tailored to respond to local needs while overall learning principles remained consistent. An overview of the agenda and activities undertaken is below. The steps for training flowed with the learning needs of each team.

Settlement Profiling Report_Bangladesh3


  • General background: Why settlement profiling? Why citywide? Linking profiling to savings and upgrading. Understanding why we are collecting settlement information and not household information at this stage.
  • What information and preparation is required before profiling and mapping? Coming to a common understanding about the municipal boundaries within the city and prioritizing.
  • Spread and total number of settlements within the different municipal divisions. The idea of this exercise is for the team to understand the whole city and then to break it into smaller parts for easier and more flexible implementation.
  • Deeper understanding of the current relationship between the community and local government.
  • Better understanding of the skills and capacities of the support professionals and the community networks that are currently available.

While many of the groups had experience with community mapping, using the GPS instrument to map their settlements was fairly new to most. All the groups had some experience with hand-drawn community maps showing structures. In the past these maps were transformed into professional maps with the help of the architects and looked more like cadastral maps. The idea of the present GPS mapping is only to collect the data on the boundaries of the settlement and to map the basic services.

Every team discussed and listed the steps for the three phases of the data collection process: before, during, and after the profiling. This framework consolidated what needed to be done from start to finish.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 12.16.43 PM


Learning to use the GPS instrument to map the boundary of the community: One to four settlements were mapped during the training depending on the preparation and readiness of the communities. Finding the GPS coordinates got the attention of the young men and women in the settlements and many of them wanted to learn to use the GPS instrument, which was a big attraction. In Battambang Cambodia, the city officials were very much engaged with the mapping process. However this did not necessarily make the process more beneficial for communities to learn. In Jhenaidah, Bangladesh the mayor was also engaged, gave his blessing, and joined at the beginning and the end of the training. Of the five cities, Battambang and Junaidah were the two cities where local officials were engaged in the process from the start.

Going through the profile questionnaire: The original SDI form was translated into the local language in all five cities. In the beginning, we walked through every question on the form. This took a long time and was sometimes cumbersome, as it was easy to loose the attention of the local team. The other way was to walk through the questionnaire section by section. Either way, briefing the team on the different parts of the questionnaire at the beginning of the process was found to be a useful strategy as it helped the local team to understand the big picture and made the specific sections easier to understand.

Settlement Profiling Report_Bangladesh6


Teams in the field reported back to each other and the learning of the two days were consolidated. There was more clarity on the ‘before’ and ‘during’ steps. If dummy forms were filled out, then these were verified and corrected for errors.

There was some introduction to the data uploading process, but this was not so successful at this stage since the local teams already had a lot of information to process. In cities where there was a fourth day in the training, the support NGO used the time to discuss its own role and consolidate its strategy. Some general steps that evolved by the participants for the 3 phases of profiling are listed below. The specifics of this process changed from group to group.

Preparation before profiling:

  • Decide municipal township / division / settlement
  • Collect the general map if available
  • Collect information of settlement
  • Obtain permission from township administration
  • Set up timeline
  • Schedule meeting to train the local community
  • Learn to work with the GPS device
  • Prepare questionnaire and stationery
  • Young professionals, network leaders, and local community leaders form teams for the field activity: one team to work with the GPS device, one to record the data, one to take photos, one to mark pathways and landmarks, and one team to administer the survey form.

During profiling:

  • Plan for a meeting place
  • Prepare for GPS / local government / draft map
  • Set up time for mapping and profiling
  • Gather information
  • Edit information
  • Glimpse of first rough analysis
  • Upload informaton onto platform

After profiling:

Data team and technical team work together on the following:

  • Preparation of the profiling report
  • Planning next steps with citywide network and with the community
  • Plan for alternative proposals for upgrading / housing

Click here more information and photos from the team in Bangladesh. 

SDI Invests in Income-Generating Community Resource Centres: The case of 302 Albert Road


By Merhawi Okbaselasie, SDI Secretariat

In this fast-changing environment, NGOs are becoming particularly concerned about financial sustainability, and SDI is no exception. The challenge is how to become financially sustainable without drifting from SDI’s core mission of realising inclusive and resilient cities that improve the lives of the urban poor. SDI achieves this core mission through investing in the urban poor’s self-organising and by supporting them in exploring alternatives to evictions. This includes land tenure, access to basic services, and housing solutions. There are many successes that attest to the effectiveness of SDI’s bottom-up approach to urban development.

