Urban Agriculture: A Pathway Out of Poverty

Grasmere, Johannesburg

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub, situated in Grasmere, Johannesburg, is a testament to the transformative power of community-driven initiatives. This case study explores how this hub emerged, evolved, and continues to make a positive impact on its community through urban farming.

Inception and partnership

In July 2022, the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) partnered with the Industrial Development Corporation‘s Social Employment Fund to undertake two vital projects: “Urban Farming Hubs” and “Informal Settlements Profile Data.” This collaboration aims to equip communities across different South African provinces with the required skills and resources to execute the projects. The central objective was to establish 40 urban agriculture farm hubs in five municipalities, in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, North West, and Free State provinces.

About the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC)

The Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) is a formally registered non-profit organisation (NPO) that supports the social, strategic and administrative practices of FEDUP and ISN. CORC’s support to FEDUP and ISN includes savings, data collection, peer-to-peer learning exchanges, community-based planning for projects and engaging with government, funders and other actors. CORC’s mission is to support poor communities that are willing and able to help themselves.

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub’s journey

Located in Grasmere, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub started its journey with immense dedication and a passion for urban farming. The hub embraced innovative water-saving and soil optimisation technologies, such as growbags that uses wicking to efficiently water crops. This commitment was driven by a collective desire to make the farming process effective and beneficial for the entire community.

Community impact

One of the most significant outcomes of this initiative so far, is the hub’s ability to support disadvantaged households. By donating vegetables, strawberries, and peanuts, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub has contributed to the wellbeing of underprivileged families in the community. This act of generosity exemplifies the hub’s commitment to creating positive social change.

The role of the Social Employment Fund

With guidance and support from the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (Fedup), the 40 workers at the Meriting Urban Farming Hub embarked on a path to financial empowerment. Each worker started saving a minimum of R20 per month. This diligent savings strategy enabled them to initiate a pig farming project. At present, the hub is home to four pigs, one of which recently gave birth to four piglets in October 2023, with two more expected to give birth soon.

Sustainability and expansion

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub remains committed to its mission of self-sufficiency and community support. The ongoing savings initiatives aim to facilitate the expansion of the hub’s farming activities. By ensuring sustainability, the hub aspires to continue thriving even after the SEF program concludes. This long-term vision includes plans to engage more unemployed youth and extend assistance to other informal settlements looking to embark on their urban farming journey.

Gratitude and community impact

The hub expresses its profound gratitude to the Social Employment Fund (SEF) for the life-changing opportunity that has not only touched the lives of participants but also benefitted the entire community. The hub’s ability to provide support to impoverished families, coupled with its goal of offering hope to young people who may have lost it due to challenging living conditions, exemplifies the far-reaching positive impact of the SEF programme. In the process, it contributes to reducing crime and suicide rates, instilling hope and dignity, and uplifting communities.


In addition to SEF, the hub acknowledges the pivotal role played by Fedup in introducing them to the concept and power of saving. With approximately R40,000 in their business account, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub is poised to explore new opportunities and business ideas that will sustain its operations and continue to make a meaningful impact on the community. This is a classic example of how a social employment programme can create a pathway out of poverty.

Exploring Entrepreneurship Opportunities: TFUP Visit to SabaSaba International Trade Fair 2023

In celebrating of the SabaSaba International Trade Fair in 2023, the Tanzania Federation of Urban Poor (TFUP) embarked on a mission to celebrate and promote entrepreneurship within the federation groups. Recognising the immense potential and power of entrepreneurship to uplift communities, TFUP took the opportunity to visit various pavilions at the event, each representing essential institutions and organisations dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs.

One noteworthy pavilion TFUP visited was the Tanzania Women of Chamber of Commerce (TWCC), where they gained invaluable insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by women entrepreneurs in the country. TFUP’s commitment to gender equality and inclusivity was further reinforced by their engagement with TWCC, as they explored ways to support and elevate women-owned businesses.

AZANIA Bank was another pavilion that TFUP explored during the event. They learned about the financial services and resources available for entrepreneurs to register their businesses, access loans, and achieve sustainable growth. By understanding the intricacies of banking and financial support, TFUP aimed to equip its members with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions for their enterprises.

Additionally, TFUP explored the Business Registration and Licensing Agency (BRELA) pavilion to familiarize themselves with the legal aspects of establishing and operating a business. By understanding the registration procedures and requirements, TFUP aimed to guide its members in navigating the bureaucratic landscape with ease and confidence.

This enlightening experience was the result of collaborative efforts between the Dar es Salaam Regional office and development officers within the movement. TFUP’s vision of achieving economic growth and empowerment for its members through entrepreneurship was reaffirmed during this visit. The knowledge gained about business registration, product marketing, sales, and access to financial resources will undoubtedly contribute to the transformation of TFUP’s communities into thriving entrepreneurial hubs.

Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines: Addressing Issues of the Urban Poor in the Philippines

Ma. Theresa Carampatana, the National President of Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines (HPFPI), a Slum Dwellers International Board Member and advocate for the rights of the urban poor in the Philippines, recently discussed various issues faced by this marginalised group during the Philippine Urban Forum.

This article aims to summarise her key points and recommendations regarding the challenges faced by the urban poor, as well as the strategies proposed to address these issues. The issues identified were drawn from the result of several multi-stakeholder consultations conducted by the Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development in partnership with the Philippine Alliance, Non-Government Organisations and other Civil Society Organisations (CSO). By involving different stakeholders, it ensures that a wide range of perspectives are taken into consideration, leading to more comprehensive and informed decisions.

Key Issues Identified:
1. Insecurity of Land and Housing Tenure: The urban poor sector highlighted the vulnerability of the urban poor in terms of land and housing ownership. Many slum dwellers lack secure tenure, living in informal settlements at risk of eviction due to legal and ownership uncertainties.

2. Insecure, Irregular, Informal, and Inadequate Jobs and Income: The urban poor often face difficulties in accessing stable employment opportunities, leading to irregular incomes that are insufficient to meet their basic needs. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and limits their ability to escape from it.

