Women Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye

Durban blog post

By Skye Dobson, SDI

As the Black Panther movie continues to smash box office records and enthrall the world with fearless female African superheroes, a meeting in eThekwini last week suggests we brace ourselves for Women Transformers – coming to a city near you.

The words stretch out across her bosom: Women transforming the slums of our cities, the jet-black shirt and white lettering convey the same no-nonsense, bold authenticity as the woman with the sky-blue doek (headscarf) and thick wooden walking stick. Sitting at the shiny boardroom table in the Mayor’s parlor of the eThekwini Municipal Council offices, wiping the sweat from her brow, she looks decidedly like someone who understands that transformation is not a development cliché, but an overdue national imperative.

Mama Mkhabela, (full name, Nombulelo Anna Estevao) joined the shack dwellers federation (now called FEDUP) 30 years and one month ago. She recalls the first time she sat in on a savings group meeting in Lindelani informal settlement and heard women from the settlement talking about the need to come together to solve their problems. She says the women were telling each other that poor people can’t wait for government to give them things, but must start making change themselves. Shy and quiet back then, she recalls sitting back and listening to figure out what was going on. She soon joined the Sophumelela Savings Group and quickly gained the trust and respect of her fellow savers.

At first her husband was suspicious of her work with the federation. She recalls him secretly following her to a meeting in another community one time. The meeting lasted so long that he had to stay the night and help everyone get back to their places the following day. “From then on, he stopped fighting with me. He saw that I wasn’t up to any trouble and we were just working!” she says with a chuckle. The Sophumelela Savings Group secured housing loans from Utshani Fund – a part of the South Africa SDI Alliance – in 1999 and the women in the group set about building their own houses. Mama Mkhabela managed the loan repayments and moved from a bookkeeper to a treasurer and is now the regional leader of FEDUP in Kwa Zulu Natal. The region has 70 savings groups with 9,672 members and has built over 2,500 houses.

Mama Mkhabela had not come alone to see her mayor. Two comrades from FEDUP, Rose Molokoane and Emily Moholo, accompanied her. The three women have been engaged in the struggle to transform the lives of the poor for decades.

When apartheid ended and commitments were made to house the poor, there was a sense in many communities that the battle was won. Of course, it was soon painfully clear to communities living in shacks that the structure of society rather than the lack of houses was the true cause of their deepening poverty and exclusion. FEDUP and SDI supported communities in KZN to understand the need to shape policy and practice in the city – to support people-driven housing as well as informal settlement upgrading, improved livelihoods and savings, and better access to land and tenure security. “When we started”, says Mama Mkhabela, “there were very few women in city council. The officials were all men and they were very, very difficult. Only the late Patrick (former leader in FEDUP and the Informal Settlements Network) could penetrate the city.”

But times are changing.

Rose Molokoane, President of FEDUP and the Coordinator of SDI, grew up in an informal settlement called Oukasie in the South African town of Brits. Today Rose sits on a plethora of national and international bodies tasked with shaping land, housing, and urban policy and practice. Last year she was elected Chair of the World Urban Campaign where she champions the role of grassroots communities and local government partnership for implementing global agendas. On the international stage, eThekwini’s leadership frequently encounters Rose and other SDI community leaders. SDI’s unique local to global presence has slowly but surely convinced the city of the need to partner with shack dwellers in eThekwini and has quite literally secured these women a seat at the mayor’s table.

Emily Moholo, meanwhile, was born in Mafikeng and is a member of Ithuseng Savings Group. She is a regional leader of FEDUP in the Free State and chairperson of the provincial joint working group on partnerships between the municipality, provincial government, and the Federation. She is also a member of the SDI Management Committee, and supports the SDI affiliates throughout the Southern Africa region to build strong slum dweller federations and partnerships with local government.

