Spotting the Invisible Risks to Food and Health in Nairobi’s Slums


By Shadrack Mbaka (MUST), Alice Sverdlik(UC-Berkeley)and Sohel Ahmed, DPU-UCL

Data can create a strong foundation for understanding hidden problems and generating innovative solutions. Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Federation of Slum-Dwellers), with the support of its secretariat Muungano Support Trust (MuST), continues to revolutionize data on informal settlements by using tools such as city-wide profiles, enumerations, and GPS mapping as a call for additional and better information that is more open, disaggregated, produced more frequently, and user-friendly so that communities can create solutions tailored to their needs.

Despite the urgent need and overwhelming demand to address urban environmental crises, actors working in these areas are plagued by a dearth of information. Muungano and MuST have found that informal settlements are often excluded from Kenya’s national and county-based surveys, on the assumption they would skew data and uncover problematic trends. For instance, high levels of food insecurity, inadequate food safety practices, and unstable livelihoods are chronic development challenges in informal settlements. Additionally, low-income urban areas are at heightened risk of both rapid and slow-onset crises, including climate change and rising food prices.

Recently, MuST and Muungano have partnered with researchers on a food and livestock study that will reveal emerging threats to food safety and health in Nairobi’s slums, as well as how to address these challenges. Other partners are based at the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, in addition to the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Development Planning Unit (DPU) at University College London. Research will be based in Korogocho, Viwandani, and Dagorretti, where extensive mapping will be conducted as well as several focus groups with food vendors and livestock-keepers to identify their key concerns. By bringing together a range of stakeholders, the project can provide new insights into hidden risks to food and health while uncovering new solutions benefiting residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements.

Mama Wairimu a Food Vendor in Milimani Village in Viwandani, draws a sketch Map of Viwandani representing food vendor concentration Areas

Mama Wairimu a Food Vendor in Milimani Village in Viwandani, draws a sketch Map of Viwandani representing food vendor concentration Areas

The study’s objective is to reveal the mechanisms leading to the introduction and spread of pathogens into urban populations through food and livestock. It will focus upon food and livestock as sources of these pathogens, since emerging diseases are likely to be zoonotic in origin.Due to close interactions with residents of low-income areas, food and livestock pathogens are highly likely to cross the species barrier and to pose risks to slum-dwellers. The study also aims to understand how food and livestock value chains are affected by environmental, infrastructure, and socio-economic factors in slums. For instance, the lack of water, sanitation, waste collection, or other infrastructure may increase the risk of food contamination and create several economic burdens for food vendors and livestock-keepers in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Furthermore, the team will research emerging pathogens that may exist in diverse hosts, in the environment, on food, waste, etc. (See for more info on urban zoonotic diseases or urban Zoonoses)

Additionally, the teams will strengthen existing data, offer new skills to residents, and utilise a range of research methods throughout the study. The partnership will utilize and expand upon past data-sets, particularly administrative data; Geo-reference existing survey and administrative data; map key indicators and services; analyse and visualise existing data more creatively; create inter-operable existing data sources, perhaps linking survey and administrative data; and enhance usability, accessibility, and affordability of existing data sources. The Urban Zoonoses study will go beyond just administering questionnaires to incorporate several innovative research methods. These include base-mapping, paper mapping, and mobile phone applications that gather data on food sources, daily patterns, and environmental hazards. In particular, there is an important component of balloon-mapping of environmental ‘hot spots. ‘Balloon-mapping offers a low-cost but effective way of gathering data on environmental hazards and can be linked with the study’s other data sources.






Ballon Mapping

Ballo0n Mapping

Furthermore, this collaboration will offer technical support to communities, impart skills in mapping and data-collection, and draw upon residents’ local knowledge of food practices. The training will not only enable communities to participate meaningfully in the study, but will also help address the challenge of improving statistics in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Conducting focus group discussions (FGDs) with food vendors, livestock-keepers, and consumers in slums will again provide much-needed data into existing practices, challenges, and possible responses to environmental hazards and zoonotic threats.

The study is currently being piloted Viwandani villages of Jamaica and Milimani; upon testing the tools, the project will be rolled-out in Viwandani as well as in Korogocho and Dagoretti. These actions will go a long way to support a data revolution, starting from where it counts – the bottom up.