3. Limited Participation in Development Planning: The urban poor, despite being heavily affected by urban development projects, have limited or no participation in the decision-making processes that directly impact their lives. This lack of inclusion hampers their ability to shape policies and programs that address their needs.

Proposed Recommendations:
1. People-led Housing and Urban Development: HPFPI advocated for empowering communities to be actively involved in the planning and implementation of housing and urban development initiatives. By involving the urban poor in decision-making processes, their specific needs and priorities can be addressed more effectively.

2. Diversified Housing Modalities and Finance Mechanisms: To tackle the issue of insecure housing tenure, HPFPI emphasized the importance of exploring different housing options and financing strategies. This would ensure that the urban poor have access to affordable and stable housing solutions.

3. Security of Tenure for Urban Poor Communities: Recognising the significance of land tenure security, HPFPI stressed the need for legal frameworks and policies to protect the rights of urban poor communities. Securing tenure would provide stability and protection against eviction, enabling residents to invest in their homes and communities.

Strategies to Address the Issues:
To ensure that the identified issues are effectively addressed, HPFPI and its partners proposed several strategies to be undertaken by both the government and Civil Society Organisations.

1. Collective Policy Review and Research: This involves conducting in-depth research and analysis to consolidate information on new policies and programs related to urban poverty. Disseminating this information would enable better-informed decision-making processes.

2. Capacity Development on People’s Planning: Capacity-building programs targeting both local government units (LGUs) and CSOs would enhance their understanding and implementation of participatory local shelter planning. This would enable the inclusion of the urban poor in decision-making related to housing and urban development.

3. Community Organising and Technical Support: Providing support for community organising, beneficiary selection, social preparation, and technical assistance during the planning, construction, implementation, and monitoring of housing projects would ensure effective and sustainable outcomes.

4. Resource Mobilisation and Network-Building: Engaging with public and private partners and fostering collaboration in regions beyond NCR and Luzon, such as Visayas and Mindanao, would promote resource mobilisation and strengthen networks. This would facilitate more comprehensive and impactful initiatives.

HPFPI’s discussions at the Philippine Urban Forum shed light on the pressing issues faced by the urban poor in the Philippines. Her recommendations and proposed strategies, involving collective policy review, capacity development, community organising, and resource mobilisation, offer a roadmap for addressing these challenges. By implementing these measures, it is hoped that the government and CSOs can effectively improve the lives and well-being of the urban poor, ensuring their active participation in shaping inclusive and sustainable urban development.

How the Youth are Leading the Way in Tackling COVID-19

This article was originally published by ICCCAD. Click here for the original post.

In Hatcliffe extension, an informal settlement located in the northern part of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a group of young people are leading the fight against the pandemic. They are  building awareness, adapting their businesses to promote hygiene and encouraging fellow young people to contribute to community well-being. Artwell Nyirenda reports.



Hatcliffe extension was once a holding camp for urban migrants coming from different parts of Harare. Young people between the age of 15 and 30 constitute a higher percentage of the community’s population. Social and economic challenges are prevalent in the area, as the young often get involved  in illegal activities for survival. The majority of Hatcliffe’s residents work in construction and informal trading, and few are formally employed.

Continuous expansion of the area has further exacerbated the challenges in accessing services, particularly water and sanitation. Communal boreholes are the only source of water, as tap water is not available. The community is struggling to meet the growing demand for water with a limited number of boreholes, many of which are dysfunctional, resulting in long queues for water collection.

News of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent safety protocols has added to the community’s existing fragilities. Waiting in a queue to collect water at communal boreholes is a daily reality for the residents of the Hatcliffe extension – increasing the risk of virus transmission. Until now, no positive cases have been found in the area. However, soon after hearing about COVID-19, everyone has been terrified to risk their lives while scrambling for scarce water. With the onset of the lockdown, naturally the demand for water has significantly increased and large crowds have gathered near the boreholes.

In Hatcliffe extension, the youth have always been at the forefront when it came to crisis management. Lonica Kenneth is a young female resident in the area, and a member of the Zimbabwe Young Peoples’ Federation (ZYPF), and its sub-group, Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group. ZYPF mobilises young people to influence positive change in their communities through documenting and sharing their lived experiences with relevant local authorities and other stakeholders.

The Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group is under the Safe and Inclusive Cities project, a youth-led project funded by Plan International, and consists of 20 members, including Lonica. Saving is encouraged within the group, and the members have been practising saving 10 bond notes (approximately USD 0.10) per week. They also make and sell liquid soaps, detergents, liquid gas and different arts and crafts. “The Safe and Inclusive Cities project has been an eye opener, as I have been made aware of opportunities to generate income, and participate in my community. I have realised I can make detergents that will help my family and community,” shares Lonica.

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With her own savings, Lonica began a detergent business in June 2019, producing and distributing liquid soap within her community. However, the lockdown has caused her business to suffer and Lonica has had to redesign her production strategy. “My business has declined since the lockdown as I was unable to purchase raw materials for production. But I also realised that there is a growing demand for soaps and sanitisers during this pandemic, and I really wanted to help my community members during this crucial time” says Lonica.

Along with the other members, Lonica identified an opportunity to boost their businesses and support their community during the crisis. She approached Safe and Inclusive Cities to finance her business. “Thanks to their support, I was able to produce sufficient liquid soaps. They helped me to buy the raw materials required for production,” Lonica adds. With increased sales, she is now saving 20 bond notes per week. Because of the high levels of poverty in her community, she sold the products at a very low price so that people can afford them. “We are also distributing hand washing buckets, sanitisers and soaps to community members who are most impacted,” Lonica further points out.

In addition to their businesses, Lonica and her group has also been involved in raising awareness of COVID-19 preventative measures . “My group has managed to distribute hand washing soaps near community boreholes to promote hygiene. We also influenced community leaders to regularly disinfect and monitor the water points to ensure safety. These public spaces have improved. Chaos is avoided as people adhere to protocols set by the leadership” she argues. The community youth members have also asked relevant government ministries for further training so they can disseminate information more accurately.