Mama Mkhabela, Rose and Emily invited one of the Directors of the SDI Secretariat (a woman) and the Chief Executive Officer of Global Infrastructure Basil (another woman) to accompany them. The women’s joint mission was to: a) update the Mayor on the South African SDI Alliance’s work, b) request that their MOA with eThekwini Municipality’s Human Settlements Department be expedited and signed before the close of the financial year, c) request that the Know Your City campaign be recognized by the city as an important strategy for collaborative informal settlement action to build resilience and guide climate-friendly investment in infrastructure and upgrading, d) introduce the city to GIB and share an update on the SDI/GIB partnership, and e) to demonstrate SDI and the SA Alliance’s intention to increase support to city efforts to become a leader in inclusive climate and resilience informal settlement action and to accelerate implementation of commitments made in the New Urban Agenda towards the SDGs.

“We don’t come to the mayor looking for handouts” says Rose. “We’re bringing ideas, partners the city needs, and we’re ready to work.”

From the City’s side, there were three strong women at the table. Mayor Zandile Gumede is among a growing cadre of female mayors leading global discussions to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable urban citizens are at the center of climate change responses. She currently serves as the Chair of C40 Africa where she advocates this approach. Globally, the number of women mayors is rising rapidly, which many believe bodes well for inclusive resilience planning and implementation. Indeed, the Resilience Strategy of eThekwini Municipality, formally adopted by the eThekwini Municipality Council in August 2017, is spearheaded by an all-female team comprising Debra Roberts (award-winning global climate change leader), Jo Douwes, and Manisha Hassan, is a product of a four-year consultative process with a broad and diverse group of Durban’s stakeholders. The SA SDI Alliance provided critical inputs to one of the two critical Resilience Building Options of the Strategy, namely: collaborative informal settlement action.

The Mayor said that it was refreshing indeed to engage with groups so clearly seeking positive change. She expressed confidence in the Human Settlements team’s ability to get the MOA signed quickly to ensure stronger communication and implementation at greater speed. She recommended that implementation of the MOA involve the convening of administrative and political officials in order to strengthen leadership capacity at all levels. She highlighted the need to work together to advance the city’s 5 year agenda and to ensure eThekwini, the SA SDI Alliance, and SDI continue to collaborate at the local and global level to showcase the power of community-government partnership for implementation of global urban and climate agendas.

Chairing the meeting was former Head of Department for Human Settlements at eThekwini Municipality, and recently appointed Deputy City Manager for Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Transport, Beryl Mphakathi. Beryl has been a tireless champion of the partnership and MOA between the SA SDI Alliance and the Human Settlements Department. At the request of the team, she committed herself to ensuring the MOA is signed before the end of the current financial year. Beryl explained that the MOA is necessary to “formalize our partnership…to pull all our efforts together and to commit our capacity and time.” Beryl invited the Acting Head of Department for Human Settlements to attend the meeting and ensure the MOA is tabled in time.

When Mama Mkhabela speaks of Beryl she says, “Truly speaking I’m so happy. We are very lucky to have a woman in that position. I can say, she respects me. I respect her. She took a while to understand the federation, but when she did she started to call me her mother. Even if I call her at night she has to respond. If she can’t answer your question right away, she will call you back. We work hand in hand.” When women can forge authentic, humble, thoughtful relationships such as these, institutional partnerships between the city and communities that are based on respect and practical action emerge. Such partnerships have the potential to mitigate the overinflated egos, political turf battles, short-sighted and self-serving approaches that have characterized male-dominated city politics in eThekwini and beyond.

While the centrality of women’s social relationships as a critical resource in community-based political mobilization has long been recognized in South Africa and abroad, city decision making remains dominated by males. If the walls of the Mayoral Boardroom could talk they would have countless tales of hustlers hustling on behalf of their own personal interests. But these women are hustlers acting in the interest of their community. Women transformers from the community, the city, and the international development sector have the opportunity to generate practical collaborations and partnerships to shift the status quo through new models of leadership and pragmatic action aimed at improving the lives of communities. Critically, women transformers from the community must not devalue the power within themselves by elevating leaders or partners – male or female – above the grassroots collectives from which they emerged.

