Developing Alternatives to Waterfront Evictions in Lagos



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


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


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

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

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

Inclusive Investment Guided by Community-led Profiling in Manila


In the coming weeks, SDI will share the case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience’ here on our blog.  Emerging from the field of ecology,  ‘resilience’  describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognizing that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.

As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report. 



As of 2017, the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines Inc. (HPFPI) has organized 360 groups in 20 cities and towns. In partnership with SDI and the Human Cities Coalition (HCC), the federation is currently exploring strategies for influencing private sector urban infrastructure investments. In the capital city of Manila, a major port-linked investment plan was commissioned to guide trillion-dollar investments. This scale of investment is essential for reducing risk in this extraordinarily dense city. However, far greater attention needs to be given to the impact of such investment during the tendering process – both by the issuing government offices and the companies awarded the tender. Unless this is enshrined in procurement and tendering protocols guiding investment we will continue to see the forced eviction and thoughtless relocation of thousands of slum dweller families and overall city resilience will be undermined. So how can the urban poor become part of the dialogue and protocols for planning such investments? As is often said in SDI, unless you’re organized you won’t count. The federation has commenced profiling and mapping of selected settlements in Malabon City, Manila Metro. Community members were trained to map and profile their communities and analyze the data on settlement demographics, land status, basic service vulnerabilities, location hazards, challenges, and priorities.



In 2017, the community presented their information to the Mayor of Malabon City and other city officials to initiate a dialogue on priority issues. The administration acknowledged that they did not have comparably detailed data on informal settlements and requested the federation expand their efforts to profile all informal settlements in the City of Malabon. This is a critical first step in efforts to convince government that investment protocols should be developed that take impact on the poor into account. The SDI affiliates in Philippines and India are working closely on this engagement with HCC, understanding that working only at the local level is insufficient for achieving inclusive megacities. Powerful global forces shape development in the megacities of these countries and the federations are being forced to rapidly expand the scope of their partner engagement.



The lessons from this initiative in the Philippines are being watched closely by the SDI network. If HCC and SDI can influence procurement and tendering protocols to demand high quality, community-driven data on informality, and the involvement of urban poor communities in the planning and execution of infrastructure projects, it will radically advance the influence of local knowledge and the impact of SDI’s Know Your City campaign. These measures can ensure that infrastructure is designed to enhance city resilience rather than undermine it. An added benefit of this engagement with private sector investors is a better understanding of how to de-risk private sector infrastructure investments in informal settlements. Given that the lion’s share of the urban built environment is financed by the private sector, SDI understands that shaping the investment decisions of this sector and ensuring they do not abdicate their responsibility will be critical to inclusive and transformative development.

The Philippines slum dweller federation efforts are improving city resilience as a result of proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration, organizing actively engaged citizens, and creating protocols for consultative urban planning and investment.


Looking Ahead — Opportunities for Fundamental Change

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

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

Fundamental changes are needed to:

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

✸ ✸ ✸

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

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

Monitoring That Enables Local Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advancing Urban Resilience and Inclusion

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

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

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

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

Redefining and Managing Risk

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation in New Finance for the Urban Poor

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

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

Climate-Compatible Informal Settlement Investments

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

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

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

Download the full publication here:

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.


Climate Change Renaissance: The bottom-up city approach











**This article was cross posted from the Muungano wa Wanavijiji blog**

Similarly to local governments, federations of the urban poor globally are equally concerned about the strong impacts of climate change they continue to experience. Urban poor communities living in global cities believe that COP21 in Paris is an opportunity to state loud and clear that local communities are major players in finding lasting solutions in the struggle against climate change.

Anastasia Wairimu Maina is one of the founders of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Kenyan Alliance and its National Chairlady since it was formed in 1996. Wairimu was one of the delegates representing Slum Dwellers International (SDI) at the COP21 summit in Paris. She views the Climate Summit as “an opportunity to voice up that we, the slum dwellers within the SDI network and beyond are major players in the struggle against climate change.”