Slum Electrification Project

By Joseph Muturi, Muungano

Kenya Power, Kenya’s only power distributor continues to spread the urban and rural electrification project to informal settlements in major cities in the country. The firm targets to connect 67,000 households in slums countrywide. This project is out of a partnership with the World Bank and the Global Partnership Output Based Aid.

The power distributor expects reimbursement of $15 million (Sh1.5 billion) from the World Bank and the Global Partnership Output Based Aid (GPOBA) for its investment in slums. However, this is pegged to the number of connections the company will make in these areas.

On average The World Bank and GPOBA have pledged to reimburse about $225 (Sh22, 351) for every customer connected. The World Bank will provide $150 (Sh14, 901) while GPOBA give $75 (Sh7, 450) for every connected customer.



Kenya Power would connect slum dwellers to the national grid at a subsidized rate of Sh1, 760 for domestic use and Sh2, 740 for commercial use down from Sh35, 000 paid for regular connections. The slum electrification project has also been initiated in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mukuru slums, Thika, Nakuru and Kisumu would improve the lives of residents of informal settlements.

Community Organizing

Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Federation of Slum Dwellers of Kenya), is holding discussions with both the World Bank and Kenya Power on mobilizing and organizing slum dwellers in Key informal settlements in the capital, Nairobi in readiness of the project roll out in informal settlements.

Electric Metering will be based on the pre-paid tariff so that they can pay on a day-to-day basis. One could spend as little as Sh100. The project intends to reduce slum dwellers’ dependence on kerosene whose price has increased because of high global fuel prices. “Our children cannot do homework at night because the little paraffin available is used for cooking,” said Doris Moseti, a resident in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi. “We sometimes force them to wind up their homework at school before coming back home.” The power is also expected to boost economic activities within the slums.

Infrastructure Set Up

The project would make use of permanent concrete poles instead wooden ones, whose life span is about 20 years. Special insulated wires have been imported for the project, providing more safety for the areas. Transformers used in the project would be smaller than regular ones and placed above the electric wires to prevent vandalism. Each is expected to serve between 10 to 30 households.

The large number of transformers to be installed in the slums under the project would take care of future increase in demand for electricity in the slums. Kenya Power would provide special staff in the slums to inspect and educate the residents on dangers created by illegal electricity connections such as fatal accidents and destruction of property through fires. Illegal connections are a common scene in the informal settlements and are risk to the lives of the slum population because they are done underground or through unconventional overpass power way leaves. This has led to fatal accidents especially involving children and animals.


Mombasa County out to deal with the slum agenda

By Ken Ogembo, Mombasa
Mombasa County is the least in geographical size among the 47 counties and peculiar in its own kind. According to the County land and housing minister, the City’s strategic position and prances of the port made it attractive to both business and job seekers.

A slum in Mombasa

A slum in Mombasa

As it stands now, 65% of the county’s population is made up of informal settlements (slums) while the constitution obligate the county to plan its development which include land survey and mapping, boundary and fencing. It is in this regards that the county is currently planning to develop a strategic plan and zoning as a way of bringing order and planning its development.
The county acknowledges that in the past, city plans were pro-rich hence leaving the poor at their own mercy. Mr. Paul Manyala, the County Planner attributed the old kind of planning as a major contributor to the increasing number of the informal settlements. To curb the situation, he urged a pro poor planning model that would take the plight of the poor into consideration.
As a way out, he proposed Muungano wa Wanavijiji to represent the poor in the county planning and zoning process which has begun as a partner in the process. He acknowledge peculiar innovations and models like the vertical housing and community saving schemes which are used as tools for mediation and subsequent land buying for informal settlers living on private land.
To attain order, Mr., Manyala has shared with the county intentions to legalize some of informal settlements that are on government land and also asked that Muungano to help in organizing communities living on private land. The county is also planning to expand the county by providing services in other areas that haven’t attracted a lot of people due to lack of proper services.
“For me, Including Muungano into the processes is a long awaited call that is justified by all dimensions. If implemented, the process shall have embraced the architecture of the constitution that requires citizen participation in any development project that will affect their lives.”-Paul Manyala.