Let’s keep an eye on eThekwini’s community, professional, and government Women Transformers and see if, indeed, they can transform city governance and the slums of their cities as the t-shirt promises.


SDI is often asked, What about the men? Of course, men are an integral part of the SDI movement and the struggle for inclusive and resilient cities. In the meeting described, there were inspiring and committed male leaders and professionals: namely, Jeff Thomas from Utshani Fund, Ndodeni Dengo from Informal Settlement Network (ISN), and Arnotte Payne from CORC (all part of the SA SDI Alliance). These men toil hand-in-hand, day-in and day-out with the women mentioned in this blog. As a leader from SNCC (Civil Rights Movement in the USA) once said of working with strong women leadership, “you come to realize that manhood isn’t the ability to knock someone down but finding your own humanity.” Jeff, Ndodeni, and Arnotte embody this viewpoint and understand that it is not heroic individuals but committed organizers that will sustain a movement and transform the status quo.


Southern African Slum Dwellers Strategise Ahead of World Urban Forum 2018

[caption id="attachment_4974" align="alignnone" width="610"]SAMSUNG CSC Delegates of the Southern Africa Hub welcoming the South African Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, Zou Kota-Fredericks.[/caption]

*This article originally appeared on the SA SDI Alliance blog.*

By Kwanda Lande, on behalf of CORC

On 11 February 2018, the ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9) will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. WUF9 will have a specific thematic focus on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda(NUA). This theme of implementation is particularly important to urban poor residents and federation leaders of SDI’s Southern African countries, especially as the NUA relates to informal settlements.Twice a year, representatives of SDI‘s Southern African urban poor federations (Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Zambia) gather as a regional “hub” to strategise, report, share challenges, and plan for mutual learning. The recent Southern African SDI hub took place between 15 – 18 November 2017 in Johannesburg. Given the timing of the hub ahead of WUF9, the Federations invited Zou Kota-Fredricks, the South African Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, and Parks Tau, president of  United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to open the hub and engage in discussions on the implementation of the NUA.

The experience of Southern African slum dwellers working towards the New Urban Agenda (NUA)In 2015, SDI was invited through an initiative called the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), to participate in the process leading up to Habitat III, in October 2017. GAP served as a broad-based deliberative platform for non-governmental partners to develop consensus for joined outcomes for Habitat III. The primary intention was for civil society organisations to influence UN member states that adopted the NUA at Habitat III. As a result urban poor federations in the SDI network used this opportunity to ensure that their voice was heard in the development of the NUA and that their experiences and aspirations were known and considered.

In the lead up to Habitat III, SDI’s East and Southern African federations had a strong presence at the UN Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Informal Settlements in Pretoria in April 2016. The meeting culminated in the Pretoria Declaration on Informal Settlements. SDI federations advocated that the NUA commit to

  • Supporting the self-organising processes of communities (such as data collection and learning exchanges) to partner effectively with governments and other urban actors
  • Using community-collected informal settlement data as the basis of collaborative informal settlement policy making and development planning.


How Southern African slum dwellers view the NUA

The NUA provides a new framework that lays out how cities should be planned and managed to best promote sustainable urbanisation. It talks about strengthening and creating inclusive partnerships, and people centred development. It suggests that the voice of community organisations be heard. However, for urban poor residents, the challenge, is establishing and maintaining partnerships especially at the level of municipalities where most of community organising activities are taking place and where development is expected to happen. This means that urban poor residents are struggling to gain recognition from municipal systems, and that they have not found ways of institutionalising local government – community partnerships in decision making and planning processes.

In Cape Town, for example, the South African SDI Alliance had established a strong partnership with the local municipality and jointly implemented several upgrading initiatives. However, since the last upgrading project in 2014, it has taken more than three years to progress to the next one. One of the contributing factors to this delays relate to the lack of hand-over of the partnership to successive heads of departments and senior project managers. The consequences of which is the loss of institutional memory and knowledge of the working partnership in a time of high staff turn-over within the municipality.