However, for SDI to continue to fulfil its mission and to ensure the sustained effectiveness of its network, some level of financial self-sufficiency is vital. The SDI Secretariat has long recognized this challenge and has been making some strides in diversifying the income sources of the network. Efforts include broadening strategies to attract donor finance (e.g. individuals of high-net worth, challenge funds, and impact investments), generating funds from the general public through campaigns and direct marketing (e.g. challenge funds, crowd funding), as well as generating revenue through market-based opportunities linked to SDI’s core work. One such effort is the recent development of the property at 302 Albert Road into a ‘commercial hub’ and ‘community resource centre’.

SDI, through its investment arm Inqolobane Trust, has recently acquired an old commercial property situated at 302 Albert Road in Woodstock, Cape Town. A well-located, diverse and vibrant area close to the Cape Town CBD, Woodstock is one of the oldest working-class residential areas in Cape Town. Unlike many other neighbourhoods, residents in Woodstock managed to avoid the brutal forced evictions of the Apartheid era. However, over the last two decades as the city has grown, Woodstock has increasingly been subject to a process of gentrification with poorer communities facing more surreptitious forms of evictions.

The premises at 302 Albert were in dire need of maintenance and upgrading. SDI adopted a ‘’light touch’’ approach and invested in upgrading and restoring the heritage qualities of the old Victorian building (built between 1900 and 1905), and refurbishing industrial structures at the rear of the property. The efforts also included expanding and renovating the existing central courtyard to create a communal space with seating and greenery. The design interventions were approved by the Western Cape Heritage Resource Authority.

302 Albert is designed to function as both a ‘commercial hub’ and a ‘social hub’. Because Albert Road functions as a high street, commercial activities are located on the ground floor ensuring accessibility and visual connection to street level commercial activities. There are two 70 square metre retail shops: a jewelry shop and an art gallery along Albert Road, with an open plan studio above the two shops housing the SDI Secretariat’s new office. Accessed via a paved access way and an internal courtyard, the rear of the property houses a ground floor workshop and a restaurant, with a large open plan studio above the restaurant. This studio will soon become a hub for SDI’s Know Your City TV (KYC)  programme.

As mentioned above, the objectives of the 302 Albert development are both commercial and social. The first objective is to generate financial returns to contribute to the financial sustainability of SDI. To this end, the SDI Secretariat invested in upgrading and branding of the centre to position 302 as a landmark along the Albert Road corridor. These efforts significantly improved the quality and appeal of the ground-floor rental spaces and helped the centre function as a ‘commercial hub’.

302 is expected to generate an annual income that, in year one, will translate into an 8.5% gross yield. The upgrading efforts also included investment in grid connected rooftop solar PV and water tanks to harvest rainwater. The energy generated from solar is expected to reduce the total annual electricity costs of the centre by about 20%.


The second and equally important objective is to create a social space with two key functions: Firstly, the space will function as a hub for SDI’s Know Your City (KYC) programme. The emphasis will be on youth development through the KYC TV programme which provides training to youth from informal settlements in photography, media, storytelling, and film production. Secondly, the space will become a space for dialogue for communities and civil society organisations in the area to engage on critical issues affecting the urban poor, particularly forced evictions, which is at the centre of SDI’s core mission.

SDI’s main focus will continue to be the support of the urban poor in fighting evictions and accessing land tenure, basic services, and housing opportunities. Because of the nature of its work SDI will always require donor financing. However, the efforts made at developing 302 Albert using its own reserves highlight that SDI is serious about diversifying its funding sources and ensuring long term survival and effectiveness of its network. The challenge now is to scale up the successes achieved at 302 Albert across the SDI network. The idea is that these community resource centres – with emphasis on youth development – will be anchored around the Know Your City programme throughout the network,  delivering on both social and developmental outcomes and generating financial returns for the SDI network.

Know Your City Concluding Thoughts: Democratizing Data & Making the Invisible Visible

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 10.23.38 AM

By Jockin Arputham, Joel Bolnick, Somsook Boonyabancha, and Sheela Patel


When the police van went up

We went down

When it came down

We went up.

When the police stood

We also stood

When they sat down

We also sat down

When the committee went to negotiate

We went to invade

When they evicted us

We resisted the eviction

Patrick Magebhula

“This Is Not a Debate”


The late Patrick Magebhula was the founder, charismatic poet, and president of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor. In many ways Patrick understood, better than most, how organizations of the urban poor could use their capacities to produce disruptive change. Critically, Patrick understood that resistance and conflict were but part of an arsenal of actions that organized communities could use in their struggle for inclusion in city development. These confrontational strategies were never intended to be ends in themselves. They were a means to creating conditions for engagement with other stakeholders, normally the state: entities that otherwise considered the poor either as obstacles to development or beneficiaries of the interventions of others. What is more, these strategies made little contribution to the all-important question mentioned earlier in this report: When evictions are prevented, what happens next?