“Cities can make a difference, our collective actions as a network of the urban poor globally ought to be recognized on the international platform of which our achievements may be built onto the climate agenda. This would encourage a more ambitious and inclusive international climate agreement in Paris.”

Anastasia Presenting on the need of partnerships between communities and local governments to address climate change

Anastasia highlighted how urban poor communities at the local and city levels are directly affected by climate change. “The floods, air pollution by medium and large industries and factories- which directly affects air quality in informal residential areas and settlement-fires. This intimates two things: Climate change is real and is here with us and local governments and authorities cannot address this on their own.”

Awareness Creation

In its urban agenda, Kenya’s federation of the urban poor, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, has begun to address challenges posed by climate change through awareness creation among the masses. The awareness is built on the Climatic Change Awareness Creation and Adaptation for Improved Livelihoods among urban poor Communities. Another aspect of this awareness is pegged on the improvement of food security for small holder city farmers and food vendors in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through creating awareness about causes and effects of climate change while motivating them to mitigate and adapt to the changing climatic conditions.

Although climate change and its effects have taken root in most parts of Kenya, there is general lack of knowledge by the policy makers, private sector and urban communities about its causes, effects, mitigation and adaptation measures.

“The consequences of climate change are felt locally, often by slum dwellers living in degraded environments, and have to be dealt with at local and city levels. It is therefore crucial that the voices of the urban poor are taken into consideration by and wholly represented to the local authorities be heard at the Climate Summit. Then we can locally and influence change globally,” asserts Anastasia .

Inclusive participatory Planning of Public spaces

A Public Space in Kibera Photo Credits.

Urban planning and development remains to be an important aspect of rapid urbanization. This therefore makes it important for city authorities to innovate and plan for public spaces in a manner that would incorporate city demands, thus enabling city residents to feel part of the city. Public spaces are typically having the mandate of the people to develop, manage and maintain such spaces on behalf of the people.

Slum-dwellers play a significant civic role in the utilization and maintenance of public spaces. It is therefore equally important for city authorities to involve urban dwellers to model an inclusive, connected, safe, and accessible city. Public participatory processes give the urban poor the opportunity to help plan and design their city and its public spaces.

Anastasia emphasized the importance of (local) government and business partnering with organised slum dwellers, because “we are many, we have something to offer, and you cannot do without us to do something about climate issues.”

Cohesion and coordination between members of the public, community, and civic, charitable and private entities do commonly have different approaches and capacities to safeguard, utilise and improve public spaces. However, it is important to note that such spaces ought to bring all actors on board to enhance better planning, design and maintenance of public spaces.

The sustainability of our cities is enhanced by compact, mixed-use development, and dense centres served by a safe, well-connected network for pedestrians, bicycles and motorised vehicles. Renewable energy and waste recycling systems, native trees and vegetation, clean air, water, soil and sanitary systems all serve to sustain and benefit public spaces.

Governments often lead the way in taking ambitious action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As the level of government closest to the people and the one responsible for actually implementing climate action on the ground, it is essential that they not only be heard, but also help shape the climate change discussions.

The SDI network is calling on national, European and international policy makers to recognise the role and efforts of local urban poor communities in climate mitigation and adaptation in the Paris agreement and to adapt both financial and legal framework conditions in partnership with local actors.

Well-Run Cities Are Resilient: The Importance of Responsive Relationships Between Local Governments & Slum Communities


By Caroline Walker, SDI Secretariat 

“Time and again, those who have the least lose the most”[1]

Solutions to major challenges that have become exacerbated by climate change are often found in the hands of communities at the coalface of such disasters. In a recent New York Times article Tim Hanstad and Roy Prosterman discuss Typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines last November and the importance of allocating the poor land rights.  They highlight the lack of collateral for the majority of Haiyan’s victims: slum residents.  Hanstad and Prosterman emphasize that it is in the best economic and social interests of a country to address the issue of landlessness. 