Parks Tau, speaking at the Southern Africa hub meeting during a discussion on the implementation of the NUA

In conversation with Parks Tau and Zou Kota-Fredericks, SDI’s Southern African federation members highlighted their priority of a NUA that is localised, meaning “that we want partnerships at a local government level”. An example is SDI’s partnership with UCLG on the Know Your City campaign, which promotes community-collected data on informal settlements as the basis for partnerships between slum dwellers and their local governments. The Southern African federations expressed:

…We want to work – together with government, UCLG, and the private sector – on collecting data and using this information to participate in decision making, implementation, and monitoring the implementation of the NUA. For example, in South Africa we want to see the Department of Human Settlements creating a forum that will meet more regularly to monitor the implementation of the NUA. This forum should be inclusive to the level that ensures that poor communities are involved.

The fact that government and civil society are working in the same space of local government with similar vision of community development demands a partnership. Both Parks Tau and Zou Kota-Fredericks, agreed for a local forum- South African forum. Parks also suggested for a Southern Africa forum that will sure case a partnership of government and civil society at that level:

At the start of 2018, before the World Urban Forum, we have to work together to convene a meeting to discuss a way forward on how we are going to work together and also to prepare a case study to present at the WUF9. The know your city campaign – data collection by communities is one tool that we are going to use to hold and strengthen our partnership. This will also be an opportunity for all partners to raise their expectations from this partnership.


The state of local government partnerships in some countries in the Southern Africa region

Southern African SDI federations spoke about the state of partnerships between themselves and their local governments as a way of offering some learning points on how to implement the NUA. Some of SDI’s federations have managed to establish well functioning partnerships: In Botswana, the partnership between the local government of Francistown and the Botswana Homeless and Poor People’s Federation involves community members and government collectively collecting community data, identifying and implementing projects. This has allowed the Botswana federation to conduct profiling and enumeration in Francsitown (Somerset West and Somerset East), identify and implement infrastructure projects together with local authorities. A major contributing factor to this work has been the presence of officials on the ground, working hand in hand with federation members around data collection.

In Namibia, slum dwellers have managed to establish local government partnerships with municipalities such as Gobabis where the Shack Dwellers federation of Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the local authority for upgrading Freedom Square informal settlement. This resulted in the Ministry of Rural Development contributing N$ 8 million and Gobabis local municipality contributing technical expertise. Officials of Gobabis municipality worked with the community of Freedom Square in data collection, community planning and implementation of different upgrading phases. In this project officials made sure that they were always on the ground. As a result they were quick to respond to projects issues. They did not impose solutions or approaches to solving problems but instead provided the necessary support for slum dwellers to implement their plans.

[caption id="attachment_4972" align="alignnone" width="610"]SAMSUNG CSC Delegates of the Southern Africa region hub meeting representing Urban poor federations form Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia, and  Zimbabwe.[/caption]What are the main priorities of  SDI’s Southern African urban poor federations ahead of WUF9?

WUF9 presents an opportunity for urban poor federations of the Southern Africa region to influence how the NUA is implemented.  The primary priority for federations in the Southern Africa regions include localised partnerships that are based on community-collected data. The Southern African federations want to work with government and civil society organisations on collecting informal settlement data and using it to participate in decision making, implementation, and to monitor the implementation of the NUA.

Ten Essentials of the New Urban Agenda


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

By David Satterthwaite, IIED Human Settlements research group

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

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

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

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

The 10 essentials

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

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

Key factors influencing the agenda’s success 

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

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

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

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

SDI at Habitat III


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Habitat III must institutionalize ‘participatory’ urban development

**This post originally appeared on Citiscope**

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

The New Urban Agenda will need to factor collaborative development into the design of its implementing strategies, while ensuring that adequate investment is made in organising communities for effective participation.