Hatcliffe extension residents are  fully cooperating in monitoring the water points and advocating for increased youth engagement. “First thing in the morning before anyone comes, I set out the drum, and the bucket with water and soap. Everyone must wash their hands before using the borehole handle. I also use sanitiser to disinfect the borehole handle, to ensure it is clean for everyone to use,” says Steven Nyamapfeka, a local leader in Hatcliffe.

“We are requesting outreach programmes on COVID-19 issues, as we don’t have enough information. If the virus spreads in this community, we will struggle to survive because we are not practising social distancing. More youth can be engaged to disseminate vital information,” shares Phillip Matamande, a member of the community. Residents have highlighted the need for masks and other protective gear, and the implementation of social distancing. They have also requested the Ministry of Health to increase the supply of chlorinated water.

Despite numerous hurdles, Lonica is hopeful that if the youth continue to work together, they will be able to overcome the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. “I am happy that I am able to play a role during this difficult time, and inspire young girls to lead initiatives for the betterment of our community. Together we can tackle the COVID-19 pandemic!” says Lonika.

Interviewers’ perspective

As we are witnessing during COVID-19, young people from around the world are being innovative and leading initiatives within their communities to tackle the global crisis. Lonica, and others like her, are taking steps to support their communities through active participation. They have been influencing and communicating with leaders in understanding the dynamics of their communities. It is important that the youth realise their potential and the crucial roles they can play within their communities and lead the way for a better, brighter future.

About the interviewer

Artwell Nyirenda is a program officer at Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless People in Zimbabwe. He is working with young people in slum settlements in documenting the daily experiences in their communities for advocacy purposes.

About the interviewees

Lonica Kenneth lives in Hatcliffe extension and actively participates in community development platforms and programs. Through her work, she has inspired many young people who have joined her in transforming their communities.

Steven Nyamapfeka, is a local elderly man living in the Hatcliff extension for several years. He is also the Secretary of the Water Committee of Hatcliff.

Phillip Matamande is a local community leader and vice chairperson of the Water Committee of Hatcliffe.

Media Making an Impact: #ChangeOurPicture

Originally published on urbanet, SDI presents the work of youth slum dwellers across the SDI network linked to documenting issues linked to resilience, livelihoods and housing.

A photo competition called for urban residents in African countries to portray how they use media to change the narrative on their environment. Slum Dwellers International presents some beautiful results of the #ChangeOurPicture competition.

The CoHabitat Network in partnership with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and The Bartlett Development Planning Unit announced a photo competition for urban citizens across Africa, aimed at documenting how they make media to make change.

Presented with a theme and using a cell phone camera, the competition portrays the innovative ways in which communities document their history as well as the histories of how homes and cities are built. Communication through media thus becomes instrumental to approaches to development and social change.

The power of grassroots movements is reflected in the structure of the competition: “Federations” from informal settlements organise around collective goals they identify. Having agreed on the need of a platform for creative storytellers to document their lives, the Federations, in partnership with the CoHabitat Network, initiated the competition.

Own Your Narratives

“Nothing for us, without us” is a slogan of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) across the SDI network. This slogan serves as a reminder that grassroots must remain at the forefront of planning and that it is essential for residents to own the narratives that emerge from their communities.

Informal settlements are hubs of resilience and innovation. When media emerges as a key mode of communication, it highlights the dynamic lives of those living in informal settlements, constituting an opportunity to shift the conversation.

All across Africa, people are building their cities and are documenting the social production of habitat. Documentation –for example through photography – recognises these processes as meaningful, thus acknowledging these people’s actions as contributions to society.

Pictures Telling Stories

To make media to make change, it is essential to recognise the power media has across languages and cultures. As a photography competition relying on cell phones, #ChangeOurPicture is open to anyone, including those living in informal settlements, across Africa. Photos serve as a tool of storytelling; they capture informal spaces as spaces full of innovation and resilience.


Small teams across Africa submitted photographs with captions that were taken with cell phones. They focus on themes that speak to the varied landscapes and most pertinent issues of those living informally. These captions serve as snapshots of a larger story of their lives, challenges, and their perseverance within urban slum environments.

In order to encourage diversity of submissions, when the competition was first announced, there was no theme. The process of establishing themes emerged from a consultative process with youth media makers from across the SDI network. The below photographs are a sampling of the submissions – and of the immense talent of media makers across Africa, narrating the beauty and the pain of life within informal settlements.

They say my neighborhood is informal but we have the joy of life. Despite the determination of the defenders, our goal scorer keeps his cool.
Federation in Burkina Faso

Money & Livelihoods

I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success…… You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.. © Bernadett Nkhoma, Federation in Zambia


Before the cock go wake up, every soul and spirit don wake up de look 4 wetin to chop up and down. Na wetin go make you real hustler for lag nai be that oo, as Dem de talk am, no food for lazy man. We no go give up becos say pepper never red. Last last we go de alright.
© Nasu Abdulaziz, Nigeria Slum/Informal Settlement Federation

Courage & Heroism

“As a young producer, I want to put a smile on someone’s face with my work through storytelling. What keeps me going is the people, their story and self motivation. My favorite quote, “Life is a battlefield, don’t rest until you win the battle.” – Nasu Abdulaziz
© Shawn Okechukwu Samuel, Nigeria Slum/Informal Settlement Federation

All submissions to the #ChangeOurPicture competition can be viewed here.

Slums Made Better Together: Impact and Continued Learning

With innovative media being published by grassroots communities, this competition seeks to continue learning and encourage this type of knowledge dissemination.

A selection committee working on civic urban media will engage those with the most creative photography, identifying the finalists that will move forward in the competition process. The grand prize to be won in this competition is the opportunity to participate in an exchange with other media makers from across the continent. The finalists will receive the training and the resources needed to develop their photo series into a documentary.

The work will continue to be shared with partners and stakeholders around the world, as a traveling exhibition that engages the world with pertinent issues such as climate, informal slum upgrading, livelihoods – and the shared, social production of communities.

“I have an erection… of the heart.”