Patrick coined many of the slogans of the South African Federation, which over time got replicated in other countries. One such slogan was a pointed rephrasing of one of the rallying cries of the South African liberation struggle. “Amandla Ngawethu”— Power to the People—was a chant that stirred the excluded black majority to action and struck fear in the hearts of the apartheid police. “Amandla Ulwazi”— Knowledge Is Power—was Patrick’s reconstruction.

Know Your City underscores this message, the inference being that if knowledge is power, then data is political. The value of data serves many purposes that can be described as political. It legitimates representation of the urban poor. It removes the mantle of invisibility that impedes the urban poor in their efforts to contribute to the transformation of their cities. Most important, it gives voice and choice to a significantly substantial majority that live in the shadows of the formal city.

Many individuals, organizations, and institutions worry that shedding light on that which is hidden will produce more evictions, more divisions, and more oppression. SDI disagrees. Democratizing data and making the invisible visible is critical for making development investments work. Not only should the poor collect data that affects them and the city, but they have the right to interpret it as well, within a clearly articulated framework and within accepted standards. What gets aggregated and disaggregated and who creates the framework for how data is used and how it is owned is deeply political. The obsession with big data and the new science of algorithms is a case in point. Seldom has this big data been used to produce goods and services and resource allocations that serve the poor. Data about the poor—about their land insecurity and the huge deficit in amenities that they experience—is rarely the basis for understanding what cities need.

When community data links grassroots organizations, city governments, and private sector actors, it becomes easier to develop plans with a joint focus on delivery to ensure that all are included. Assigning different roles and responsibilities becomes simpler—as does ongoing monitoring.

SDI believes that each neighborhood must understand how their data helps them make choices and open avenues to seek useful discussions to improve their lives. What is more, SDI’s emphasis on women’s participation and increasingly on promoting the role of youth produces instruments for data collection, collation, aggregation, and application that are likely to produce outcomes that are sensitive to the needs of all residents, not just those determined by a few male leaders and politicians.

Patrick Magebhula called SDI’s data collection process “the community’s magic box.” The time is at hand to open it and spread its magic to all cities in the world.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. This is the last chapter from the book. Scroll back in our blog posts to read the rest of this exciting publication. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

Looking Ahead — Opportunities for Fundamental Change

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 11.51.23 AM

By Joel Bolnick, Robert M. Buckley, Sarah Colenbrander, Achilles Kallergis, Nancy MacPherson, Diana Mitlin, and David Satterthwaite

SDI has been inspired by the vision of socially and economically integrated slum settlements with security of tenure, universal access to affordable basic services, and adequate housing. To that end, SDI has demonstrated over many decades that constructive dialogue, collaborative data gathering, and knowledge sharing among informal settlements, communities, and local government authorities can contribute significantly to inclusive and sustainable urban development. Our societies face mounting global risk, characterized by profound inequality and rising wealth disparities, social instability, disruptive technological advancements, large-scale involuntary migration, and climate change. Many of these challenges are concentrated in cities.

Fundamental changes are needed to:

  • shift the approaches to urban development and informal settlements so that the poor are recognized as assets and partners, not problems;
  • support the essential partnerships required to deliver inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development;
  • reimagine data and information systems so they support shared knowledge, trust, and collective action;
  • develop innovative instruments and frameworks to monitor and report on poverty that shape more inclusive policies, programs, and investments.

✸ ✸ ✸

The successful realization of KYC in 103 cities and 1,238 settlements demonstrates the power and potential of an expanded KYC campaign. KYC is capable of reorienting the way that urban planning and development happens. It can guide local governments, national and international policies, and programs and investments at scale. As such, it can contribute significantly to managing the persistent social, economic, and political risks facing cities and nations.

A scaled-up KYC campaign presents opportunities for SDI and partners to transform existing urban development practice and policies by catalyzing new thinking and solutions in: monitoring for local action; advancing urban resilience and inclusion; redefining and managing risk; and securing new finance for the urban poor.

Monitoring That Enables Local Action

As noted in Rose Molokoane’s introduction, there is a need to move from talk to action. KYC has much to offer the SDG and city monitoring processes in moving to achieve inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development.

KYC profiling and enumeration processes provide the detailed information needed to reframe issues from a local perspective and identify practical solutions for informal settlements. The central role of slum dwellers in collecting and processing data ensures a focus on the poor and on operational knowledge for local actors working to implement global commitments.