Last month, the turned its official focus to informal settlements and slums, just weeks ahead of the release of the first draft of the 20-year urbanization strategy that will come out of the Habitat deliberations — the.

While much progress has been made during the course of these discussions, significant gaps remain. These issues will now need to be addressed as member states begin negotiations on the New Urban Agenda, which is to be finalized at a summit in Quito in October. ()

The main event on this topic was the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Informal Settlements, which took place in Pretoria, South Africa, in April. There, Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and other groups played a key role in drafting official input to the New Urban Agenda. Yet while the succeeds in its inclusion of many of the core principles embodying the SDI’s work, it remains vague and overly lenient around some key concerns.


For instance, the declaration uses popular terms such as “inclusive” and “participatory” but without specific mention of how these words will translate into action on the ground. The New Urban Agenda must create space for the voice, experience and strategies of the urban poor in urban policy, planning and development.

Strategy development for the implementation of this agenda should factor collaborative development into programme design. Investments also must be made in organizing communities for effective participation. Without doing so, such rhetoric will only continue a trend that has resulted in years’ worth of empty promises for slum dwellers worldwide.


A key example — the — was successful for exactly these reasons. By mobilizing federations of the urban poor through savings schemes, mapping and enumeration initiatives, and community-upgrading funds, this programme laid the groundwork for effective participatory development. Through the coming negotiations, the New Urban Agenda must now learn from such examples.

Where communities already exist

The Pretoria Declaration does well to make clear the need for a holistic approach to dealing with the issue of slums. The document recognizes that this issue is not about poverty or migration or land use in isolation, but rather about the dysfunctional way in which these issues combine with urban land markets and policies — a confluence that has systematically marginalized the poor the world over.

“The Pretoria Declaration uses popular terms such as ‘inclusive’ and ‘participatory’ but without specific mention of how these words will translate into action on the ground.”

Yet the declaration remains unacceptably lenient on one of the most violent, disruptive and unjust practices: forced evictions, which continue to threaten the lives of millions of urban poor worldwide. Eviction means the destruction of the assets of the poorest and most vulnerable, and the postponement of meaningful solutions to inclusive urban growth.


The declaration’s recommendations on this issue suggest merely that the New Urban Agenda “Considers encouraging states” to adhere to the. This is insufficient.

We must emphatically insist that the New Urban Agenda demand that no state carries out forced evictions of any kind. Let’s make sure that this document calls for a categorical end to this practice once and for all.

Instead, the state must prioritize local partnerships between government and organized communities of the urban poor in order to promote the co-production of in situ, incremental slum upgrading as an effective alternative to evictions and the default approach to dealing with inadequate, unsafe housing, infrastructure and basic services.

Slum upgrading includes any intervention that improves the physical conditions of an informal settlement and in turn enhances the lives of its inhabitants. For SDI, this ranges from the construction of to drainage systems to to and more.


But the most critical component is that this process should happen in situ — where communities already exist. The urban poor locate themselves where they do for the same reasons as the rest of us: access to work, social and familial networks, and services such as transport, health care and schools. As such, relocations should always be a last resort.

In situation where a relocation is unavoidable — such as in floodplains and along railway lines — the New Urban Agenda must push governments and private developers to partner with organized communities of the urban poor and their support organizations to carry out systematic, secure, resettlement and relocation programmes in which decisions are made in conjunction with affected communities.

Community-driven data

Finally, as we move into the implementation phase of the New Urban Agenda and the recently agreed (SDGs), it will become increasingly critical that these processes be informed by robust data. In this, it is important that the Pretoria Declaration makes clear the need for “credible and timely data” — an issue on which the New Urban Agenda will need to follow suit.

“The urban poor can be transformed from being treated as a liability in city development to creative and innovative partners in changing our cities.”

Yet the declaration does not mention the benefits of community-driven data collection. This runs counter toSDI’s experience, which clearly suggests that such processes are most successful when data is collected by slum dwellers about the communities in which they live.