In the spirit of constitutionalism, the county acknowledges their limitation and opted for a working relationship with Muungano that is formed based on potentials to represent the plight of the wider poor constituency that constitute 65% of the entire county.
The government has set a target of settling 100,000 by 2017 and 20,000 immediately and for them to realize that Mr. Manyala embraced Muungano theory of change that will see the county embracing vertical housing and settling more people with the little available resources rather than the horizontal housing which he considered will waste the little available land.
Muungano wa Wanavijiji is currently using the KNOW YOUR CITY approach which will inform the county and other stakeholders on the status thus inform the kind of decision that the county and other stakeholder will take. She also added that the process will update the county status as far as settlements are concerned. The county is interested in an all inclusive approach and requested an exchange opportunity to know how such would work. The engagement meeting proposed an exchange to Nairobi Kambi Moto for the purpose of vertical housing model and the idea of consolidating the community saving to secure land tenure for the people living on a private land through a mediation process.
To realize the dream, the County Executive on Land and Planning, Hon. Francis Thoya called on Muungano wa Wanavijiji to support the county on mobilisation and public awareness which he acknowledges the county cannot sustain due to budgetary constraints and capacity challenges but also requested that people may get the opportunity to see the ideas and how they worked before they finally come to agree with them.

Mombasa County Executive for Planning. Land and Housing

Mombasa County Executive for Planning. Land and Housing

He noted that public awareness will address problems expected during the implementation of major development projects like standard gauge railways. He emphasized that Muungano and other stakeholders would play a great deal in educating the public and working together with the county.
The meeting therefore agreed to form a working relation formalized by a memorandum of understanding to guide the work and explain roles while also suggested Bombo Maziwa Mawili and Matopeni to be considered for organizing and planning respectively.
The meeting suggested an exchange for both the government officials and community members so that they can learn new ideas before they embrace them. The meeting also agreed on a work plan running from 28th August 2014 to February 2015.
exercise for the whole county to validate the settlements status by use of knows your city approach.

The “Art” of community Savings; A look at the Kenyan Federation Savings tool

Alice Sverdlik and Shadrack Mbaka, Nairobi

Kiandutu Slum is located one and half kilometer from Thika town; the centre of administration of the expansive Kiambu County, 50 km northeast of the capital, Nairobi. Kiandutu occupies approximately 100ha of land and is home to around 18,000 people, This is according to an Enumerations report produced by Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Beranrd Kabue, the chairman of the Kiandutu advocacy pressure group tells us that the slum came into being in the late ‘80s through to the early ‘90s. It was curved out of the Thika municipal council’s land (Now under the County government of Kiambu) which had been taken from its original owners with the promise of compensation. Most of the housing units in the slum, mostly made from timber and mud, are owned by a few affluent structure owners who rent them to the local residents.

A street, in Kiandutu settlement

A street, in Kiandutu settlement

“Too often, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing over and over again, every single day. But if we the urban poor living in the informal settlements are going to live at our full potential, we ought to constantly grow and sharpen our skills and improve on our union. Slum dwellers have no option but to strive to learn and grow every single day because when we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we stop existing.”-Florence Wairumu, Federation member, Kiambu

Rashid Mutua, takes a group photo with residents of Moroto, outside their Resource centre

Savings is a core ritual of Muungano and all SDI groups, and like all rituals it needs to be strengthened and renewed regularly. By saving on a daily basis, low-income residents demonstrate their powerful stake in their settlements and cities more generally. Setting aside a few shillings a day helps establish the foundation of everything from livelihood loans; advocacy with government for land, housing, or services; and greater autonomy and empowerment especially for women, tenants, or other previously-marginalized residents.


A savings group meeting in Kiandutu

A savings group meeting in Kiandutu

Additionally, savings play multiple vital roles within Muungano as a movement, and members have recently taken steps to revitalise the importance of savings. In Thika, Nairobi, and several other Kenyan cities, members are conducting’ savings inventories’ at the household and settlement levels. Joseph Muendo, a resident of Mukuru, Nairobi, is one of several Muungano members creating a snapshot of savers today, total amount of savings, and groups’ histories. “It will raise the number of members, the savings, the loans,” so that Muungano groups can continue growing and deepening their roots across their settlements.

Furthermore, Mwendo and other Muungano members have conducted local trainings about the importance of savings and accurate record-keeping.Trainingshave highlighted the importance of “leadership, transparency and accountability, and record books,” since “if we have this, the members can be moving well and trust their leaders and also the leaders can understand the members.”