Photos by Herbert Kalungu, ACTogether Uganda

By Skye Dobson

That get your attention? Yes, well it got ours too. It was late on the third day of an international conference in a slightly stuffy hotel in Kampala. Delegates were giving closing remarks and I wont lie, I was checking emails and I think my colleague was reading the news. Unbeknownst to us a prominent Kampala politician was handed the microphone. Standing up he stated in a bellowing voice, “I have an erection” [2 second pause – in which my colleague and I dropped our phones and clutched each others arm in delightful disbelief] “… of the heart.”

The honorable politician was emphasizing just how happy he was with the partnerships between communities and government that were emerging in the various countries represented.  From that day – about five years ago – my Ugandan colleagues and I have used this phrase to describe our feelings for any big achievement related to our work.

And so it was yesterday when we drove back to Kampala from a day in Jinja aroused by the energy and the progress being made by the SDI Alliance in Uganda. It was overwhelming to witness just how seamlessly all the elements of the SDI “toolkit” are being deployed by the community, allowing us to witness the holy grail of development: an authentic people-driven holistic urban development process. The federation has remarkable agility for a community movement – an agility that is the result of a long hard slog and methodical refinement of its skillset. Like a talented boxer it makes everything look so simple.

We had gone to Jinja to visit the Jinja Materials Workshop in Walukuba. The project is in the final stages of its last phase of construction.  On a 1,800m2 plot, secured through negotiation with Council, the federation first constructed a building materials production center with a basic shed, curing pit and storage container for the fabrication of Interlocking soil bricks, ladies (prefabricated concrete minislabs), t-beams, pavers, tiles etc. In the second phase a demonstration house was constructed using the low cost materials fabricated by the community on site. And in this, the final stage, the federation has constructed a three-story building with a community center on the ground floor and a guesthouse with 18 rooms on the upper two floors for students undertaking training and visitors of the federation. This three-story building has been under construction for a mere two months and the progress is outstanding. The site is also home to a biofill worm digester toilet, which was as the first of its kind in Uganda and was built by the federation about 18mths ago. Today it is as clean as it was back then, despite being used by a construction site full of youth every day. The toilet does not smell at all and the flapper pan ensures a neat and tidy toilet for the community. These toilets have now been replicated throughout Kampala and the worms for the toilets are bred on-site by the federation.

Now this all sounds great, but it is not the full story. What I have described could have been achieved without affecting any kind of change in the community and without any potential for transforming business as usual in the urban development process. The land could have been purchased. A developer could have constructed the building. An NGO could have hired a consultant to manage the trainings. A contractor could have been hired to build. And nothing would be different in Jinja. But things are different.

The project and its potential cannot be assessed in isolation from the messy, tireless process of movement-building from which it sprung. It’s a process that began in 2002. The stories of the members mobilized throughout the years are captured exquisitely in a collection of mini-memoirs compiled in a book entitled: 10 Years of Okwegatta: A History of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) Narrated by Members It details the mobilization of members by federation members from Kenya, India and South Africa. It documents the growth of saving groups, the networking of these groups at the settlement and municipal level and the way peer-to-peer exchanges with other federations taught the Ugandan federation to use profiling and enumeration to understand their community better and to negotiate with government from a position of greater authority and collective capacity.

As documented by Nyamweru and Dobson (2014), the introduction of the TSUPU program in Uganda provided the federation and opportunity to scale their process in unprecedented ways and the Jinja federation seized this opportunity with both hands. It quickly emerged as a learning center when it came to: city-wide profiling, to initiating and sustaining municipal and settlement development forums, and undertaking small upgrading projects in partnership with government. By 2011 the federation had emerged as a highly competent player in the urban arena, ensuring Community Upgrading Funds targeted communities in greatest need (as identified in profiling), were demanded by the community (through forums) and would be managed by the community (through its savings groups and project management committees). It convincingly demonstrated the dramatic cost savings to be achieved through the use of community contractors.

And now, as construction of the Jinja Materials Workshop nears completion, it is clear to anyone that has watched this federation grow, that the project is utterly infused with this history and this energy and it is that which makes it a game changer.

Our trip to the project was motivated by a request from Jinja to add a solar component to the innovations at the workshop. They had learned of the “Solar Hub Model” from the SDI Council (which unburdens the poorest from the responsibility of investing in the trunk infrastructure required to set up a solar system through establishment of a central hub where communities bring rechargeable batteries that power a simple solar home package.) SDI’s solar projects officer, Charles Hunsley, was there to explore the idea further with the local affiliate. The discussion around solar illuminated the game-changing x-factor very quickly.

First, the federation members steered the conversation. They did not defer to the professional visitors, but interrogated their ideas and suggestions in a way that enriched the ultimate conceptualization of the project. When assessing the viability of the project the federation members made reference to the existing energy options in the various surrounding settlements – information they had gathered during profiling, but also regular engagement with groups in each area. They explained how the poor often pay more for power than more wealthy city residents and often expose themselves to grave danger illegally tapping the main supply (too often resulting in electrocution by live wires), or mixing kerosene with diesel to prolong it’s use, exposing themselves to high respiratory risks and fires that can wipe out a settlement. Fishing communities along the banks of Lake Victoria in Jinja live in such conditions, with wood shacks offering little protection from highly flammable an unregulated energy. Their stories exposed the energy injustice SDI’s solar agenda seeks to combat.

In order to gather additional information about present expenditure on energy the federation decided it would conduct a mini enumeration to rapidly assess affordability across Jinja’s informal settlements. For communities requiring a loan for the purchase of fittings or batteries the federation noted that SUUBI (Uganda’s federation-established Urban Poor Fund) could provide loans that would be monitored by the local SUUBI loan team in the same way they monitor sanitation and livelihood loans.

The federation members were excited by the prospect of communities coming to the center every four days to charge their batteries. This, they agreed would enhance the dialogue between the federation and communities across Jinja around their incremental upgrading needs. Some slum dwellers may begin with an energy upgrade and move on to upgrade their sanitation situation or the permanence of their house using the low-cost materials available on site. During visits for charging the community can explore the materials center – which may eventually more appropriately be called a Resource Center for Incremental Upgrading and view various prototypes or create their own. In the process the dialogue and practice of incremental upgrading will grow, wholly driven by the local community.

