Friday, 10 June 2016

­­­German Habitat Forum, Berlin – Designing Sustainable Solutions for Cities In The Future, 1st June, 2016

Theme- People, Politics and Practice

Sheela Patel spoke at the conference as a representative of communities who live and work informally in cities, and who in her estimation represent a majority of people in the cities. This is a transcript of her speech.

“The city development, as you see it today, excludes with or without purpose the challenges that poor people who live in cities either recently or over the last eight decades have been facing, they remain invisible, and their participation I believe is a very important ingredient in discussions about People, Politics and Practice.

If we don’t start exploring solutions that will make us feel good 50 years from now, we will never begin; because in today’s cities there is inequality, there are huge differences in incomes, in opportunities that have political and many other reasons for not being explored but which will only exaggerate in the future, but we don’t want to wait any more to solve those problems because we can’t solve those problems if we don’t solve them today.

This is a decade of aggregators and organizations like ours, Shack Dwellers International, ACHR; we are all aggregators of urban informality, of men and women living and working in very difficult conditions to reach out to the other players in the city, to find scalable citywide solutions that both picks from what’s outside and take the unique characteristics of the city that is there. So it requires a new disruptive partnership strategy in order for this transformation to occur. Business as usual is not going to work, so do we have the courage, do we have the guts and do we have the capacity to explore these unusual and disruptive solutions?.       
         
In the end a lot of what happens in cities is around land. The politics of who owns land, what its used for, what mechanisms produce inclusion or exclusion forms the basis of how cities evolve and grow and whether they have a chance for sustainable equitable options or not. Politics is at the centre of this, there’s no shortage of technical solutions. Do we have the courage to do that, do we have the capacity to explore new solutions? Because in the end, the sustainability that we are challenged with today (which we start with the meetings we will have for Habitat III, that we’ve come with all our challenges of climate) of our sustainable growth will happen in the geography of cities which will have to deal with a multiplication of challenges and we are far away from that. We should be extremely dissatisfied with what is happening because we don’t have the courage to explore unusual relationships and partnerships.

As the representatives of the networks of the urban poor, we want to explore possible relationships and partnerships, new ways of doing business with whoever has the courage to come and work with us. We are looking for ways by which we transform the future that we prepare for the youth of tomorrow into one which is safe, which turns that into the advantage rather than the violence that we predict that will take place if their aspirations and expectations are not fulfilled by our generation. If we have the courage to explore change, we explore new ways of doing business and of sharing and supporting each other through this process; I think we can see a glimmer of success.”

Friday, 7 August 2015

How Community Mobilization Influences the Political Environment: Reflections on Pune

Yerwada was an in-situ upgrading project aiming to build permanent ground, ground floor +1 and ground floor+2 houses. The cost of each constructed house was Rs 300,000 rupees, with 90% of the costs funded by the different branches of government (local, state and national). The remaining 10%, Rs 30,000, was provided by each household. In total, the project built 1125 houses in 8 different wards.

Mahila Milan in Pune
There are a few elements that made the Yerwada project a success. First, the involvement of the community in all the stages of the project, from design to implementation, guaranteed that the needs and expectations of the households were satisfied. What particularly characterises this case is the key role played by groups of women, who assumed the leadership positions throughout the whole process. Second, by upgrading households and services in-situ rather than relocating them, the government managed to maintain the cohesiveness of the community and improve their conditions faster, as in-situ upgrading is generally deemed to be the most socially and economically desirable strategy for low-income housing. Third, this project created job opportunities for the local community throughout its implementation phase, thus fostering a true sense of community participation in the project and sense of ownership of the households.

Nevertheless, the element that captured our attention the most was how crucial of a role the political environment actually played in allowing the development of this project. The political environment is key in order to enable communities to influence the process of agenda setting. The policy process is a complex interaction of problems, proposals (solutions) and politics (political environment). In order to move a cause higher in the hierarchy of the political agenda, these elements need to come together. When this happens, we are in the presence of a “window of opportunity”. For advocates of a cause, the success of their proposals is determined by how well they can influence, create and identify this window. This means that if the political environment is not ready to focus on a particular problem or to receive a particular solution, the window will be closed for the champions of the cause, and their proposal would not make it to the “short list”. This is why developing a proposal is not enough in the policy game, and advocating, coalition-building and policy-learning are all necessary to influence the conditions that will prepare the political environment to implement any solution.