Universal generalized indicators fail to capture the complex and locally specific conditions of slums. They therefore lead to policies and programs that do not respond to the most pressing needs of the urban poor, and can direct investments away from realistic and affordable improvements. Without accurate information and a deeper understanding of the needs and priorities of informal settlements, slum dwellers remain invisible, and efforts to reduce urban poverty and inequality will fail.

KYC fills a crucial gap in efforts to localize global development monitoring agendas in the following ways:

It generates operational local knowledge. A commitment to disaggregated, local data on the most vulnerable populations is essential to ensure we understand the reality of life for the majority of residents living in cities characterized by informality. It is staggering to see the exclusion of slum households and informal settlements in national censuses, household surveys, and other data that form the basis of poverty measures. Through their design, such surveys miss millions of poor individuals, particularly those residing in informal areas. KYC is designed to measure what matters to the urban poor and cities concerned with inclusive development.

KYC offers systematic, rich, contextual information across low-income neighborhoods in cities of the Global South. The information generated through KYC profiling and mapping is operational. It informs local action by clearly showing what the priorities, capacities, and preferences of slum dweller communities are, and how those preferences vary by local context, city, neighborhood, or  even household. This level of detail is necessary to realize pragmatic improvements, set appropriate standards, and create adequate solutions from the urban poor perspective.

It generates collaborative local action. KYC has tremendous potential to develop a shared understanding of local conditions and build the relationships needed for collective action by slum dwellers and local governments. It demonstrates the critical role that community groups play in framing problems, identifying issues, and addressing priorities. The power of KYC extends well beyond the data it produces and is transformative because it serves as a mechanism for communities to use this rich information to broaden understanding and accountability, both in horizontal relations (within a community) and vertically (among communities, the state, local governments, and the private sector).

Concrete examples of KYC’s potential are found wherever there are active SDI federations. The impact is strongest where KYC is embedded in national urban policy and programming. In the Cites Alliance–funded Country Programs, for example, the role of community profiling and mapping is a core element recognized by government, local partners, and international support agencies. In Uganda, Ghana, and Liberia in particular, SDI federation profiling data set baselines from which program achievements were measured, informed the development of city development strategies and urban policy, and grounded the identification, by communities, of priority slum upgrading projects funded by municipal Community Upgrading Funds.

To “leave no one behind,” we need better tools to measure change in the most vulnerable populations. For those seeking to convert information into action, KYC offers tremendous opportunity for monitoring progress toward global agendas and catalyzing dialogue and action at local, city, and national levels.

Advancing Urban Resilience and Inclusion

Inequality and climate change are two of the defining challenges of the contemporary era. Increasingly, developing cities find themselves at the very heart of these challenges. Over the past decade, the global development community and investors have seen promising results from investments that seek to build the resilient capacity of individuals, communities, and systems, including the most vulnerable. Significant conceptual, technical, and operational advances have been made using a resilience lens to reframe problems, solutions, and investments to respond better to incremental, chronic, and catastrophic shocks and stresses. The KYC campaign has been essential in advancing new ways of analyzing and understanding the role that informal settlements can play in achieving resilient and sustainable cities, reframing problems and solutions, and managing and mitigating risks. As a groundbreaking civic initiative for urban resilience, KYC offers unparalleled insights into the risks facing urban residents, as well as the means to transform relationships within settlements and cities in ways that tackle the driver of vulnerability: exclusion.

While investments in resilient, “smart,” sustainable, green, and livable cities have proliferated, many of these initiatives fail to address persistent poverty, exclusion, and lack of opportunity. Instead they often focus on technological fixes to infrastructure while remaining relatively silent on inclusion and equity.

SDI’s membership includes some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. These people frequently live in parts of the city that are exposed to hazards—for example, in low-lying coastal areas and floodplains, or on steep slopes. Environmental threats are exacerbated by the absence of risk-reducing infrastructure, such as water supply, sanitation, drains, and durable housing. As a result, slum dwellers bear the brunt of major disasters, while living with a range of everyday hazards that middle and high-income households are often able to avoid. By proactively engaging with initiatives designed to achieve resilient and sustainable cities, such as 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), and C40, SDI seeks to bring the urban poor to the center of strategy development and implementation.