The skillful athlete had blown us away with his left and right hooks and came in for the knock out punch. Head of the Jinja federation’s negotiation committee, Joseph Sserunjoji stood at the end of the meeting to challenge the professionals: “The question is not if we are ready, but if YOU are ready?” And that’s when the … err … heart got excited. This community is in charge of a precedent-setting project for incremental, in situ, affordable, inclusive urban development and is impatient for the rest of us to catch up.

Urban Livelihoods in Cape Town

Nandipha & Noziphiwo team up to expand the community garden at the Masiphumelele Soup Kitchen. 


A national industry which offers public-sector employment to 50,000 economically disadvantaged beneficiaries should have a profound impact on the livelihoods of poor informal settlement dwellers. The Department of Environmental Affairs Working for Water Program (WfW) is therefore a primary target for Community Organisation Resource Centre’s (CORC) engagement of the state. In 2002, CORC managed 25 teams in all nine provinces to work at a staffing model which sustainably supports employees. However, due to the under-budgeted nature of the program, the majority of these teams disintegrated. The only remaining teams were privately led rather than collective in structure, with profits directed primarily to the supervisory contractor, rather than the labourers. Currently, most WfW teams operate under this model, under which the vast majority of beneficiaries earn minimal wages and secondary benefits of social development and training opportunities. This year, CORC assembled a new team in the Western Cape based on an ambitious project: to clear neglected private areas on demanding terrain bordering the Province’s most-visited nature reserve. This effort in collaboration with nearby private landowners attracted the attention of WfW once more. Affected communities near the reserve have limited employment opportunities due to their isolation and have minimal collaboration with the Informal Settler’s Network (ISN) and Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP). With the help of existing contacts at Non-Profit organisations in the settlements of Masiphumelele, team leaders were drawn from youth SDI-employees from Phillipi. Young women from Masiphumelele in the South Cape Peninsula were hired as general workers with the potential for promotion conditional with training. This report follows their story. 


Ayanda The seeds of this project started when Ayanda Magqaza was a sprightly fifteen-year-old. He would leave his home in Phillipi to stay and work in the South Peninsula for the weekend. Agile and flexible, Ayanda quickly learned to clamber over the boulders and climb the gum trees at Castle Rock. Local landowners would hire him, first to help in the garden, and eventually to man a chainsaw alone in the depths of the forest all day long. As a CORC employee, Ayanda was the first person the project leaders called to begin working on the mountain, with the hopes that he would soon be able to lead an entire team to assist him. Within a few months the imagined team materialized, largely due to his illustrative, personal and persuasive communication abilities. When project management was absent for two months in mid-winter, Ayanda took the helm and continued to recruit new team members, coordinate logistics for certified training sessions, and lead the team to clear vegetation on the mountain slopes.

Anela was an unpaid volunteer at the Masiphumelele Pink House when she started with CORC in June. Now she earns a wage on the CORC team, partly to help restore the Pink House community garden.

Anela All roads in Masiphumelele lead past the Pink House, a community services center managed by Catholic Welfare Development (CWD). While CORC was recruiting for the team, CWD opened their doors and provided a number of applicants. Most were men, with some construction experience; the women seemed to be looking for a desk or service job, something with a roof. But Anela Dlulane stood out, highly recommended by CWD as a lead volunteer there. During the first trial on the mountain, when the slackers stayed back to chat and move slowly, Anela kept pace with the young guys as they stacked body-length branches along the hillside. It was hard work compared to her previous job as a typist at the Department of Transport, but Anela stuck with it, with the hopes of one day fulfilling an administrative role for the CORC team.

Roger Prior to joining the team, most of Roger Janse’s days were indoors at the Slum Dweller International (SDI) offices. The office valued his polyglot fluency in Cape Town’s three main languages, but his studies were at a standstill and he was not sure how to advance his career.  He aspired to obtain his Driver’s License and begin work as a driver for SDI, but despite repeated courses, he did not pass the test. Roger had helped Ayanda in the South Peninsula before and decided to try it again. The mountain revealed itself to be an exciting place, satisfying his interest in wildlife like puff adders and cape cobras. Roger began work as a stacker, but by the end of winter had attained his Chainaw Operator’s certificate, and qualified for three other courses. Just two months later he held his long-awaited Driver’s License in his hands, then doggedly pursued an additional commercial license. Due to his determination, the team now depends on Roger in his role of back-up driver to transport them and their equipment from home to work.

Determined to expand his skill set, Roger exceeded available WfW courses and attained his commercial Driving License

Sinjuvo She came prepared. She brought with her a record of several years of herbicide applicator experience, a list of contacts from her old team, and even wore here official yellow WfW shirt to work. At some point she had left her previous WfW team and her skills and training were left idle until she crossed paths with the SA SDI Alliance in Masiphumelele. Gudiswa Mathu may be older than the average worker, but her experience helps her know how best to contribute. When the team was still in its early stages, struggling to find women who were prepared to do labour-intensive tasks day in and day out, Gudiswa knew who to call. Within two weeks, the team ratio was balanced in favor of the better gender, 7 to 4, surpassing WfW national standards for female-to-male hiring ratios.

Sakhe With only his secondary school certificate in hand, he set out for Cape Town from the Eastern Cape. After growing up there and doing his schooling there, Sakhekile Nkohli contacted the few family members and friends he had in Cape Town and moved into Masiphumelele. He found infrequent work, mostly occasional construction jobs. But as a young worker his resume and contacts were not competitive. When given the chance on the mountain, Sakhe demonstrated what made him stand out. His fearlessness and drive earned him the position as the only team member without a previous relationship with SDI to receive and qualify for chainsaw training. With Siya or Ayanda present, Sakhe is a dependable assistant and when a more experienced manager is unavailable, he takes the helm.

Bracing himself on the steep slopes, Sakhe clears an area for the Chainsaw Operator to work, a role for which he now is also qualified as a result of training on the team 

Liso She may have the smallest shoe size, but in many ways she makes the biggest contribution. After 6 years of working on alien clearing teams, Liso Jentile offers the most insight and thoughtfulness of any team member. Her years of experience include training as chainsaw operator, which offsets the gender balance of mostly men leading with chainsaws and women following while stacking branches. Most of the time, she is quiet, and does not participate in the teatime chatter. But when the team reaches a new situation and is uncertain how to proceed, people turn to Liso for well-seasoned advice. Her thinking abilities make her a role model for other women on the team and a prime candidate for promotion to a leadership role. 

