By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat
“We are able to appreciate that we need to have a more holistic view of the cities where we are working” (Frederick Mugisa, Uganda, SDI Alliance).
“…now we are planning the profiling in the settlements we are working and also see city wide settlement profiling to help in planning of the city with the slum dwellers” (Shekar and John Samuel, NSDF/SPARC, India, SDI Alliance)
While focus on the local remains the core concern of SDI federations, the question, increasingly pertinent is, how does the global network of the urban poor make itself globally visible and relevant on the global urban development agenda? Peer exchanges have long served SDI federations as a learning space to share experiences of everyday life. They serve as a platform from which urban poor communities can share local concerns, challenges and successes. Like SDI enumerations and settlement profiles they too have traditionally been centred on particular contexts and the particular concerns of local slum dwellers.
SDI and Santa Fe Institute’s (SFI) global slum profiling project aims to aggregate and analyse the around 7,000 federation profiles collected over the past twenty years in more than 15 countries across the global south. The objective is to yield a “science of slums” powerful enough to leverage city wide and global sustainable developmental appeal for ‘slum data’. With renewed vigour the network is looking towards two of its most powerful tools (exchanges and enumerations) as learning and innovation spaces to foster this goal.
Making slum communities visible to their local authorities has been the driving force behind local actions to stave off evictions and leverage land, basic services and upgrading of slums. Mugisa, Shekar and Samuel’s appreciation of the value of the June learning exchange around the SDI and SFI Partnership, during the SDI-SFI Field Visit Cape Town June 2013, echoes the hope expressed by Sheela Patel, director of Indian NGO SPARC and SDI Board Member, that “communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements [will come] to believe that aggregating information about settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives” (Patel in Fieuw 2013 and elsewhere ).
Over the course of ten days in and around Cape Town’s UT Section, Khayelitsha, federation members along with NGO support staff from Malawi, Kenya, India, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia were able to test the new tools (including a questionnaire, geo-tagging smart phone application, etc.) developed through the SDI-SFI collaboration to improve and standardise the data capturing processes of the network. Rosey Mashimbye of FEDUP, South Africa, commented that the use of these new technologies is certainly an improvement from manual capturing. While there remain some concerns among federation members that the new standardised questionnaire may not speak to all their local concerns, according to the Namibian alliance’s report, “standardised rituals and practices [may have] the possibility to incorporate local concerns/issues” (Harris, Namibia Alliance).
Informal settlement communities have come a long way in showing that their settlements and communities are not just spaces of perceived and real deprivation, but rather innovation and resourcefulness. They have consistently shown that slum dwellers themselves are the most capable of showing local authorities, who they are, how they live, make their livelihoods and contribute to the economies of the cities from which they are so often excluded. By standardising profiling and enumerations and marrying our techniques to cutting edge technology and analysis through the learning space of peer-exchanges, we are well on our way to leverage on of the most powerful tools of the federations of the urban poor in creating sustainable and resilient inclusive cities.
For more on SDI enumerations and profiling see pages 46-52 in our latest Annual Report.