Grace Kang’ethe a member of the Kiandutu North Savings scheme located in Thika, Kiambu County gives a clear perspective of how savings has had impact to her and the federation members in Kiandutu, “Savings has a direct linkage to community projects; personally I believe that through our group shares members are able to access loans for project development at settlement or group level. For instance, the youth came up with a concept of developing a community car wash, with this business plan the youth were able to access loan from the CBO shares account to set up the project, which will be repaid back with interest. In our group structure we have a CBO bank account which holds the share worth of all members; one share is equivalent of Ksh 100. At the group level we have a separate account where we deposit our weekly savings. For groups to access loans from the CBO share account, groups make a formal loan application whereby the requested amount is sub-loaned to individual group members with a subsidised interest of 1 per cent a month. Savings has instilled personal discipline among community members, who are practicing the art of savings, initially I would find myself buying fries or lolly pops, but today I have learnt that I did not even need the “sweet things of Life” if I do not think of my future, this discipline of saving has enabled me access what really is of great importance to me and my family. Am not ashamed to say that through my little savings I am a beneficiary of the SELAVIP house improvement project, courtesy of Muungano wa Wanavijiji and the SELAVIP foundation, which am currently repaying at Ksh 500 weekly. To benefit from the project, savings was a priority; members with huge savings were given first priority in the house improvement project. My family and I used to be rained on, and through this project I am perfectly sheltered from the extreme weather patterns. Currently as a community we have embarked on a twin sanitation project in Kiandutu; an Ablution block in Molo village and a bio centre in Biashara Village, this is as a result of the synergy build through the savings groups at the grassroots.


  Molo Ablution Sanitation Block


Biashara Bio centre under construction in Kiandutu

Biashara Bio centre under construction in Kiandutu

We have received adequate training on the savings systems that has challenged community members practicing home banks; these systems within the groups have created transparency and accountability in the management of member financial resources. These systems have strengthened the capacities of savings schemes to properly handle the finances of the members.”

Savings often position group members to access financing to deliver on the intended individual or community projects. Participation of members in savings gives a clear credit worthiness of a member; group records can enable members’ access loans from formal banking institutions. The more the savings the greater the opportunities for the members to benefit directly from projects or receive donor subsidies from donor agencies or government to match up what communities has pooled together. The federation’s strategy is to promote purposeful savings by being project conscious by innovating projects or initiatives that would boost membership and increased savings.

One of the most common challenges face by savings schemes is the misappropriation or even theft of membership savings. This has led to distrust among members and fatigue, which has led to dwindling in savings. Those involved in stealing of members savings be replaced and work in developing a 2nd tier leadership which will oversee the introduction of new systems that ensure transparency and accountability. Other challenges are; members would like to access huge loans that do not consummate with their level of savings. Kiandutu North group often gives one two times their savings as a loan. We save with family bank and have built good relations with the bank.

Jane Wairutu from MuST also emphasised the key links between trust, financial transparency, and strengthened Muungano groups. “When there’s transparency around money, it gives members confidence to save,” according to Wairutu.The purpose of the savings inventory is “to verify, just like in enumerations,” which are similarly checked for accuracy and posted in public places for all residents to endorse or correct. MuST and Muungano are also working to create monthly and quarterly savings reports, so that changes and growth are captured over time.

Savings are thus a key tool to amplify Muungano members’ voice and organization, providing the building blocks of a process that simultaneously binds residents together internally and expands their external reach. In this continuously unfolding process, Muungano’s savings inventories, trainings, and other efforts to renew daily savings rituals are playing their own highly significant role.

Reflections from the 12th SDI East African Hub Meeting

The Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation systems are just like a skin, not your heart not your organs, these systems are meant to help communities do better, create transparency and enhance accountability of the Millions of Slum dwellers out there and more importantly to change our settlements and support the urban poor-Joel Bolnick, SDI Manager

By Shadrack Mbaka & Rashid Mutua

The Logic

Within diplomatic and international relations circles, when two or more nations convene to address key thematic issues affecting nations within the global arena; government delegations would be seen in sharp executive suits, serious gadgets at hand enveloped with tight security details.

Bilateral and Multilateral contracts and deals are signed, such high end meetings under the banner of what is for the best interest of “my country and my people”. This scenario begs the rhetorical question, “Suppose every government sets aside 20 percent of the “goody bags” to address urban poverty through an all inclusive integrated urban development plan, would we have so much urban poverty and squalor in our midst?

US-Africa Summit August 2014

US-Africa Summit August 2014

In the meantime, as this question bogs my mind, a contrasting scenario unfolds at the 12th Slum Dwellers International East African Hub (EAH) meeting, in Kampala on the 3rd to 7th of August 2014.A delegation of Slum Dwellers federations from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convenes in Rubaga, Kampala on a mission; to share knowledge & strategies and more so learn from one another with the objective being; to go back to fellow slum communities and make life better for all of us.