Siya Initially, he was busy in the office and didn’t take the offer. Afterall, his family was in Philippi, including his newborn son. Weekdays in isolated Castle Rock sounded lonesome. And after more than a decade of chainsaw work without any career prospects, the idea of working on the mountain did not excite him. But when the opportunity to join Ayanda at a chainsaw operator training arose, Siyasanga Hermanus got involved. Within three weeks he had a team working to help him stack – a luxury after the years of working on the mountain alone. With his firm manner and steadfast approach, Siya earned his team’s trust. Now he, like Ayanda, is building up skills to eventually contract his own team. But while most WfW contractors supervise from the sidelines, Siya will remain right where he is. The only way to make sure the work gets done, he says, is to be part of the team. He won’t be letting go of his chainsaw anytime soon.

Workers are tasked with removing dense alien forest from steep mountain slopes


It is a fragile system, but it holds together – a web of life that benefits from its interdependent nature as much as it is defrayed by internal competition. Like the risk of wildfire on the mountain, our team confronts challenges to their health and safety every day. Competition is no stranger, and they confront one another when they disagree on an approach to an issue. Like the heat of summer, they feel it on their table at home when funding dries up and bonuses are no longer available. And when in need of assistance, if it is not offered with personal consideration, some team members may be flooded with advantages while others fail to gain ground.

Despite these challenges, the team is resilient. They depend on one another because they know that they can fell more trees working together than alone. A communicator like Ayanda can help advocate for more contracts together than the others could do alone. A veteran like Liso can help plan savings for their future together better than the others could do alone. And with perseverance, they can build a collective company with the full contribution of each team member.

While one person cleans a chainsaw, another takes inventory of the day’s supplies. A Health and Safety Officer takes note of the appearance of the deforested slopes after a day’s work while a First Aid Officer records that day’s participation of each individual. One person measures herbicide concentrations, while another speaks publicly about the value to biodiversity of their work. Each worker has their role and is valued as an essential member of the team. 

Over 35,000 South Africans are funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs to clear invasive alien vegetation in South Africa. The vast majority of them work under a private contractor. While project funds should be directed to workers, this system incentivizes the contractor to increase staff productivity to their own benefit. CORC’s team structure provides a new model, one that serves the poor populations that it is meant to support. Through this program, CORC has the opportunity to affect livelihoods across the country. It begins with the collective.

This collective has a new opportunity. In the South Cape Peninsula, a few mountain slopes dipping into the sea appear too difficult, too costly to clear. Without professional training for mountain slopes, this team has confronted Castle Rock. In doing so, they have proven their worth as recipients of intermediate training required to clear such lands safely. As an intermediate team in high demand, they may prove financially sustainable while maintaining the collective structure that can help negotiate the team members into more established careers. As a self-sustaining collective they may be able to operate independently throughout the Western Cape, and can train other teams in other provinces. A handful of youth from the South Peninsula has the chance to transition from labourers to leaders, not only in their industry, but in their communities.

2014 Annual Report: Deliverables


  • Workers contribute at low pay rate to make initial contracts viable
  • Workers agree to contribute to service projects in their community
  • CORC-SDI contribution of R172,100 for year 1 expanded 4-fold with contributions from national government, private landowners, and team-based enterprise


  • Full-time employment of 11 youth, mostly women
    • Indirectly affects an estimated 50 household members
    • Restoration of wildlife habitat adjacent to internationally-recognized Table Mountain National Park


  • Expand project area 7-fold from 37-hectare conservancy to entire South Cape Peninsula (>250 km^2 infested)
  • Establish workers career path through regular training and collective company formation


  • NGO’s provide space, candidates, community service projects
  • ISN provided candidates interview space
  • Residents provided equipment, storage space, emergency vehicles, and funding
  • National government provided counsel, oversight, and funding


  • Partner funding ensures project sustainability
  • >R1.9 million fundraised financially/in-kind; exceeds original SDI grant 20-fold

Community Building

            •           Employment of 10 youth under age of 35, Ages of 20 – 35, interviewed 50

            •           Female employment, 7:4 female to male (64%), beyond government regulations, expected to work under demanding physical conditions, skilling with physical positions ex: chainsaw operation, training leadership and administrative roles

            •           Training of marketable skills

            •           Partnership with Masiphumelele NGO’s

  • Desmond Tutu Youth Centre
  • Catholic Welfare Development Pink House

            •           Land clearing for alternate use at Desmond Tutu Youth Centre

            •           Installment of Soup Kitchen Garden at Masiphumelele Pink House

            •           Renewal of relationship with national government after >12 yrs dormant

Manager Activities

1. Production of successful national tender

  • Production of successful tender, R1.5 Million
  • Establishment of working relations with key department officials (Dept. Env. Affairs)
  • Field progress reporting in lieu of CORC staff ability
  • Training and engagement of CORC staff to perform reporting tasks in future

2. Field equipment procurement

  • Bid for lowest cost equipment utilizing existing knowledge for 13 years of clearing activities and 3 years of professional management work

3. Site survey and mapping of biological resources and quantification of working conditions

  • Technical skill and equipment unavailable within CORC

4. Field team assembly

  • Engagement of NGO’s in neglected township via Informal Settlement Network
  • Thorough search for suitable members worthy of long-term investment
  • Development of team integrity based on needs of individual team members

5. Leadership development

  • Reengagement, training, promotion of existing SDI staff in South Peninsula projects
  • Trained 7 unemployed youth female workers, 1 unemployed youth male worker, and 3 low-income male youth workers, strategically providing skills with career prospects

6. Community relations and fundraising and in-kind support

  • South African Department of Environmental Affairs Working for Water Program
  • South Peninsula landowners, Castle Rock Conservancy
  • Masiphumelele NGO’s – Catholic Welfare Development, Desmond Tutu Youth Centre 


