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Research Report

The work of SPARC, the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan

Sheela Patel
Diana Mitlin
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2001
Pages: 44
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)
    Sheela Patel and Diana Mitlin

    OVER THE LAST 12 years, the role of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) in urban development has been transformed from that of a small NGO working on the periphery of state activities to that of an agency listened to at governmental and international fora. This study looks in more depth at the relationship between SPARC, an Indian NGO registered under the Societies Registration Act, and the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), a people's organization. It explores how this partnership has resulted in local innovation and mass mobilization, securing both policy change and a better use of...

  2. (pp. 1-7)

    PAVEMENT DWELLERS ARE among the poorest of India's urban poor and undeniably among the most vulnerable. When SPARC started its activities in 1984, staff were clear that the pavement dwellers should be the central focus of their work. The first grant that SPARC received allowed them to start talking with women pavement dwellers, providing them with a better understanding of their experiences and perspectives. The group with which SPARC started their work was living in an area of Bombay called Byculla, and they were in constant danger of having their homes demolished by the Bombay Municipal Corporation. SPARC did not...

  3. (pp. 7-10)

    THE SHORT HISTORY of SPARC and the grassroots organizations that it works with has provided a background to the activities of the Alliance over the last decade. This section examines the roles and relationships that make up the Alliance.

    When SPARC began, the founding members sought to design an institution that enabled professionals to work in new ways with low-income communities. The challenge was to innovate, explore and evolve strategies which strengthened the capacity of the poor to participate at all levels of social change. Such a process inevitably involved enabling the poor to become involved in many different aspects,...

  4. (pp. 11-15)

    HOW ARE THESE organizational relationships transformed into effective activities? This section looks at the approaches that are central to the Alliance and the work that it does.

    Much of the Alliance's work has evolved from their initial learning strategy, developed by SPARC. This learning strategy is so central to the Alliance and its other strategies and activities that it is worth explaining in detail. The learning cycle includes several stages:

    Communities identify their priority concerns. A debate about the issue then takes place within the Alliance, generally leading to the formulation of a strategy for seeking a solution.

    One or...

  5. (pp. 15-20)

    FROM THE BEGINNING, the Alliance has been conscious of the need to work at a scale beyond conventional projects and therefore to work with government. The tradition of policy advocacy among many Southern NGOs has been to consult communities and write up an alternative policy which they campaign to have accepted by the city or state. Often, the policies are good and much needed but most communities lack the training, exposure or capacity to take advantage of such processes and hence many pro-poor reforms remain unused. The experience of urban professionals is that there are many ideal policies and programmes...

  6. (pp. 20-23)

    THE APPROACHES DEVELOPED and used by the Alliance differ considerably from those of many other development agencies. From the beginning, the funds raised by SPARC from abroad have been allocated primarily to community networking and exchange. Throughout the first years, the funds were used to support one community as they visited another, sharing problems and ideas on how they might improve their lives. Once development plans and options emerged, some financial support was sought for implementation but such finance was always used in the context of scaling up these initiatives through conventional state channels. Hence, development assistance funds have been...

  7. (pp. 23-26)

    OF ALL THE work that the organizations have undertaken in the last ten years, the most essential and the one which sustains the strength of the Alliance and ensures its rebirth and growth is the educational, organizational and mobilization work. Whilst the three organizations have developed this process together, more and more of the actual process develops and sustains itself through the leadership of the NSDF and Mahila Milan. SPARC’s role is vital in that it constantly reformulates and organizes the agenda for action, opening up new areas of ideas, technology and dialogue for the communities to link to and...