In the case of Yerwada, SPARC, Mahila Milan and NSDF had been gradually creating the conditions to engage with authority for decades through their enumerations, precedent setting, exhibitions, and other successful projects in line with the general SDI model. These activities slowly built linkages of trust and camaraderie between different members while simultaneously strengthening them as a community. As such, it is important to understand the process by which the women of Mahila Milan empowered themselves politically in their formative stages to truly grasp why the subsequent Yerwada project was a success. 

In Pune, when the women of Mahila Milan first assembled themselves in 1993-1995, their initial socioeconomic surveys identified sanitation to be the most pressing issue. After doing so, with the help of NSDF, they set up various meetings with local politicians that resulted in improved sanitation, not only for the slums but also for the entire city. One important thing to note about this project is that a proposal put forward by the women of Mahila Milan Pune, when received in an enabling political environment, turned into a full-fledged project involving 8 organizations working in over 500 neighborhoods.
Confident by the launch of their sanitation project in 1999, they moved on to secure land for relocation of slum neighborhoods that they had surveyed and that were affected by the recurrence of floods in 1997. Although they had identified a specific piece of land in Hadapsar for their members, a road widening project that was happening simultaneously in Patil Estate led them to alter their plans. 98 houses were to be demolished, and those residents sought the support of Mahila Milan to convince city officials to relocate them rather than face eviction. Mahila Milan chose to offer the land in Hadapsar to the former Patil Estate residents instead of the original members that MM sought to relocate. This project was crucial in legitimizing the actions of Mahila Milan in the eyes of local government because they approached government with an alternate solution to eviction that was feasible and easy to implement. Once again, the political environment along with their community efforts converged into the perfect opportunity window to advance their needs and materialize them, with the commissioner incorporating additional neighborhoods to their plans. The negotiations that were partaken by Mahila Milan turned into a bigger project with three NGOS contracted to contribute on a fixed price basis. In doing so, they emerged as equal partners with the local government in the planning, design, and implementation of these projects. 

Upgraded lane in Yerwada
Around 2008, when JNNURM was launched, Mahila Milan tried to work on upgrading in two slums: Ram Tekdi and Yerwada. Yet, after facing opposition in the former, they requested from the Municipal commissioner that additional subsidies be allocated to the in-situ upgrading project in Yerwada. Their first efforts to upgrade this site consisted of pressing the government for cluster housing for people with less than 100 square feet per household. Cluster housing grouped people together to form groups of land that met the 270 sq. foot requirement to take advantage of the BSUP program. They included more floors in their design to increase the space per household, but grouped households together horizontally so that they met the requirement. Their other task was convincing the residents that BSUP was in their interest. As Savita recalled, when BSUP was to be implemented in Pune, people were skeptical at first due to the failure of earlier government programs and it took them almost 2 years to convince the community to be on board. Mahila Milan finally achieved community agreement and participation with a spatial demonstration of model homes using bamboo and cloth to showcase to the local population that such projects would indeed improve their livelihoods. With the political clout that they had garnered from their previous projects, they were also able to pressure local government to be more transparent with the people. They also had lower-ranked politicians accompany them to better inform residents about their work and convince them that it was in their favor. 

It is interesting to draw a contrast between these successful projects and the experience of Mahila Milan in Ram Tekdi where the political environment obstructed their progress in that area. Even though they tried to implement the same strategy, they did not receive the support of local politicians. Instead, the local politicians initiated a campaign to convince the community that they shouldn’t respond to SPARC surveys and that an alternate SRA project conducted by a private builder was in their best interest. As a result, the population demanded the SRA project over the SPARC one-house-per-household proposition as they thought they could get more than one unit per household. Since SPARC and MM act based on the interests of the community, they pulled out of that area and failed to move past the negotiation phase.