  • Four-fold increase in available funds for year 1 alone
  • Incentivized fundraising to workers
  • In-kind contributions from private landowners valuing >R200,000

  • Increased national funding in years 2,3
  • Internal funding of management and start-up costs should be replaced by increased private contribution in years 2, 3


  • Internal funding is responsible for staffing at first
  • Goal is to transition wage payments to government funders and oversight payments to private funders
  • Internal funding for years 2,3 should be mentorship, empowerment, community engagement and administration


  • Largest portion of funds paid directly to workers
  • Start-up costs of equipment, oversight and training will likely be reduced by end of year 3


Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part III

Age of Zinc | Kampala, Uganda

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

Age of Zinc is proud to present the third instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

When I was 15 years old I decided to look for ways to survive with my mother. So I started to sell milk and bread to earn some money. I would go to the milk factory, buy some milk and bread and then sell them to get a little money for my school fees. This way I could at least help her out with the younger brothers. She was a single mother at that time looking after all of us – six of us – and taking care of us. I decided that I should also start to work. I just felt I had to work, so I was working while also going to school.

I decided to talk to some girls about this small business of selling milk and bread and they liked the idea. We all agreed and formed a group. There were five of us. So we started buying and selling milk and bread. It was a good business because we could  pay our school fees and also save a little money. We had to travel far distances and sometimes we would move at night and the places were not safe. We were selling at night, which was also dangerous, so you could not be alone; you needed someone who could move with you. We would leave very early at around five in the morning to go and buy bread from the bakery, which was in a different area, and then from the bakery go to the dairy corporation in Namuwongo in Kampala.

It was quite far between the two different areas, from Ntinda to Namuwongo, so we had to team up. One girl would wake all of us up in the morning and we would leave to go and buy the bread and then travel to buy the milk. Once we bought our commodities we would keep it while we went off to school. After school in the evening, we would come back and sell it. If we sold off everything we purchased in the morning we would go back to the factory around seven in the evening to get some more milk. We could sell up until ten in the evening. The balance we made we would hold onto and use for start up costs the next morning.

I had to do housework because I was the eldest but I also had to sell to make some money. I would go to sleep at around midnight and wake up at four in the morning. That was my resting time. I did my schoolwork at school. At school, I concentrated very hard in class and was a good student. I also did many school activities. When you’re active in school there was a way in which the school could give you some [monetary] assistance. So I was engaged in many things. I was a good long distance runner, I was a good music dancer and drummer, and I was a good actor. Whenever the headmaster would move around, I was there! Whenever we would win, I was a part of that team! Being active in school also helped me.

I also had no time to rest because I was trying to enjoy everything. I was not feeling a lot of stress because I was young and not thinking about so many things. It was not about the money, but to see how I could help my mother not to suffer. How I could work with her to see that we all survive.

Our neighbor was working in a bank and her children were all in boarding schools, good schools. I would always ask her to take me to the school but she could not afford to look after me as well. Then one day I happened to asked her: “let me fetch water for you and you could give me a little money that will help me pay my school fees.” She said it would not be enough, but I told her I would save and keep it because then at least I had something to start with. I was in form 1 in secondary school at the time. When she gave me money for fetching water, I used it to purchase one loaf of bread and two liters of milk. By the end of the day I had three loaves of bread and five liters of milk. That is how I started my business to earn money to pay for my school fees. Being able to earn money made me feel like I was in my own world, I was a free person. 


Federation Creates Industry & Employment in Jinja, Uganda

Jinja Materials Workshop

Plans for the Materials Workshop and Training Centre in Jinja, Uganda. 

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

Major construction is underway in Uganda, a country where youth unemployment sits at roughly 80%.[1] Because of this, training young people in construction is a promising venture for the largest poor people’s movement in the country, the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU).

On an exchange visit to Uganda, federation members from India, Kenya, and South Africa as well as SDI coordinators began a discussion on the cost of building materials and the challenge this poses for the federation’s projects. When federations from the visiting countries shared their experiences around making materials themselves, the Ugandan federation knew it had the capacity to do this, thanks to the skills gained in Tanzania (making soil-stablised bricks and clay tiles) and in India (making prefabricated concrete mini slabs, know as laadis). They decided they could set up a workshop to teach others and bring down the cost of accessing building materials in Jinja.

As a result, NSDFU, in partnership with support NGO ACTogether Uganda, is in the early stages of constructing a production and training centre in Jinja. This will train community members in the production of a range of low-cost construction materials, and to be used in Federation projects and sold commercially for the local market. Youth unemployment is an issue of major concern in Uganda. This project will not only provide a scalable solution to slum upgrading, but will provide a path to employment that is so far lacking in the Uganda context.. 

Building on the needs and expertise of the Federation, these training and capacity-building activities will use the market to create a sustainable, income-generating project that can have impact at scale. 

The workshop will be launched as a joint venture between the Federation and the Jinja municipal council, demonstrating the Federation’s ability to solicit government support and render it as a potential partner of governments elsewhere, thus adding to the Federation’s credibility. The value of the Federation is its ability to be responsive to the real needs of people on the ground. Additionally, the materials produced will be useful for the projects the Federation undertakes. 

The workshop will operate as a social business, covering its costs through income from student fees, accommodation rent and the sale of building materials. Setting itself up from the beginning with a sustainability plan will allow the workshop to continue working and creating impact without requiring support from external donors. In addition, the training centre’s fees will be set far below those of similar vocational training institutes, making training accessible to low-income slum dwellers. In addition, scholarships and / or student loans will be available for those unable to pay. Low fees will be offset by labor provided as part of the students’ training course. 

The workshop proposes to introduce low-cost, ecological building materials to the market in Jinja and beyond. Training and capacity-building (as well as potential for income-generation) will be replicated as producers and contractors learn from the Federation and adopt these methods and, as graduates from the centre’s training put what they have learned into practice in Uganda’s informal settlements, these low-cost, ecological building materials will begin to have broader impact. Namely, the production of low-cost building materials will increase the urban poor’s access to such materials, thereby increasing the chances of building durable, safe shelters. Slum upgrading will become a less costly endeavor, and will be able to be more easily replicated at scale.  