Natural disasters are not “equal-opportunity destroyers”.[2]  The urban poor are the most badly hit. They have poorer quality housing and insufficient “risk-reducing” infrastructure (piped water, sewers, electricity and good roads).[3] David Satterthwaitedefines resilience as “…the capacity of a city to absorb climate change-related disturbances/shocks while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning”.[4] Satterthwaite and Dodman explain that an oft neglected aspect of resilience is political, further defining resilience in low and middle income cities as local government extending political representation to slum residents through addressing their needs.[5] Additionally, institutional competence is needed in order for cities to generate resilience. Low resilience in cities is shown both by the effects of disasters and subsequent disaster relief.  Typhoon Haiyan is testament to this.  Many of Haiyan’s 4 million displaced occupied low-lying coastal zones.The city of Tacloban (in the Leyte province), home to a large slum population and one of the worst hit, displays what Satterthwaite terms “accumulated vulnerability” – a failure to develop the necessary infrastructure to be resilient to climate change.[6] After the storm, government embarked on a plan to use a large portion of previously slum land to expand Tacloban City Airport.  Such land insecurity is why many slum dwellers remain in their structures amid natural disasters, fearing a loss of their land – increasing mortality.  Hanstad and Prosterman cite land reforms in South Korea, Vietnam and Rwanda to support their solution of addressing this and the issue of landlessness in the Philippines.  Giving the poor land rights is one way to strengthen a city’s structures and increase resilience.

Well-run cities are resilient cities; resilient cities are adaptive cities

The most resilient cities are associated with high-income and strong local and national governments. Such cities are characterized by strong physical, social, political and financial structures. These structures allow cities to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover from various stresses.[7] Historically, poor service provision by local governments in the global south has been marked by deficiencies in infrastructure and institutions.[8] Satterthwaite draws attention to this by comparing the devastation wrought by typhoons of the same strength in Japan and the Philippines.  The latter saw higher mortality rates.  Many high-income cities’ resilience “…is independent of any climate change adaptation measures because it was built [responding] to risks that are (or were) present independent of climate change but that climate change will exacerbate”.[9]  This highlights the importance of local and national authorities.

The need for bottom-up development

“Resilience to climate change is often the result of low-income citizens getting responses to everyday needs”.[10] In order for the urban poor to be incorporated in cities, local authorities need to increase engagement with community members.  Local governments are often reluctant to work with slum residents.[11]This requires action from communities and a change in government attitude.  The Philippine’s Homeless People’s Federation supported by Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc (PACSII) has been engaging government on housing since its inception.  Stronger housing structures would have curbed the death toll in the Philippines.  Federations across the global south are and can be a channel for the government to understand the needs of the urban poor and plan responses accordingly.  At the time of the disaster the Philippines Alliance was planning to mobilize affected community members in the Bohol and Cebu provinces to conduct damage assessments as well as profile, map and enumerate affected communities.  Such activities can direct local authorities to where the need is greatest.  Without this data funds are often misdirected or misspent, if that.  Community savings can also be used by Federations to invest in measures to increase resilience. After Typhoon Frank in Illoilo, Philippines, the Federation used community savings to leverage funds from the government in order to build transit housing accommodating 293 people.

Innovation is needed in developing resistance to and dealing with the effects of climate change.  Local authorities need to work with slum communities to improve the quality of housing structures and develop early warning systems in order to lessen the impact of typhoons like Haiyan.  Each group cannot do so effectively on its own.  Poor communities “…cannot build much-needed citywide trunk infrastructure, [thus] they have to demonstrate to government agencies their capacities as potential partners”.[12]  Local authorities and poor communities are the nexus for improving resilience. Whether systems developed are effective or not depends on whether they are supported by the poor. 

The impact of Typhoon Haiyan is one of many examples of the effects of climate change on the urban poor. Dual efforts need to be made to improve relationships between local authorities and the urban poor and to strengthen physical, social, political and financial structures.  Doing so will increase resilience, decreasing negative effects of disasters.  Hanstad and Prosterman write about the need for the international community to pressurize the Filipino government (as well as many others) to address land security.  This should be the start of a global discussion on land security, extending to how to increase resilience of slum communities – aiming towards achieving more inclusive cities. 