The work of Mahila Milan Pune showcases the need to have a groundswell of organized people utilizing local assets and resources for collective and participatory problem solving, yet what ultimately determined their success was the existence of an enabling political environment that reverberated their requests on a wider scale and implemented them at a broader urban level. As such, the contrasting experiences of Mahila Milan Pune highlight the importance of the policy environment in materializing their projects. In Ram Tekdi, MM implemented the same strategies, yet the difference in the receptivity and endorsement of the local politicians obstructed their progress. In Yerwada, problems, proposals and politics came together and proved that when all the parts are involved and their interests align, solutions are easier to implement and their impacts are deeper and longer lasting.


Jehane Akiki and Dafne Regenhardt,
The New School, Graduate Program in International Affairs


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Exhibition at Indian Oil by New School Interns

In June and July 2015, we conducted an oral history project to document the lived experiences of women leaders in Mahila Milan. As Mahila Milan inevitably faces change in its leadership, we focused, in particular, on the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation. Our project is, in a sense, its own transfer of knowledge; it aims to capture and pass on Mahila Milan’s legacy. 
Jahyshree Mane excited to show 
Malti Ambre her photograph. 

Throughout the years, international agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs have come to Mumbai to learn from these women and to hear their stories. This, however, often results in  a unilinear exchange of knowledge, in which the women contribute their professional experience and personal histories, but receive little in return. With that in mind, we decided to celebrate these women with a genuine, albeit small, tribute.
On Saturday, July 26, 2015, we held the “soft opening” of an exhibition, at which a few Indian Oil Nagar leaders were present. The exhibition consisted of portraits of women we interviewed and accompanying quotes that highlighted major themes, trends, and accomplishments in Mahila Milan’s trajectory. While we thought we had done a good job representing the women with their portraits and quotes, the response was more than what we could have envisioned.  The smiles and excitement of the women finding their pictures were priceless.
What happened next was true to the ethos of the organization: as we unpacked the photos, women gathered and began to pass around and discuss the pieces. One unforeseen hiccup was insufficient wall space in the Mahila Milan office to hang the portraits, so we arranged the photos on the floor around the office along with the corresponding quotes. The women immediately voiced their thoughts on where each of the pieces should hang -- there was talk of each woman taking the ones that were more relevant to her story. To us, the excitement in those first few moments replaced any plan we had for how the exhibition should be displayed. It was then decided that we should hold another exhibition in the Dharavi office to enable women from all communities to attend the exhibition in a central location.
Meena Ramani explained that “both experience and education are necessary. They [the photographs and quotes] will show the current younger generation. This is how we have continued from generation to generation.”
Malti Ambre summed up the exhibit by saying, “A lot of people come to us and learn from us, we also go and teach others … There is always an exchange of knowledge going on. Many people call us, that this is the training center where we come and train ourselves. What you did, actually they also think that they got to learn how their generation is going ahead, how they are moving. That is also because of your exhibition that they came to know and they will want to continue this later in the future.”
This exhibition showcases the wisdom of key leaders we spoke with in Mahila Milan. This exhibition is intended as a genuine tribute to the personal sacrifice, perseverance, and dedication of Mahila Milan and the Federation’s women.
By Christopher Green, Chiara Passerini, Kate Segal, and Tanya Welsh








Thursday, 9 July 2015

The learning curve: Multilayered knowledge transfers in the Federation

By Christopher Green, Chiara Passerini, Kate Segal, and Tanya Welsh


1.The group of students who visited Pune, India
2. Savita Sona- wane who leads Pune Mahila Milan
3 Savita shows how they read maps to Shibani/ Photo credits: Chiara Shibani and kate
Eight eager foreign students from the New School arrived in Pune, wide-eyed yet uncertain about what we were there to see. The decision to take the trip to Pune, came after a week of site visits with slum communities in Mumbai who work with the National Slum Dwellers Federation (the Federation) on sav- ings, sanitation, and relocation. While meeting with Jockin Ar- putham, he emphatically told us that “everything began in Pune; you cannot start your work here until you see Pune.”