Slum Dwellers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convene at the 12th East African Hub in Kampala

Slum Dwellers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convene at the 12th East African Hub in Kampala


The EAH recognizes the importance of cooperation on human settlement development; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT) share similar objective, approaches, practices and challenges pertaining to human settlements. Close cooperation under the KUT umbrella envisages leading a greater articulation of progressive developing countries’ housing and human settlements strategies and identifying new ways of engaging relevant players to allocate sufficient resources and support for achievement of the MDG goal for Informal settlements.

A community Sanitation Project in Kawempe,Kamapala

A community Sanitation Project in Kawempe,Kamapala

The 12th edition of EAH was officially opened by the Commissioner of Lands and Urban development, Mr. Sammy Mabala. His pronouncements were clear; the urban poor in informal settlements are a neglected constituency who hold the key to better planned and inclusive cities. “I am an adent supporter of slum dweller movements. I believe it is not a calling but a duty. I learnt about the slum dwellers movement five years ago, Jockin Arpathum (SDI President) and Joel Bolnick (SDI Secretariat Manager) begun sharing how things work in the slums and how communities take up the responsibility of implementing solution oriented for slum development,” recalled Mr. Mabala.

Mr. Sammy Mabala, Commissioner of Lands, Uganda addressing the KUT members

Mr. Sammy Mabala, Commissioner of Lands, Uganda addressing the KUT members

Solving the Puzzle

Government urban planning programmes, have a similar script; secure funding, hire heavy weight consultants, develop a contingency plan and implement a project that affects millions of lives and livelihoods. In his speech, Mabala recognizes that governments and supporting departments ought to work with urban development stakeholders to… “Mobilize people’s potential in changing slums; as a result of this realisation we partnered with SDI and National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) to improve informal settlements in Uganda. The second objective is to influence policy on urbanization, the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development is finalizing on the details and soon it will be tabled in parliament for adoption- the policy focuses more on redevelopment of slums, build and harness Private Public Partnerships and improve towns access to basic services in municipalities; sanitation, access roads, water provisions, electrification of informal settlements etc. The third objective is to empower the people on policy formulation, participation and implementation. Uganda has 400 Municipalities, this seems a daunting task, which will take time, and we need to expedite this process. In the spirit of the East African Corporation let us share strategies to improve our towns, learn lessons from others and implement them in our own towns.”

From the officiating remarks three key pillars emerge;

  • Unity-For communities to address settlement priorities they must be united, but how..?
  • Mobilise savings-For communities to attain unity it is important for communities to have a stake and a voice in community processes through savings for solving settlement problems
  • Partnerships; let’s all partner with stakeholders in order to benefit from the synergies

The Power of Data and Information

“Governments lack adequate data to plan for informal settlements. This therefore offers a starting point for the SDI global networks to harness partnerships with other stakeholders to achieve community goals.”-Josephine Lubwama, Kampala City Capital Authority

The Hub improves capacities of urban poor communities to remain true to the urban agenda by negotiating for space to be part of the city. Of course this wouldn’t be easy if these communities are not organized, lack proper learning, monitoring and evaluation Systems, membership, financial and information systems, plans to aide their vision and most importantly, concrete data to state their claim to the city.

Splashed on the conference hall at the Pope Paul Memorial Hotel in Kampala, were sheets of paper, engraved with analysed data, giving a holistic purview of informal settlements in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT).





Community led settlement/city wide profiling to gather city wide data

Community led settlement/city wide profiling to gather city wide data

Does data wield power? Communities took to the floor to give practical testimonies of how data has transformed their settlements and built bridges between slum dwellers and their governments. It was notably clear that data transforms into the kind of power urban poor communities can utilize to negotiate, leverage resources and work together with government for development.

Collection of community-led data, packaging and understanding this information remains a primary asset for negotiation with city-governments and their compiling becomes an opportunity “to learn to mobilize” communities towards communal actualization.