[1]Hanstad, T and Prosterman, R. The New York Times, “How the Poor Get Washed Away, ” 14 January 2014,

[2]Hanstad, T and Prosterman, R. The New York Times, “How the Poor Get Washed Away, ” 14 January 2014,

[3]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 382. Available online at:

[4]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 381. Available online at:

[5]Satterthwaite, D and Dodman, D. 2013. Towards resilience and transformation for cities within a finite planet, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 291. Available online at:

[6]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 387. Available online at:

[7]Satterthwaite, D and Dodman, D. 2013. Towards resilience and transformation for cities within a finite planet, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 295. Available online at: 

[8][8]Moser, C and Satterthwaite, D. 2008. Climate Change and Cities Discussion Paper 3: Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centres of low- and middle-income countries. v. Available online at:

[9]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 383. Available online at:

[10]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 388. Available online at:

[11][11]Moser, C and Satterthwaite, D. 2008. Climate Change and Cities Discussion Paper 3: Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centres of low- and middle-income countries. v. Available online at:

[12]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 389. Available online at:

Community-Driven Solutions to Climate Change

Local Solutions to Climate Change

Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda being interviewed at the Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference. 

By Mara Forbes, SDI Secretariat 

“Climate change is improving on what we have so we can sustain in what we are doing.” Edith Samia, National Slum Dwellers of Federation of Uganda

A delegation from South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania attended the second biannual Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference from October 30 to November 1 in Dar es Salaam hosted by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). Over 440 delegates attended the conference from 25 African countries. Of those, 300 were local government representatives, and of that 170 were heads of local governments (Mayors, Governors and Chairpersons). LOCS is a platform that brings together local government officials, academics, NGOs, private sector, and development partners to learn from each other and understand how local solutions can address the global climate change agenda.

Climate change is most frequently discussed in terms of a larger global issue rather then than a topic of national or local concern. More frequently this view has shifted to try and understand how climate change related issues are experienced at the local level and what resilience and adaptation efforts communities can provide to combat these effects. Those hit hardest by climate change live in countries that have low carbon footprints and have not created many of problems the world is facing. The global south, and particularly the urban poor in these countries, will be affected most from its negative impacts. They live in low-lying areas that suffer from heavy flooding, frequent landslides, droughts, and the like. Climate related risks are adding to the already existing challenges faced by the poor.

How do we take these global issues of climate change that are most often looked at from the large scale and understand how local initiatives can mitigate the effects? SDI took this opportunity to showcase how communities of the urban poor are addressing issues of climate change. Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda shared how communities in Uganda are creating and implementing innovative methods to mitigate climate change. For example, solid waste is being used to make charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are created by compacting loose biomass into solid blocks that can replace fossil fuels, charcoal, and firewood for cooking and heating. The community is able to collect and reuse the waste that accumulates in settlements and turn it into a form of energy, at the same time using this activity as an incoming generating project for community members. In Bwaise, an area that is prone to flooding from heavy rains, the community built a sanitation unit that also harvests rainwater. This water can be used for the flush toilets or can be sold by the jerry can, also an income-generating project. 

For most, these measures are not understood as climate change but rather everyday activities that provide services, generate income, and improve their livelihoods. As Edith noted, “most of the communities don’t know about climate change and need capacity building and sensitization around this.” For communities of the urban poor these everyday practices demonstrate the innovative methods being used to make the urban poor more resilient to climate change impacts. 

The LOCS platform opened a space that allowed local governments, academics, and NGO’s to come together to discuss how impacts of climate change can be addressed together. Spaces such as LOCS that aim to bring together various partners need to be cognizant of who is and is not included in these conversations. Communities that are affected most by the impacts of climate change need to be involved in the co-production of mitigation efforts. As Edith stated, “With such a big gathering we need to speak out, they [local government officials] sit too much and think about what to do for us, but we should be able to tell them what we need. Although community was at least given some time to talk, it was not enough. We are part of the problem but also the solution.”