Data collection serves as a critical tool for the empowerment of these communities and as a powerful basis from which to enter into partnerships with their local governments about development priorities and upgrading needs. Urban development policy and practice must be informed by the uniquely rich information that urban poor federations gather through settlement and city-wide community-driven data collection, including profiling, enumeration and mapping.

In one of SDI’s newest affiliates, the Liberian federation has profiled one of the most tenure-insecure settlements in Monrovia — West Point, located on a peninsula that juts out between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mesurado River. Because of coastal erosion and pressures to “clean up” the city and claim prime land, the community lives under the constant threat of eviction.

In May 2015, a team made up of slum dwellers and professionals from across the SDI network led a slum profiling and mapping exercise in West Point. This effort found that the settlement is home to more than 65,000 inhabitants, mostly living in overcrowded conditions with little to no access to sanitation. Of the 12 public toilets in West Point, only six are open for use. The vast majority of residents use “hanging toilets” — rudimentary structures built over the sea.


Toward the end of 2015, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed a task force charged with cleaning up the city, a body headed by controversial former Monrovia mayor Mary Broh. The Special City Beautification Task Force subsequently waged a fierce campaign of breaking down vendor stalls in road reserves, demolishing informal housing said to be illegally constructed, and arresting those believed to be connected to drug or prostitution rings.

West Point’s residents knew that the community’s hanging toilets were also on Broh’s list of structures to be demolished. While community members agreed that these do not constitute a long-term solution for West Point, they had obvious concerns about their removal.

So, community members called a meeting with city officials to present their profiling data. They were able to demonstrate that the situation would be much worse if the hanging toilets were suddenly removed and all 65,000 residents were forced to use the six working public toilets. Residents warned that a cholera outbreak would be likely and that the beach would again become littered with human waste. The community also highlighted their efforts to save and plan for the construction of new, safer toilets in the coming year.

These negotiation efforts were eventually rewarded. The task force agreed not to enter West Point and, instead, the community was allowed to take charge of a clean-up effort.


Overall, SDI’s activities on the global stage aim to fulfil our mandate of promoting a people-centred, citywide upgrading approach. Our advocacy work remains rooted in the experiences of grass-roots federations of the urban poor, and our international partnerships and activities are determined by the anticipated impact they will make on federations’ local processes.

As such, our main priority for the Habitat III process is that the New Urban Agenda reflects a few key priorities critical to contesting the status quo of the urban development arena. SDI’s experience demonstrates how the urban poor can be transformed from being treated as a liability in city development to creative and innovative partners in changing our cities.

SDI at Habitat 3 Regional Meeting for Africa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from Abuja Declaration (full Declaration available here)

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

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

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

What might slum dwellers want from the SDGs?


Jockin Arputham has been fighting for the rights of slum dwellers for nearly 50 years. This blog is drawn from an interview by IIED’s David Satterthwaite ahead of World Habitat Day about what the Sustainable Development Goals could mean for slum dwellers.

Jockin Arputham founded the first national slum dweller federation in India in 1976 and went on to ally this with Mahila Milan, the Indian federation of women slum and pavement dweller savers. He has spent over 20 years encouraging and supporting slum and shack dwellers federations in many other countries – and he is President of Slum/Shack Dwellers International.

Jockin visiting Mathare Slum_2

Making the SDGs action oriented

The SDGs promise so much but they are not action oriented. Many countries do not have the  capacity to act.  We see dreams of a slum-free world or a slum-free country or slum-free cities.  But that is an ideal that needs strong political will, a strong and stable economy, and a conducive environment for the community. In Europe you might expect UN promises that everyone has a decent home to be met – but is this realistic for India?

Ambitions must be achievable

My ambition for the SDGs is limited to what we can do – what is meaningful, useful and sustainable – and implementable.  So our goal is not slum-free cities but slum-friendly cities.  Not a slum-free India but a slum-friendly India.