[1] Mail & Guardian, “Uganda’s Museveni admits youth unemployment is out of control,” 10 October 2012, http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-10-ugandas-museveni-admits-youth-unemployment-is-out-of-control


Work and Shelter – Two Struggles, One Reality

Bellagio Meeting

The struggles of grassroots organizations for livelihoods and shelter have much in common. Organizations explored this common ground at a recent meeting, says Diana Mitlin.

Close to a billion people – one in seven of the world’s population – live in informal settlements in the towns and cities of the global South, where they lack both secure livelihoods with adequate incomes, and secure housing with adequate basic services.

Yet urban development programmes tend to serve these people poorly, in part because they focus either on work and incomes or on shelter, tenure and basic services. These divisions reflect neither the realities of people’s lives nor the inter-connected nature of the challenges they face. Poor housing affects people’s livelihoods, as when shacks burn down and people lose scarce possessions or when people fall ill because of inadequate sanitation provision and are unable to work.

Such realities are encouraging grassroots movements and their support agencies to share ideas about how to address these people’s needs with strategies that target BOTH shelter and livelihoods.

On 22 November representatives from the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, Red LACRE (the Latin American Network of Recyclers), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and StreetNet International (an alliance of street vendors) met in Bellagio, Italy to share their approaches. The meeting was hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, with participation from Asiye eTafuleni (Durban), IIED and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) to support the discussions.

Participants shared a host of ideas:

  • Ruby Papeleras from the Philippine Homeless People’s Federation described their savings practices and city-wide mapping to document who was most at risk and to inform interventions to address this.
  • Clarisse Gnahoui from USYNVEPID Street Vendors’ Union in Benin (and an active market trader) explained the ways in which they had documented the taxes that they have to pay in order to demonstrate their contribution to the city.
  • Martha Escobar from the recyclers movement in Colombia (and a member of the Cooperativa de Trabajo Asociado Planeta Verde) spoke about the solitude of those engaged in the recycling industry and the importance of solidarity in challenging the local authorities’ exclusionary practices to keep them from accessing their livelihoods.
  • Jockin Arputham (National Slum Dwellers Federation of India) spoke about the ways in which Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) used neighbourhood data to bring all the residents together when they faced threats of eviction or relocations in India.
  • Yamini Parikh (from SEWA) explained how cooperatives in Ahmedabad offered a way of all workers coming together to ensure that they had more regular work.

All agreed that they had something to learn – and knowledge to share. Here are some key themes, which were consistently repeated as central to improved livelihoods and shelter.

  • Women must lead the way: Women have to lead the process for it to be relevant to the most disadvantaged and to increase the likelihood of collective gains (rather than the self-interest of leaders).
  • Visibility is key: When the urban poor are invisible (whether at home or at work), they will not be aware of the many others facing comparable struggles, nor will politicians or civil servants pay them any attention. Accurate data on the contributions of low-income citizens to the city economy and to improving housing helps build a more visible profile. 
  • Stereotypes must be challenged: A real understanding of the contributions low-income residents make to their cities and which benefit other citizens should be reinforced and defended; inaccurate, negative stereotypes must not be allowed to prevail.  
  • Savings schemes are critical: Savings schemes protect people from fluctuations in prices and incomes and enable their organizations to be less dependent on the fashions of donor agencies.

[sub] Exclusionary realities

Many of the problems low-income people in urban centres face are the same from city to city. They stem from the same narrow vision about what successful cities should look like, the influence internationally mobile capital has on how city centres and high-income neighbourhoods are formed, and (for many nations) increasing income inequalities and high levels of poverty.

These factors help to exclude the urban poor from basic services and secure livelihoods on a scale that is staggering.

One billion people – close to one in seven of the global population – live in informal urban neighbourhoods that lack at least one basic service and/or have unsafe housing. Even the most basic of services, piped water, is frequently not available – or only at a price.  Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers have no toilet in their home.

Perhaps as many as a billion people work in the informal economy. Typically incomes are low and insecure, and working conditions are very poor. Over 60 percent of all urban employment in Africa is estimated to be informal, and in India the figure exceeds 80 percent.

Multiple voices, multiple struggles

Trade unions and associations of informal workers bring together all those working in one industry or trade, identify the laws or practices that need to be changed to protect trading spaces (for example for market vendors) or to access the materials they need (in the case of recyclers). They provide solidarity for those harassed while working alone on the streets or waste dumps, and who face exploitative contractual arrangements. The most successful improve incomes and assets, and may secure safer working conditions – BUT they do little to reduce the costs of rent, water and other essentials, or ensure people have a chance to live close to working opportunities.

Urban social movements work to improve access to water, land and/or housing. Women are often active members as they bear most of the costs of inadequate services. Actions focus on securing homes with basic services and reducing women’s burdens alongside improving living conditions. Local solidarity groups are formed as residents work with their neighbours. Groups frequently undertake their own improvements and lobby their local governments for support.

Stronger together

The representatives from grassroots organisations and networks at the meeting agreed that greater collaboration offered much to their on-going work. They were also excited by the potential broadening of their alliances to strengthen their work and amplify their voices in urban development debates. They also recognised that such collaboration should not be at the expense of weakening their base organisations and day-to-day activities.

They agreed to explore, through international exchanges, the potential value of each other’s practices. Proposals included:

–        recyclers that are part of the Red LACRE organisation from Latin America visiting recyclers in Africa and

–        women-led street trader associations in West Africa visiting women-led savings schemes seeking to improve shelter, also in West Africa.

They also agreed that they could make a useful contribution to each other’s events at global meetings such as the World Urban Forum to ensure that events seeking to address urban poverty give the urban poor and their representative organizations a voice, and put them at the centre of activities.

Already these networks assert the right to speak and struggle to advance their opportunities and define new choices. They also claim the right to be involved in the policies and programmes supposedly there to support them. Learning from each other, and finding solidarity together, they are better positioned to address the scale of poverty and inequality in towns and cities across the global South. Together, they are stronger.