SDI is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 34 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate federations network at community, settlement, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies such as ; Savings, mobilization, advocacy and problem solving strategies. Key areas of focus are; Learning exchanges, Projects, advocacy, Monitoring and Evaluation, Evictions, partnerships and linkages. Some of the key areas that federations capitalize on are;

  • Strengthening federation systems
  • Learning, Capacities and Exchanges; Some of the Learning Centres are ;Kampala, Accra, India, Capetown
  • Settlement Insitu upgrading
  • International Advocacy
  • Long term sustainability


Do Federations need to Learn, Monitor and Evaluate?


Learning; federations learn by doing, practicing, sharing, and reviewing past experiences, clear documentation strategies and through well thought out and planned exchanges. Well defined LM&E frameworks build strong and functional systems for federations to create opportunities for learning and creating good and implementable plans that will result to better outputs. Clear vision not only impact settlements but empowers communities to position themselves to address city wide issues.

Monitoring; This sounds big, however, to communities monitoring involves; field visits, reporting, auditing of community groups and financial systems, generating activity and project reports that tracks growth, impact assessment, budgeting and developing work plans, tracking and proper open channel communications.

Evaluation involves analyzing whether planned activities and projects have taken place and if not why? Federations most often reflect on the project/activity, the capacities involved, review possible successes and challenges and outputs and adopt strategies to endvour the projects/activities. Through the country indicators, federations are well aware of the country reports on different federation fronts. This therefore enables the federations reflect on the positive and negative changes within the federation.

Monitoring and Evaluation is important to slum dweller federations because:

  • it provides consolidated source of information showcasing project progress;
  • it allows actors to learn from each other’s experiences, building on expertise and knowledge;
  • it often generates (written) reports that contribute to transparency and accountability, and allows for lessons to be shared more easily;
  • it reveals mistakes and offers paths for learning and improvements;
  • it provides a basis for questioning and testing assumptions;
  • it provides a means for agencies seeking to learn from their experiences and to incorporate them into policy and practice;
  • it provides a way to assess the crucial link between implementers and beneficiaries on the ground and decision-makers;
  • it adds to the retention and development of institutional memory;
  • It provides a more robust basis for raising funds and influencing policy.

Incorporating the Youth in the federation Agenda

Federations have embraced the youth by developing activities and projects targeting the Youth below 35 years, albeit this initiative is yet to gather enough momentum. Movements are geared towards targeting the Youth by innovating programmes/strategy that are attractive and sustain the momentum of the Youth. Youths need the support to take up different roles such as; Profiling, enumerations, documentation, research among other activities as a way of keeping them engaged.

Twaha Bishaverka explains, “We appreciate the platforms federations have accorded the youth but we need to come up with strategic programmes that entrenches the youth to fit in the mainstream agenda.”“Youths need to draw up proposals on IGAs and share for planning. This is a sensitive group with special needs that warrants personal initiative.”-Michael Kasede-NSDFU

Erickson Sunday from Kenya said, “Youth agenda is discussed in low tones since they have not transitioned to engage and occupy the space to assume the first tire of leadership and they lack mentorship and sensitivity to build on their innovations. The Youth need to reflect beyond take up, and improve their capacities to change their environment.”

EmpowHER  in federation building


As curtains closed on the 12th East African hub, one important subject popped up, what the role of women in federation, settlement and city is building? The federations challenged one another to embrace women empowerment and leaderships of the federations. “We should shy away from only appointing few women leaders as symbols of gender sensitivity. It is the women who keep the savings groups alive and strengthened.”-Jockin

EAH took stock of the affiliate growth in every country in result areas such as savings, tenure, housing, sanitation. With this communities compound a level playing field for engagement.

Innovative funding model allows urban poor to determine their own future

Cross Posted from:

Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town

                                      Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, one of South Africa’s largest and fastest growing informal settlements. Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

Rose Molokoane, who helps allocate millions of dollars to urban improvement projects around the world, lives in a South African informal settlement. She has spent more than 20 years organising urban poor communities, helping them to pool savings and obtain land and housing. Molokoane is also a prominent member of Urban Poor Fund International, the first global fund to give poor people direct control over development spending in cities.

“We are sick and tired of becoming the objects of development,” she told an audience at a conference in Brazil last year. “We want to build our own destiny.”

The fund was launched in 2007 by Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of community-based federations in 33 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Since then, it has channelled more than $17.8m (£11m) in capital and technical assistance to more than 150 community-run projects in cities.

The innovative fund lets poor communities define development strategies and manage capital from neighbourhood to global level. Urban poor federations and supporting NGOs in the network submit proposals for community projects, which are evaluated by a council of long-time federation leaders, including Molokoane. Money allocated is accompanied by strategic advice from a board of government ministers.