What does slum-friendly mean?  That the SDG promises like clean water and good sanitation for all, land tenure for people, incremental housing and basic employment are met for all slum dwellers. If these five mandates are accepted, how can we set standards and measure what is or is not happening in each city?  If there is also a mandate for people to participate, and take part, then set dates by which to achieve each of these. Even to achieve the more modest goals for slum-friendly cities means that governments have to do three times what they are doing now

Will action on the SDGs be any better than the Millennium Development Goals?  So much high talk of all the goals in last 15 years but where are we in the goals and in their measurement?  Are we setting unattainable goals with the SDGs?

We have seen government commitments made at Habitat I (the first UN Conference on Human Settlements) in Vancouver in 1976; then at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. At Habitat 1, there were commitments and targets for 1990 and these were not met.  There have been very few tangible achievements.  I was invited to go to speak at Habitat I in 1976 but the government was bulldozing the settlement where I lived, so I stayed in Mumbai where I had fought this threat for 10 years.

Habitat III is approaching (in 2016). Will this bring more unrealistic commitments? Or will it truly be a “new urban agenda” with a clear strategy for achieving the goals with new measures? New locally-generated metrics that everyone can follow.  Everyone’s participation including slum dwellers. All the UN documents and processes claim they have people’s participation but usually this is just a grand talk show.

Looking back – what was the world’s urban population at the time of Habitat 1? Just 1.6 billion people.  At Habitat II there were 2.6 billion.  And now 4 billion.

We have seen the growth of NGOs and big donors and their budgets but for slum dwellers, where has all this money gone?  NGOs and big donors are sharing a platform in the name of the poor and the poor are left out.  Local governments and slum dweller organisations are the ones working on achieving the goals but these are usually left out of these new platforms.

Communuty Meeting with Jockin 2

No forced evictions

And the threat of eviction for slum dwellers still remains.  After Habitat I, we had many sister city programmes – beautiful red wine talk – but this did not deliver land tenure. There should be a commitment at Habitat III – no forced evictions. No evictions without relocations that are acceptable to those who are relocated.  After 40 years we still have not cracked this. Now the pressures of forced eviction will grow as cities invest more in infrastructure.

The cost of decent relocation is peanuts compared to infrastructure budgets. It should be part of the cost of all projects that require relocation. But this needs political will and administrative skill to work with the people and design with the communities. The huge costs of forced evictions are not counted – for the residents, the lost homes, possessions, assets, livelihoods, access to schools….

Where people are moved, we need a package of meaningful rehousing through which the quality of life of the people moved also improves.

Jockin visiting Mathare Slum_1

What new urban agenda?

Now, with Habitat III, either you close the dialogue that has produced so little or you come forward with what we can realistically achieve in the next 15 years and set up a system of measurement that involves and is accountable to slum dwellers.  From this, we learn about what works and from our mistakes.

We need to learn how to find solutions for renters too; so often, relocation programmes only benefit those who ‘own’ their home and can prove they have lived there for many years.

Slum dwellers must become a central part of slum friendly cities especially the women savings groups who are the foundation of the slum dweller federations around the world. But how? We need community participation with a strong focus on women. Full involvement of women in developing slum friendly cities gives a clear change of life for millions of people.  As the women say, I work with my sisters, my federation, my family. Women’s savings groups can manage money and this is a big change. It helps them learn to budget, and they bring their knowledge of the local situation. Then as they join together they work at city scale and interact with city government and city politicians

For each of the SDGs, you need to connect them to the ground.  Create a mechanism to achieve each target.  You do not set up targets without setting out system of delivery – and this system has to involve community groups and local governments. And with progress monitored locally and openly – so these are accountable for all.

Jockin Arputham was regarded for decades in India as a public enemy as he fought against evictions (and imprisoned dozens of times). Latterly his incredible contribution to how to address slums (and work with their inhabitants) has been recognised in India where he was awarded the Padma Shri award and internationally.

David Satterthwaite is a Senior Fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements Group.