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

Jockin Arputham & Mayor Sidego

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

Sheffield Road, Cape Town

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

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Mshini Wam Site Visit

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