Resources flow through national funds to local savings collectives, mostly made up of women, that contribute their share and implement projects. Recouped money feeds back to a national revolving account. Ultimately, the goal is to create a robust network of national funds that can independently attract government and private-sector investment and help shape urban development agendas.

The fund has financed (pdf) the construction of 50,000 homes, secured tenure for 20,000 families, and supported projects in 18 countries. Without high overheads or fancy consultants, it has directly benefited poor families.

While the tangible outputs are impressive, the greatest gains don’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet. Unlike most development financing, the fund invests as much in social processes as physical projects. By supporting strategies like learning exchanges and community-based surveys, it helps urban poor groups build skills and connections across cities, regions and continents.

The fund also allows poor communities to attract external resources and make a political impact. Capital helps federations leverage finance from governments, banks and donors, while demonstration projects encourage broader investment or policy shifts. For example, projects have produced pro-poor changes in building regulations and attracted state housing subsidies. The fund also helps give poor groups a voice in municipalities and international circles. The bottom line is not full cost-recovery for atomised projects on three-year timetables; it is long-term political transformation.

The benefits of this financing model were evident in Mukuru Sinai, an informal settlement hugging an oil pipeline in Nairobi’s industrial zone. In 2009, the fund awarded $315,000 to a savings collective of 2,000 families who, renting homes on private land there, suffered constant threats of eviction and gas explosions. Armed with capital, they got a bank loan to buy 23 acres of nearby land for just over $1m, and a government pledge to provide infrastructure. Tenants are now drawing up plans to build homes, partly subsidised by developing for-sale housing on the plot. Leaders are hopeful not only that the project becomes a pilot for other informal settlements on private land in Nairobi, but also that locals will share lessons with communities in Kenya and beyond.

The cost-effectiveness and broad impact of this financing model points to the need for placing urban poor communities at the helm of development spending in cities. “All successful urban initiatives have been ones that have placed people’s knowledge and people’s action at the centre of the process,” says Diana Mitlin, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development who has worked with SDI for more than a decade. “That doesn’t mean professionals are not needed, but it means professionals acknowledge the limitations of their role.”

Despite its success, the model faces challenges. The international fund needs to attract money, because it does not recover investments. But many donors either lack understanding of the fund’s innovative strategy or consider it too risky.

“It’s much easier to cushion yourself behind different agencies and make sure you get your money back,” says SDI co-ordinator Celine D’Cruz. “It’s much more risky to give the money straight to the mouth of the tiger. But that is exactly where the real change is meant to happen.”

Leveraging external resources and getting cities to partner with urban poor groups is also a challenge. Success stories abound, but in many places there is a long path from occasional compromises to lasting partnerships and policy changes.

The fund’s success also depends on strong community organisations. Many SDI affiliates have mobilised for decades, but newer members require time to ensure that individual projects yield stable federations and political gains. The organisation’s network extends to 388 cities and expands constantly, but the fund remains limited if only member groups have access.

To make a bigger impact, D’Cruz believes urban poor funds must be established on a city scale, governed by community leaders, civil society groups and city officials, and implemented with a strong community base.

“That would be a dream,” D’Cruz says. “And actually, it’s such a simple solution. It cuts through all the red tape.”

Tanzania Profiling Exchange Report

Collecting information about urban poor populations has not been a serious, systematic priority of national governments or cities throughout the developing world. Such censuses, when undertaken, are often conducted in frequencies too sparse to accurately track the rapid growth of slum areas or informal settlements.  Often by the time the data is analyzed and made available to the public and city governments, it is already outdated and its usefulness as a planning tool diminished. Of even greater concern is the total exclusion of many informal settlements from the city’s planning agenda. Their tenuous relationship with local authorities makes them invisible to infrastructure plans.  This is exacerbated by spiraling costs, which makes retrofitting very expensive.  The end result is that high costs are used to justify why cities fail to install water, sewerage and drainage facilities or plan land use for slum areas.The SDI rituals of settlement profiling and community led enumeration have long been utilized by slum dweller communities to provide an up-to-date, accurate on the ground account of conditions in these slum areas. In order to achieve this SDI has continued to urge strong member affiliates to support upcoming affiliates attain set milestones. In the month of May the Kenyan affiliate had the opportunity to support its East African Counterpart, Tanzania build its profiling capacities. Below is a link to the activity report


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