As part of the 100RC effort, Durban, South Africa developed a city Resilience Strategy that identifies two critical priority areas for resilience building—one of which is, Collaborative Informal Settlement Action. This priority emerged from a highly participatory strategy development process driven by the city. Implementation of the strategy will be informed and monitored by “consolidated quantitative and qualitative community and municipal-collected data, information and knowledge on all informal settlements [that] is accessible to all and updated regularly.” Other 100RC cities are already looking to Durban for lessons on developing strategies that address informality. SDI federations in Accra, Nairobi, Lagos, Paynesville, and Cape Town are strategizing with their city government partners about how the KYC campaign can add value to the formulation and implementation of their resilience strategies. In partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Inclusive Climate Action Program, SDI seeks to deepen the use of KYC by city mayors to make the case for inclusive climate action.

Redefining and Managing Risk

Much needs to be done to translate our understanding of the linkages between risks, human vulnerability, and poverty into robust risk management and investment strategies. Deepening inequality and poverty, compounded by the catastrophic effects of extreme weather events, violence, migration, and discrimination, have catalyzed new efforts to redress inadequate risk management strategies and instruments.

Over decades, SDI has implemented proven approaches to risk reduction through collective power, data, and savings. These strategies reduce everyday risks for urban poor families and help to secure assets, such as their homes. What is seldom taken into account is how these strategies also reduce the risk that voices of the urban poor will be silenced.

The KYC Campaign brings the power of community data and local Urban Poor Funds together in order to identify and reduce risks for the most vulnerable. This underpins collective efforts to negotiate and deliver community-managed public goods and services (tenure security, water, sanitation, drainage). Investments in these public goods address collectively experienced risks and help to strengthen awareness within the community of the significance of reducing and managing risk.

KYC also provides the basis for building relations that enable organized slum dwellers to challenge adverse political outcomes and reduce the risk of political exclusion. Politicians and officials appreciate the detailed information provided by KYC and recognize the potential of the organizations that produce this data. This makes them more likely to listen to SDI federations. In Namibia, for example, using the relationships enhanced by KYC, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia successfully argued for inclusive upgrading solutions that now have the support of city and provincial government.

In the face of outmoded risk management instruments and strategies, innovators and early adopters in the urban field are experimenting with advancements in insurance products, credit rating systems, pro-poor safeguards in protocols for city investment, and the acquisition of risk-reducing assets through finance and social networks. SDI is also helping public and private partners to rethink the assumptions and processes that underpin decisions about banking systems, basic services, and municipal finance.

Innovation in New Finance for the Urban Poor

The United Nations estimates that it will cost almost USD $4 trillion a year to achieve the SDGs in developing countries alone, with an annual shortfall of an estimated USD $2.5 trillion. A significant portion of this funding is required for critical infrastructure to reduce urban vulnerability, but the share of public funds for these developments is diminishing. This realization, along with the emergence of impact investing and innovative finance, has spurred SDI to explore the potential for the urban poor of new experimental financing mechanisms including resilience bonds, social impact bonds, diaspora bonds, insurance-based instruments, crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending, and outcome-based contracting.

Lessons from SDI’s experience in urban poor finance can help to inform and ground the design and innovation of these and other much-needed new financial strategies and instruments in the realities of informal settlements. The Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) is a self-governed, self-managed, and expanding financial facility that provides capital to national Urban Poor Funds. These in turn provide low-cost loans and grants to savings collectives undertaking important urban improvement and housing projects. It puts capital directly into the hands of slum dwellers undertaking urban improvement schemes that they have negotiated with local and municipal government. Giving federations direct control of capital enables them to negotiate as an acknowledged potential partner with formal bodies such as governments, investors, and banks. These interventions have been anchored by the same local knowledge and partnerships that guide KYC and have thus produced practical interventions for affordable and scalable finance in support of the urban poor.

Climate-Compatible Informal Settlement Investments

In the face of new environmental threats (such as floods and sea level rise) investments must, to the extent possible, be designed in ways that support low-carbon development. There is far too little work done with respect to informal settlement upgrading in the context of climate change. Particularly among city governments and investors, few appreciate the extent to which good-quality upgrading could build resilience to climate risk. Throughout the SDI network, federations are building housing structures that are better able to withstand storms and floods; installing piped water supplies; making provisions for sanitation and drainage; constructing all-weather roads and paths that are resilient to extreme weather; and creating house and neighborhood designs that help populations cope with heat waves and flooding. In partnership with Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB), SDI seeks to increase investment in climate-friendly infrastructure in informal settlements by producing business cases guided by KYC data and SuRe® Standard sustainability and resilience assessments.

Risk is all about protecting the bottom line. In the case of slum upgrading in an increasingly dangerous environment, the bottom line is to change the political and economic climate. The first step is to recognize that risks associated with leaving millions of people behind will be equally shared, not borne only by those who can least afford to carry them. And to appreciate that including the urban poor in development plans will generate economic, social, and environmental benefits for all residents.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here: