Media Making an Impact: #ChangeOurPicture

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

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

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

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

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

Own Your Narratives

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

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

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

Pictures Telling Stories

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


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

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

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

Money & Livelihoods

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


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

Courage & Heroism

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

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

Slums Made Better Together: Impact and Continued Learning

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

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

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

Follow the 2019 Community-Led Habitat Awardees

Last year SDI and the CoHabitat Network launched the inaugural Community-Led Habitat Awards for Africa. The awards recognise inspiring community-driven habitat solutions from across the continent with the aim to advocate for the expansion of community-led urban development and housing.

Five awards were given in 2019 to the following categories:

  • Best Project Award (3 winning projects)
  • Best Partnership Award (1 winning partnership)
  • Best Short Film (1 winning film)

Click here to read more about each of the winning community-led habitat projects.

Each of the winning teams were awarded $1,000 for continued learning to leverage visibility of the project within their country. Below find an update from each of the awardees on continued local recognition facilitates by the CoHabitat Award.

Best Project Awardees 

Walukuba Material Building Training Center (Uganda).

The Uganda Alliance used their prize money to capitalize on the training center, by igniting activities and projects that can further benefit from the center within Jinja. These included:

  • The signing of a charter for Walukuba Building Material Training Center and Community Hall. The training center had been lacking clear roles and responsibilities on the day-to-day management of the center. In August 2019, a stakeholder meeting was convened and a charter was developed and signed to ensure proper and sustainable management of the center.
  • Near the training center is the Kawama Housing Project. This project had been stalled for some year, however the Uganda Alliance was able to assess how much land is still available for the housing project to ensure proper planning.
  • The Uganda Alliance undertook a structural assessment of the existing Kawana housing structure that is intended to accommodate 30 families who have been living in transit houses. A structural engineer visited the housing site to assess the structural strength to build more than one floor for the housing project.


Dzivarasekwa Slum Upgrading Project (Zimbabwe).

The Zimbabwe Alliance planned to capitalize on their award by establishing and consolidating the position of the project as a key slum upgrading learning ground for communities, government, universities and other stakeholders across the country. By inviting targeted local authority officials and government, a celebration event was scheduled to demonstrate and influence policy regarding informal settlement responses in Zimbabwe. The event was scheduled for August but has been postponed due to unavailability of key government and council officials.

Home Improvement/Upgrading Project in Flood-prone areas // Appui á la reconstruction de l’Habitat en zone sinistrée (Senegal).

The Senegalese Federation (FSH) and urbaSEN took the award as an opportunity to present their most recent program to key government officials, ministries, and non-governmental organizations in Dakar. The PING-GIRI project seeks to mitigate flood risks in six municipalities of the suburbs of Dakar, in which the Federation is active, and to finance small-scale urban upgrading projects through the Federation’s revolving fund, which to date has allowed 350 families to rehabilitate their homes. The extension of the revolving fund mechanism to semi-collective sanitation and urban upgrading projects in the public space, designed and implemented by savings groups, is an ambitious step for the Senegalese Federation. The award allowed for gaining greater visibility and recognition of the achievements of the Federation, which are essential for leveraging public support and collaboration for upcoming activities.

Best Partnership Awardee 

A Multiple Partnership Approach for Community-led Housing and Services in Namibia.



The Namibia SDI Alliance used their award money to host a ceremony with local officials and leverage the recognition of a partnership approach to housing during the opening of houses in Okongo-north. During the ceremony, Standard Bank handed over the Buy-A-Brick contribution of 13 million rand to the Namibian federation!

Best Short Film Awardee

Undevelopment: Forced Evictions in Nigeria



The Nigerian federation has screened “Undevelopment” almost a dozen times in a variety of different forums. There have been community screenings in Lagos (Orisunmibare, Ago Egun Bariga, Arobadade, Tarkwa Bay), and in Port Harcourt (Deinma Polo). It has also been screened at the Federation General Meeting in Lagos and Port Harcourt, the West Africa Storytelling for Change KYC TV Summit, and also at a Media For Advocacy Training the team led in August for other CSOs in Lagos.

Additionally, “Undevelopment” was screened the week of September 16, 2019 in Abuja for a collection of civil society organizations and UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing at the Norwegian Ambassador’s residence as part of an advocacy push for legislation prohibiting forced evictions and displacement.



Announcing #ChangeOurPicture Cell Phone Photography Competition


This is a cellphone photography competition open to anyone who lives in an informal settlement in Africa. When you search for images of slums on social media what do you see? Dirt, despair, desperation? Informal settlements are alive with possibilities and places of great resilience and innovation. To enter and for more information click below!

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