Resilience & Sustainability from the Bottom Up: Building Partnerships for Scale & Impact

Enumerations in Cape Town

By Sheela Patel, Chair of the SDI Board and Co-Founder & Director, SPARC

For actors and institutions concerned with the economic and social well-being of humanity, urban development is increasingly recognized as the major lacuna of fighting poverty, managing climate change, and generating inclusive growth. Within our network, we are transitioning to a new scale of activities and beginning to get recognition in our cities, countries, and at the global level for what we do. As an institutional form focused on altering the developmental calculus such that the informal poor can achieve greater voice and influence in formal decision-making, we are tasked with navigating the tensions associated with increased institutionalization and formalization. We are in a position where, as an institutional form, we are able to speak to major development debates, as seen through the eyes of the grassroots urban poor federations that comprise our network.

Change is a crucial and foundational aspect of ongoing influences that impact a neighborhood, city, nation and now our planet. Some changes we can plan for and embrace. Others we can imagine, but communities on the ground need space and time to reflect on the impact on their lives and produce a response. Still others come without any warning. The changes that emerge from what communities seek to do and aspire for have been negotiated for acknowledgement and inclusion into policy, and our work over the past year clearly reflects the projects and partnerships that reflect the progress made. SDI now increasingly seeks to develop capacity to anticipate the impact of global and externally promoted developments, to ensure that its affiliates and their memberships understand and develop confidence to respond rather than react to them, and to ensure that they can participate in discussions around these issues.

So how do we create a balance that retains focus on what can be done by civil society and by our own institutional interventions, while external support of often oppositional currents of change continues? How do we accommodate planetary challenges and national issues within our perspective without allowing them to drown our focus on creating voice, choice and space for the urban poor in cities? Clearly the choice is between reacting or responding to expand our vision, capacity and reflections on these processes as we engage communities of the urban poor and their city government for local action with a global perspective.

In the context of continuing to build and refine the strategic orientation of our network, it is worth reflecting on the oft-used and misunderstood concept of “sustainability.” We need to clearly understand the implications of what we do and where it will take us. In development-linked discussions there is a big debate on how institutional sustainability is defined. The prevalent, simplistic assumption is that if you have financial sustainability all else will follow. There is no question that financial independence and sustainability have value in and of themselves. However, such a singular focus is a denial of the complex environment in which organizations working on issues of poverty operate.

Formal institutions seem decades away from creating real inclusion of informal urban dwellers and all rhetoric of inclusion has to be constantly tested. The innovative precedents needed to make this process operational are few and far between. Even those financial institutions that exist are in a hurry to demonstrate sustainable models in time frames that are not suited for the task at hand.

We in SDI are of the opinion that the development institutions and projects owned and managed by the poor are viewed as investments in strategies to provide voice, outreach, scale and impact in addressing poverty. If viewed from a lens of research and development for addressing urban poverty, SDI and similar organizations become learning centers for the larger community. There are few strategies, and even fewer systems, that encourage the poor to seek investments from the state. Clear linkages between what is good for the poor, and strategies that have both local prospects for achieving scale and potential to be globally transferable, are in short supply.

What we do and with whom we interact to create solutions has huge significance for plotting the development agenda more broadly than just in our own network. The quest to refine and develop our strategic approaches in our cities and countries merits investment as a priority, far and above the notion of simply becoming financially self-sufficient. At some point we may no longer have financial support from traditional development aid institutions, and will be forced to develop alternative strategies. We are already preparing ourselves internally for this possibility. The fear is that this may limit our ability to set precedents, take risks and innovate while building internal governance structures and management skills that will work not only for us but inform policy and practice for a sector that, to a significant degree, still needs to be built from scratch. This requires continued exploration of both the successes and fruitful failures on our road of experimentation for building voice, influence and knowledge of, by, and for the poor in our cities.


For more about SDI’s strategies for developing institutional sustainability and building voice and influence through partnerships at the city, national and global level, read our 2012-2013 Annual Report.