06 December 2007

Development of the slums, for the slums, by the slums

Shack / Slum Dwellers International (an organization which seems to take a Puckish pride in the lumpishness of its name) has undertaken a challenging mission: "Securing land tenure and housing" for the urban poor "in 24 countries on 3 different continents." Bold, but hardly original. Their approach, however, is another matter.

The group, known by the initials SDI and formed in India in 1996, is a loose network of grass-roots organizations of the urban poor. It’s grown to millions of members in 24 nations, cities spread from Manila to Cape Town, Mumbai to Sao Paulo. Typically, members are women ready to share their meager savings in collective efforts to upgrade their homes, secure titles to the land their houses sit on, build a latrine block, perhaps start a school.

Slum dwellers sit right across the table from local government authorities, designing projects and negotiating how they’ll be financed and carried out.
Of course, the slum dwellers get professional advice [.pdf], but we're talking about slum dwellers acting as their own real-estate developers. For themselves and on their own terms. And they just got an unrestricted grant of US $10M from the Gates Foundation.

Unbelievable? On the contrary: perfectly necessary. When governments, NGOs, and big businesses can't or won't get people what they want, people quite naturally just do it themselves. Although it's obvious, it bears repeating: the poor (like every other demographic) are their own best--and in many cases only--allies.