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Research Report

Building homes, changing official approaches: The work of Urban Poor Organizations and their Federations and their contributions to meeting the Millennium Development Goals in urban areas

Celine d’Cruz
David Satterthwaite
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Pages: 84
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 7-10)

    This paper is about the current and potential role of what the UN terms “slum dwellers”¹ and their own organizations, in achieving significant improvements in their lives and thus in contributing to Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is also about the role of these federations in reducing poverty. The work of the urban poor and homeless federations in Asia and Africa is perhaps the most significant initiative today in these regions in addressing urban poverty ― both in terms of what they have achieved and in terms of what they could achieve, given appropriate support. The...

  2. (pp. 10-11)

    It is difficult and probably counter-productive to try and define precisely what constitutes “significant improvements” for slum dwellers, given the different needs and priorities of such dwellers (there is no point in recommending secure ownership rights for someone who wants cheap temporary rental accommodation), the different contexts (including what ensures secure tenure and adequate provision for water and sanitation on the ground), and different government attitudes to “slums” (laws and national constitutions and even official policies often appear far more progressive than actual action on the ground). But in most instances, significant improvements would include improvements in five areas:


  3. (pp. 11-22)

    The emergence of representative organizations and federations formed by the urban poor and homeless, specifically to seek to work with (local and national) governments to address their needs, is one of the most significant developments for significantly improving the lives of slum dwellers, for five reasons.24

    1. These are not small, isolated examples. As described in later sections, many of the federations have large-scale programmes, including some that have improved housing or access to basic services for hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The federations also work with each other to support each other ― from community to community within...

  4. (pp. 22-25)

    One of the 18 MDG targets is to halve the proportion of people without safe water and basic sanitation between 1990 and 2015. More than half those who have to be reached with improved water, and close to half of those who have to be reached with basic sanitation, live in urban areas in low- and middle-income nations.51

    Virtually all the upgrading and new-housing schemes noted above involve improved provision for water and sanitation ― while the community-designed, built and managed toilets that were first developed in India, and that are now also being tried by various other federations, focus...

  5. (pp. 25-38)

    No single community organization is likely to get city or national governments to change their policies, even if it can negotiate some particular concessions for its members. Federations that represent hundreds or thousands of community organizations drawn from different settlements and different urban centres have far more legitimacy to speak “on behalf of the urban poor” and, as their membership expands, so they are likely to be taken more seriously by city, provincial/state and national governments.

    Some community-driven processes have sufficient scale and influence that they have significance for entire cities, including some “mega-cities” such as Mumbai and Bangkok and...

  6. (pp. 38-44)

    The tools and methods used by the urban poor/homeless federations are both for themselves (mobilizing the urban poor, strengthening them, expanding federation membership, supporting learning) and for changing the attitudes and approaches of national, state and local government staff and politicians. It is remarkable how a common set of tools and methods has proved valid and much used in many different nations and cities, even if the actual form that many of the tools and methods take are modified to fit different local contexts. This section focuses on savings and credit, on the capacity to innovate and learn, and on...

  7. (pp. 44-48)

    One of the key characteristics of the 12 or so nations with well-established urban poor or homeless federations and the many other nations where federations are emerging is the links between the community leaders/organizers: their contact with each other, their support for each other and their learning from each other. This is different in character from most “exchange visits”, which involve professionals, not community organizers. This learning from each other and the methods used to do so began within individual federations, cities and nations.

    For all the urban poor and homeless federations, exchange visits between the community organizations that make...

  8. (pp. 48-53)

    “Precedent setting” is another key tool for the federations. In the early negotiations of the SPARC-Mahila Milan-NSDF alliance with government agencies in India, we realized that setting a precedent was important to prove that communities had the capacity to actually “do it”. Proof of this capacity was needed to create the legitimacy and trust required to get government support. Only then would government agencies have the confidence to assign new projects to the federations such as building houses and toilet blocks and managing large external loans. Most governments think of NGOs and community organizations as welfare oriented and unable to...

  9. (pp. 54-57)

    Urban poor federations help create organizational capability within low-income settlements, and linkages between their community organizations and their peers. This is realized primarily through each federation’s network, including the savings and loan activities. To be effective and inclusive, community groups need to develop democratic internal organizational capabilities. These are essential for sustaining the participation of the poor in demanding change, both within their communities and with external organizations. An investment in strengthening democratic organizations within low-income communities has many long-term implications and, if undertaken with care and patience, is the most powerful legacy of any developmental intervention. It also becomes...

  10. (pp. 57-59)

    In the early 1990s, the federations and their support NGOs recognized the need to strengthen three international aspects of their work:

    To support and expand the contacts and international community exchanges that had developed between different urban poor federations (this also meant responding to the rapid growth in demands and requests from other national or local groups for exchange visits).

    To support the development of representative organizations of the urban poor in other nations (including emerging federations).

    To give the urban poor federations greater voice and influence with international agencies. This led to the setting up of Slum/Shack Dwellers International...

  11. (pp. 59-66)

    International donors seek “large solutions” or solutions that can be scaled up. An analysis of four community-driven processes to improve housing for low-income urban dwellers (which included two of the urban poor federations and two non-federation processes), and of four government agencies that sought to support community-driven processes, suggested that the growing scale of impact they achieved was largely the result of two factors:

    Local organizations having the capacity to support a constant programme (or process) through which the success of one initiative or project supported and stimulated other initiatives or projects.

    The capacity of the local initiatives to change...

  12. (pp. 66-72)

    This paper has described many community-driven processes that have brought major benefits to slum dwellers ― most of them undertaken by community organizations that are part of larger urban poor or homeless federations. If added together, they have reached tens of millions of slum dwellers ― and the scale and scope of their work has increased very considerably over the last ten years, in large part because the different slum/shack/homeless people’s federations have supported each other. This greater scale is also partly because some city governments and a few national governments and international agencies have recognized their potential and have...