Pro-poor proactivity

SPARC and SDI, Mumbai, India

SDG 1: No povertySDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 6: Clean water and sanitationSDG 9: Industry innovation and infrastructureSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 16: Peace justice and strong institutionsSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
The organization Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) was founded in 1984. They work in India as a part of an alliance with Mahila Milan and NSDF. SPARC works together with Slum Dweller International (SDI) in a Global Network.

How do poor people, who are the main subjects of development interventions, become proactive and central to the solution? When SPARC began their work in 1984, they were working with women who lived on the streets of Mumbai facing routine evictions. It was a vicious circle where pavement dwellers were seen as a threat to society and therefor evicted, but because of their social and economic position they had no choice but to remain on the street and face new evictions when their settlement was rebuilt.

Good practices & solutions

SPARC undertook a first enumeration of all the people who lived on the pavements to show the municipality that they were the country’s poorest people. It showed that the dwellers consisted of landless people from rural areas that had come into the city to find work and food for themselves and their children. The reason they lived on the pavements was because their earnings did not cover the cost of public housing.

Over a ten-year period, the organization continued to work with pavement dwellers and continued to collect data about informal settlements as well as work with women’s groups within these communities. The data was then presented to the municipality, the state government, the national government and international agencies. The organization wanted to apply pressure and demand accountability by pressing the central government to take responsibility of finding a solution for people residing in informal settlements. It is because of absenct development investment in the dwellers’home cities and districts that they have come to live on the pavement of Mumbai or in informal settlements.

To incorporate the community women, a house designing competition was held where the winning sketch was later built. This method has been used, in different parts of the country, by community women to build houses. It demonstrates that the people are capable to build houses that meet their needs when they are given the opportunity. The federation work together with the government to finance the building and possible relocation of informal settlements.

Outcome & opportunities

It is now a local government policy to relocate and assign land to evicted slum of pavement dwellers. SPARC continues their work in other parts of the country, using the Mumbai experience as a blueprint. This has become an international precedent. In both India, South Africa and in many other countries, the local SDI federations have formed their own financial and construction company. This blends the money coming in from different actors and helps poor women to take up contracts to build their own houses.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Everyone can use these strategies to help their local authorities to prioritize and invest in the projects that attends the needs of the poor people. It is however crucial to have great local knowledge to be able to approach and involve the informal settlement in the development process as well as in dialogues with local authorities. SPARC stresses that it is of vital importance that urban development needs to be in collaboration between the municipality and the people, as it helps build the much needed trust between the parties. Additionally, for a solution that is sustainable, women need to be at the centre of it.

All the federations within the SDI family, help the neighbourhoods to collect good quality comprehensive data about themselves. The point is to either help aggregate the data at the city level or disaggregate the data to a community or a neighbourhood level, because no city gathers data about informality. This kind of census does not have a classification. So, by poor people gathering data about themselves, they produce quantitative information that forces the municipality to look at these people as requiring acknowledgment. This is a perspective that has been ignored and should be elevated in order to truly commit to, and achieve, the SDGs.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
  • 6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
  • 9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
  • 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.b By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation…
  • 16.b Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision- making at all levels
  • 17.16 Enhance the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge
Further reading

#Women4Cities interview – Sheela Patel



Slum Dwellers International

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Project: Urban Girls Movement