The four of us are documenting the informal mechanisms by which knowledge is transferred from current Federation com- munity leaders in Mumbai to younger generations. Our goal in Pune, aside from understanding its importance within the Fed- eration, was to sneak in a couple of questions about knowledge transfer during our whirlwind36-hour stay.
The organization’s process of knowledge transfer has many layers. The leaders formulate the enumeration survey ques- tions by spending time in communities and reflecting on their own experiences: “We live in slums; these are the questions we come across in our daily lives.” They work alongside slum- dwellers in Pune throughout the process of relocation and in situ upgrading, building the capacity of community members – most of whom are women – as leaders. Communities from other cities in India, such as Bhopal, Nanded, Delhi, and Ban- galore have come to Pune to absorb their processes and try to replicate them in their own communities; in the same vein, Pune Mahila Milan has traveled to cities across the Global South to share their knowledge with communities facing simi- lar issues. Knowledge is also transferred upwards from Mahila Milan to local politicians, commissioners, urban planners, aca- demics, and the like.

Our “a-ha!” moment dawned on us after we had asked our pre-planned questions, when we were wrapping up to leave. Savita Sonawane, president of Mahila Milan in Pune, remarked that in the last 20 years, many foreigners have visited them but have rarely asked about how future generations can continue this important work so that it is not lost or forgotten. The realization that while studying the processes of knowledge transfer we too are part of this knowledge transfer had not occurred to us until that moment. We were invited to ask questions after visiting the projects Pune Mahila Milan had spearheaded and continue to be involved with; what we did not expect was that the members also gained insights from answering our questions. The exchange that had taken place was not one-directional; rather, it elucidates the collective and collaborative process that is integral to the Federation’s work.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Learn - Participatory Enumeration and Mapping (10 weeks online course)

The course is for Community organisers, students of urban planning and development, social workers, municipal officials, NGO staff, local service providing agencies, field staff of banks and financial institutions, professional urban planners and consultants, and young boys and girls from the urban slums and poor communities.

SPARC has developed these 3 video to show how the communities conduct settlement and household survey. Thus showcase how knowledge helps the communities for negotiation and empowerment.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqxaLgRcg1z93iRPW9IGjTsL4wbAo3FOc






Friday, 2 January 2015

Solar Power Push

Install solar panels on plot size 500 Sq yards + made mandatory by Haryana government.




Friday, 28 November 2014

Without power: Mumbai’s pavement dwellers

If you can read this, you’re not affected. For most urban dwellers electricity is available at the flick of a switch, to power our numerous appliances from our coffee machines to our computers and TVs, but not for all: many of the urban poor still have no access to electricity although the power cables are literally just two meters above their heads.

Pavement Dwellers at Goregaon Western Express HIghway

In the new Energy Justice program of SPARC we have just recently started a survey in order to better understand the needs and problems of the urban poor related to energy. Last week we have been at a settlement of pavement dwellers next to the Western Express Highway in Goregaon, Mumbai who live there for at least the last 10 years. Although all of the households do not have access to electricity at all, they have energy expenditures between 300 and 750 Rupees per month just to be able to illuminate their homes in the evening with some candles and to charge their cell phones at the next kiosk. This costs them every day between 10-15 Rupees.   

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Most of the children go to school, but in the evenings 

they have to study  under the street light.

It was hard to believe for us but most of the households have to manage a living in Mumbai with less than a Dollar per day per capita, some of them even with half a dollar. It’s no wonder then that these households seek to avoid spending any money where it is not absolutely necessary and therefore cook their meals on traditional three-stone-stoves. Because most of the men work as casual laborers and are out of the house, it is the task of the women to collect the wood which lasts between 1 and 2 hours every day. Cooking with open fire or on three stones is not only time intensive but also health threatening because of the smoke and causes respiratory diseases. And this is not done with a cough – the Worlds Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually more than 4 million people die because of cooking with solid fuels of which 50% are children below the age of 5. 
(http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/)

We have started our new Energy Justice program in order to develop jointly with the urban poor solutions that will provide them with a better access to modern energy and also reduces the costs for them. We will keep you updated here about the further development of this project.

Author : Vincent Moeller is working for SPARC as an advisor on Renewable Energy and Climate Change since June 2014.