Urban innovation: community based organisations and the civil society
- Discuss other local, regional, national and international organisations that work in the space of urban sustainable development.
Well, that history starts off with how NSDF and SPARC started working together. NSDF – The National Slum-Dweller’s Federation was a bunch of people, men from about eight cities who had been fighting evictions and Jockin’s work with the Janta colony moving to Cheetah camp became seminal in community people feeling that their voice wasn’t the voice that professionals were presenting to the outside world. One thing led to another and when we started SPARC and started working with Pavement Dwellers they came to us and said let’s work together.
Out of that came a bunch of things that emerged from our collective interest – one was the right of poor people to collect their own data and our capacity as professionals to compile it in a way that it actually challenged government data on poor people but the most powerful thing was that because we had already started working with women’s networks, we created a way by which this networking of women’s collectives got embedded into NSDF.
And so out of all this came three or four very important principles – one is that there’s no such thing as only self-help that the state has to participate in solutions for the poor, you can’t leave it to the city to solve all the problems, the nation-state has to be involved and that a role – them as the leaders of the movement and us as professionals had to find some middle way, which wasn’t based on the political ideology of middle-class, angry activists or populist stuff that poor people ended up doing for party political propositions.
How do you find this middle-way? What do you do? And while we were doing that we met Somsook who was bringing HIC to Asia and so we all became members of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR) in 1988. Our contribution to that was to share all these tools with the women savings groups as means of teaching women, collective leadership, of trusteeship of money, managing finances, data collection and negotiation of new solutions with the government; that came from Mahila Milan.
And so out of that engagement we contributed to the creation of federations as against the more traditional and conventional way by which you just took some professional went to 3-4 slums, started working there, you worked there till there was a project and when the project got over you moved on. It was not scalable, it was not sustainable and it didn’t leave any residue, so we learned a new word that residue is not a bad word that in the end your investment should produce something that people can continue with and that’s what the federations did – it produced a sustainable leadership cohort that could take their own agenda forward, and that inspired other poor people.
And we also met Fr. Anzorena who started giving us all money- ACHR and ourselves to encourage poor people to visit each other you know to see with their own eyes, to encourage other people, to work. So out this came this bundle of strategies that we call the Federation Model – after Nelson Mandela got freed and came back and there was news of majority rule, we all got, all the housing activists in Asia, Africa, Latin America got invited to a very historic meeting in Johannesburg where we met the leaders of 80 townships from all over South Africa.
I hadn’t gone for that meeting but Jockin had gone. I mean all of them, had fought all this saying that democracy will give us that and he kept telling them that democracies only giving you the right to challenge your state, it doesn’t give you lollipops on your lap.
So for the next two years, groups from India, from our Federation went to South Africa, we met a lot of the NGOS there trying to convince them to explore this ideology but most of them rejected it.
They felt very comfortable to continue their associations with the civic movement and with the ANC (African National Congress), people thinking that that will continue their legitimacy. We had just experienced what happened in the Philippines where all the talented senior leadership went into government and created a huge vacuum.
By 1996, eight countries got together and said let’s start Slum Dwellers or Shack Dwellers. So in Asia it’s called slum dwellers, in Africa its called shack dwellers – we started like that. And so the principles again on which, now on looking back, we started was that whatever we did was accessible with support, with whatever legitimacy we could give them to any community movement that wanted it, and then as our process matured we had government officials and Mayors and administrators in different countries championing this process because they saw it useful to them. What happened is one country’s ideas went to the other; till then we never looked at subsidies in India. We said ‘Who’ll go to government and look for subsidy?’
So we started going to government and saying where is your subsidy, where is it? So you had this big cohort of community networks each one springing up with what they wanted to do and so that’s how it all started. Well, Habitat-II we were very involved, lots of our networks were actually part of government delegations and everything but we were still young as a global movement, we had lots of people telling us that we were politically incorrect, we didn’t know global language and the attitude of the slum dwellers was you know ‘if we say bad words we say bad words, we are the people on whom you’re doing development, you have to learn our language, we don’t have to learn your language.
So that was part of our gearing up to build the confidence of community leaders, to be able to express themselves, to not feel apologetic, to not worry if they didn’t understand these big words or something, be very comfortable to call for a 1996 and 2000- I think that’s our coming of age; MDGs were in 2000.By 2000 we had many of the international representatives who used to come to UN – Habitat and other places very intrigued with what they saw and our whole strategy was that we weren’t going to raise money, we were going to get opportunity, to get them to influence our governments and increasingly housing ministers and mayors or commissioners, started coming to the Federation to say ‘we want to do this with you.
So We started doing MOUs with them and so out of this process, this methodology that now is our signature came up – which is that unless you have a citywide network of slum dwellers, their voice is not heard. Their voice becomes constructive if women are central participation of that process. And we also felt that it’s a very important part of the strategy of this movement to contest the solutions that come from top. So instead of being apologetic of why poor people will sell something that doesn’t work for them and go back and live in the slum as something ‘Oh, very bad’, let’s find out why people do that and present that to government.
Now many of the solutions that people have explored are not solutions that are considered good by the development community and our principal has always been – you have to experiment, you have to make mistakes, it’s better you make the mistakes than somebody else because then your whole movement learns and that if anything doesn’t go to scale, you kill it.
So over a period of time the appropriation of this, I mean if you talk to all the networks they wont sit and say ‘Oh the Indians did, it’s now theirs and that’s the way we want it, we don’t want anybody to feel that you are the you know you’re like the the pope of this institution; because it’s supposed to be knowledge that blows with the wind, that’s available to people.
And so at some point we came to a situation where we said we don’t need everybody to be a member of SDI to learn this because earlier we were, we said you know unless you do it in a proper way women won’t be involved, data won’t be correct and then we began to say that there is always dilution when you move to scale.
So what degree of dilution can you cope with? And so that’s when we began to encourage other people to employ this and it’s through that process that for instance we have come into Cities Alliance.
Our goal is very simple – we want to mainstream this in development, to say that you cannot have – whether you are a World Bank, a UNDP, or a bilateral or a country program, if you don’t make a citywide plan, you don’t incorporate this process over a 5 to 10-year period; you can forget about it, better that you don’t do anything.
So those are the kinds of things that we move on and now gradually we have even expanded to start working with other global networks of people in livelihood, so WIEGO, the Huairou Commission, saying any grouping that has a embedded focus on informality, that is multi-country, that has a stated commitment to women’s issues, we don’t want only a woman’s process but we want to focus on that, we’ll share whatever we do with them, we’ll help each of us to represent the others, because we can’t all be the same place at the same time. And so those are the kinds of things that we do as SDI and now we’re looking at issues of energy, we’re looking at issues of Climate Change but very clear that our focus is the informal urban poor.